TEXT: 4th Sunday of Lent, March 31, 2019

4th  Sunday of Lent

March 31, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today’s Gospel story is usually referred to as the “Parable of the Prodigal Son.”

But the story isn’t just about the one prodigal son;

it’s actually about a father and his three sons.

 

So let’s look at each of these, one at a time.

Let’s begin with the so called “prodigal son”—the youngest brother.

Jesus firsts tells us he goes to his father and says:

“give me the share of your estate that should come to me.”

As if he can’t wait for His father to die.

As if he’s entitled to his father’s generosity, as if a gift is really a debt.

 

We do the same thing everyday.

We all want what belongs to God

—in particular, we want His power

and especially His authority to say this is right, or this is wrong.

To say, “I know what God says, but this is the way I think it should me.”

 

And we all treat the gifts God gives us as if they are owed to us,

as if the creator of the universe must give us whatever we want.

O sure, we pray: “please Lord,” and “thy will be done,”

but in our heart of hearts all too often we mean “give me what I want.”

 

And even if we do get what we want, we quickly forget that He gave it to us.

We don’t bother to thank Him, or tell others how generous He’s been.

We even think it a burden to spend an hour once a week

thanking Him publicly at Mass for His generosity.

 

We’re especially ungrateful for the gifts He gives us most personally,

like a strong intellect or good health or courage:

we say things like “I worked for everything I have.”

I understand the importance of hard work, but think about:

how did you work to be naturally smart?

 

And all too often, having received all these gifts,

how many of us fall into the sins of greed, avarice and envy

—we can never get enough.

 

____

Jesus tells us the youngest son “set off to a distant country”

Notice, he not only takes what belongs to his father,

but now he abandons his father.

He doesn’t even talk or listen to him anymore.

 

How many of people today do the same thing to God.

He gives us everything, and we abandon Him, and neither talk or listen to Him.

And I’m not just talking about atheists.

Think of all the people, including us sometimes, who believe in God,

but neglect praying to Him or listening to His word,

at least until they want something from Him again.

Think of all those who go to church every Sunday,

but abandon God for the other 6 days of the week,

never mentioning His name in the world they live in.

 

____

And then Jesus says the youngest son:

squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.”

 

In one way or another, isn’t this the way with most of us.

All the gifts God gives us, and then so often we waste or abuse them.

 

Think of the great intellectual gifts God gives us.

But instead of using those gifts to give glory to God and serve mankind

all too often we squander them on foolish and even evil pursuits.

Science has done many wonderful things,

but it’s also given us sex-change operations,

and the ability for strangers to stalk and abuse our kids online.

Think of all the intelligence wasted on philosophies that shun the notion of truth.

Think of all the talented artists who waste their gifts producing

books, movies, plays and music

that wallow in senseless violence, lust and perversion.

 

And think about all the times you participate in these abuses, even if indirectly:

how many senseless movies or videos you watch?

Or how you personally waste your God-given reason and imagination

in the selfish pursuit of greed, lust or revenge.

 

____

Jesus goes on to say that the prodigal son

“swallowed up [his] property with prostitutes.”

This reminds us that nowadays, there is no greater gift wasted

than the gift of sexuality.

What phenomenal gift

—it not only expresses the total self-gift between husband and wife

but also contains in it the very gift of human life.

And yet we so often treat it as a way to control or demean others,

or simply to satisfy our most venal desires.

And wedded with the gift of technology, internet pornography

wastes the self-gift of sexuality by turning it toward radical selfishness.

 

I could go on and on.

Jesus tells us: “he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.”

This is the life of the prodigal son,

but it is also all too often, in large ways or small, our lives as well.

 

____

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Jesus tells us that eventually the prodigal son “[came] to his senses”

and went back to his father’s house confessing and repenting

his wasteful life, his sins,

and begging forgiveness.

Lent is a time when we should do the same.

And we can do that in most wonderful way, again,

through one of our Father’s most generous gifts:

the sacrament of confession,

There, like the father in today’s story, our heavenly Father

meets us, listens to our confession and sorrow for our sins,

and them embraces us with His grace, and restores us to His household.

—if only we are truly sorry and desire to leave our sins behind

and come back into His home.

 

What a fantastic gift

—but how often it’s wasted by his children who refuse to go to confession.

 

Some think, well confession’s only for really terrible sinners

—and I haven’t done anything that bad.

This reminds me of the 2nd son in today’s story

—the older brother who stays behind.

The son who “became angry, and …refused to enter the house”

because his father was throwing a banquet for his bad brother!

But the thing is, the banquet wasn’t just for the younger son

—it was for the whole household, including this older son.

And he refused the gift.

 

The sacrament of penance is also for everyone

who lives in the household of God,

even the ones who seem to the most faithful.

How can apparently steadfast sons and daughters reject such a gift?

 

Sometimes it’s simply because they think they don’t need that gift.

But by saying “no” to God’s generosity they waste the gift

of His divine power to be even better sons and daughters,

to be stronger, braver, happier and closer to Our Father.

 

Also, sometimes the most faithful Catholics set themselves up for big trouble,

because they become complacent and prideful:

like the prodigal’s brother, they take their father’s gifts for granted.

And that complacency led this “good son” to fall into the terrible sin of jealousy

and then separating himself from his father by refusing to enter his house

–just like the prodigal son had done earlier.

No friends, confession is for all of us

—just as God the Father’s gift of love and mercy is for all of us.

 

__

Others reject the gift of confession because they say:

I don’t have to go to confession:

I go straight to God and He forgives my sins?

There they go again, being just like the prodigal.

Jesus gives us this phenomenal gift of the forgiveness of sins,

and they say, I like the gift, but not the way you give it.

 

And they want not only the forgiveness,

but also the authority of their heavenly Father.

They know Jesus established the sacrament of penance

when He told the apostles:

“receive the holy spirit…who’s sins you forgive are forgiven”

yet still they say, “but I want to do it my way, not Jesus’ way.”

 

And finally, they presume that they somehow

have a right to the gift of forgiveness:

you ask for it, and God automatically has to give it to you.

But that’s not what Jesus taught, as He went on to tell His apostles:

“and who’s sins you hold bound are held bound.”

 

_____

Now, I don’t know if you noticed it,

but I mentioned earlier that this is a story of a father and three sons.

Yet, in the story, Jesus only mentions two sons.

But reading between the lines we see that in telling the story, Jesus,

shows Himself to be the 3rd Son, humbly pointing to His father’s mercy,

even as He tells the story in response to Pharisees’ anger

with Him, Jesus, for showing mercy to sinners:

He is saying, “like Father, like Son—me!”

 

So Jesus is the oldest Son, the first born of the Father,

who is all-loving and truly faithful like His Father,

never betraying His Father like the other sons.

He is the Son who eternally reminds the Father

what a perfectly loving Son is,

so that even when His other sons waste His gifts,

the Father always sees them in the light of the love of His perfect first born.

And He is the brother who,

gives His whole life, holding nothing back,

to His father and to his brothers,

by dying on the cross for his brothers’ sins.

 

And if we look very closely, with the 20/20 hindsight of faith,

we see that Jesus is actually mentioned, in the story;

in fact He’s the crescendo of the story:

he is the brother who reconciles Father and sons,

in the Banquet, HE is the Banquet, the Eucharistic Feast,

that seals and strengthens the unity, the Communion, of God’s family.

And so we read that the father not only invited his sons

but he “pleaded with” them,

to come to the banquet—the Eucharist, Christ Himself.

 

____

Today, we sons and daughters of the Most High God

should feel the most profound sorrow

for our ungrateful squandering of the gifts our Father has given us.

And we should feel heartrending grief for the price our brother Jesus

paid for our sins.

And yet we should also feel overpowering joy

that we have a Father who forgives us so easily

and a Brother who would die so willingly for our sins.

So let us now go to the heavenly banquet that Jesus has prepared for

repentant sinners,

and let our Divine Brother lead us home to the mercy and joy

of Communion with our Heavenly Father.

TEXT: 3rd Sunday of Lent, March 24, 2019

3rd  Sunday of Lent

March 24, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

In today’s Gospel Jesus reminds the crowd of 2 incidents

where large groups of Jews had suffered terrible calamity.

As was common in those days, and still among some people today,

everyone assumed God was punishing these people

because they were terrible sinners.

But Jesus shows the crowd how they’re using this as an excuse

for thinking they themselves are not sinners,

as if they’re saying,

‘well as long as a building doesn’t fall on me, I must be holy.’

But Jesus says to them:

“I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”
____

The other day someone showed me a picture they had taken of me recently.

I saw the picture and said to myself: “who is that old man?

It’s easy to look at other people and see their imperfections, and their sins,

but it’s much harder to look at ourselves and see ours.

And if we can’t see them, we can’t change them

—we can’t repent, which is what Lent is all about.

 

So today, let’s think about one way we can sin everyday.

Probably the most common thing we do every day is see

–we see our neighbor, ourselves, the world.

The gift of vision is one of God’s most generous gifts to us

but at the same time one of the most taken for granted and abused.

Most of us seldom think about how wonderful it is until we start to loose it.

 

Think about it.

So much of what we learn, and understand, and enjoy;

so much of what inspires and motivates us,

comes to us from through our vision.

We read with our vision,

we look at beautiful art, we watch entertaining plays or movies,

we look at our smartphones and computers,

we look at the way people act and at the way they smile, or frown.

All day long we’re looking and seeing.

 

And we can’t confine ourselves to physical vision:

there is also the mind’s eye

—the imagination, where we see images of lots of things.

So that even when we close our eyes, we continue to see.

 

But like all good gifts, the gift of sight can be used for good or evil.

What is it we look at, what do we see?

What kind of books and papers do we read,

what kind of television and movies do we watch?

Where do my eyes go on the internet?

And where do I let my mind’s eye wander?

 

And how do we look at others

—either with the physical eye, or with the mind’s eye?

Do we see them as persons created in the image of God?

Or do we see them as something to use and abuse

—an object for our hatred, greed, pride, envy, or lust?

 

And also, how do others see us, and how do we try to make others see us?

We shouldn’t go around doing things just for people to see and praise us,

but when do things that people do see, they should be seeing good things.

We should be showing good examples.

We should even be aware of how we dress

—to help others see something good or to avoid seeing something evil.

For example, some people wear uniforms to remind people of their job

and that they’re available to help them.

And on the other hand, some people wear clothes to call attention to themselves,

in order some to brag about their wealth or status,

or to boast about their personal holiness or piety,

or to tempt or excite others.

So many of women’s fashions are designed specifically

to catch and tempt men’s eyes.

 

______

The power of vision is awesome.

This is all, of course, no secret.

Teachers and artists and authors have always known this.

And Hollywood, television executives, advertisers, webmasters, software writers,

and fashion designers know this.

And they use it, for good or evil,

to draw us in to what they want us to learn or buy or understand.

To manipulate us.

 

And unfortunately, the devil also knows this.

The devil must have had a great time

leading people to Siloam to look at the fallen tower,

so he could whisper to them,

‘look those people are bad, but no tower fell on  you.’

Do you think he doesn’t see us,

giving dirty looks to the person who angers us,

or when we simply refuse to look at the poor or sick?

Or looking at another person and seeing them an object of envy or lust?

 

_____

On the one hand, this can be kind of frightening and intimidating,

and it makes us stop to look carefully at our lives

and the way we use our vision.

On the other hand, there is no real need to be frightened, or intimidated.

Because just as we can see all this, God sees it too.

 

He’s seen it from the beginning when he created the universe,

and “saw everything he had made, and [beheld that] it was very good.”

He saw it when he made himself known to Moses in the burning bush;

as Moses says in today’s 1st reading:

“I must go over to look at this remarkable sight.”
And he understood it when he came among us,

as Jesus Christ, in a body we could see!

 

Last Sunday we read about the Transfiguration,

when Christ took Peter, James and John up a mountain

where he let them see his glorified body, standing with Moses and Elijah.

He did this to strengthen them, because he knew that in a few weeks

they would see the horrible vision of him beaten and nailed to a cross.

 

Jesus understands better than anyone the power of sight.

And so time after time He let people see His power—think of all the miracles,

imagine the effect on the people of seeing him

walking on water and the raising of dead.

But He didn’t do those miracle only for the people 2000 years ago

—He also did them for us.

He knew about our minds eye, how we see so clearly with our imagination.

 

And knowing about our imagination

He not only gave His followers physical signs to see,

but also told them parables with powerful for the minds eye to gaze upon

–taking complex ideas and letting us see them in very clear images.

Next week He uses the image of the prodigal son,

who winds up working in a pig pen.

This week He uses the image of a fruitless fig tree in a garden,

using the very descriptive language of cultivating and fertilizing

and even cutting it down.

It doesn’t take a farmer or a gardener to see these images

as clear as high def tv screen.

And it doesn’t take a priest to understand the imminent need

to repent and bear fruit.

 

_____

In His wisdom, Christ has passed this appreciation of the power of vision

to His Church.

We see it in the sacred art of the church that lead us

to understand the mysteries of the life of Christ and his saints.

We see it in the beautiful churches that draw us to worship.

We see it in the different vestments and the sacred vessels we use,

and the candles and images that adorn the altar.

 

We especially see this in the special seasons of the year.

In Lent we begin seeing it in the ashes of Ash Wednesday,

and we continue to see it in the sparseness of decorations in the Church,

and in the stark violet everywhere.

We see it as we visit the stations of the cross,

and as we pray the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary.

And we see it in the pageantry of Holy Week:

the Palms and procession of Palm Sunday,

the washing of the Feet on Holy Thursday,

the kissing of the Cross on Good Friday.

And we see it in books and movies that lay before us images of

the Christ’s Passion,

inviting us to see with our own eyes

—even if only the eyes of imagination enlightened by the eyes of faith—

the depth of His love pouring out in the blood

from the scourges to His back,

the thorns in His head,

the nails in His hands and feet,

and the sword in His side.

To see with our own eyes the fact that by his wounds we are healed.

 

And all year long we see it in the sacraments and sacramentals of the Church.

We especially see it in the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament,

where we see him as he is, but under the veil of the appearance of bread.

And all of this of course leads us here—to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,

where all the holy things we’ve seen come together,

and what we see with our physical eyes is understood with the mind’s eye

and the eyes of faith,

as we look upon the passion, death and resurrection of Our Lord.

 

____

The gift of vision is one of the most beautiful gifts God gives us.

But like all good gifts,

we human beings, with our free wills, can use our vision very badly.

Lent is a time to consider how we use God’s gifts badly—sinfully.

A time to see clearly that we can be just as bad a sinner as anyone else.

A time to look at our lives and see all the ways we fail to appreciate God’s gifts,

the way we sin.

This year, look especially at the way you fail to appreciate the gift of sight

—both physically and in the mind.

See how powerful this gift is—for good and for evil.

And remove any image you see which leads you or others away from Jesus

and replace it with a vision that leads all people to him.

Fix your eyes on Jesus Christ.

TEXT: 2nd Sunday of Lent, March 17, 2019

2nd  Sunday of Lent

March 17, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

Today the Gospel tells us that:

“Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray.

Prayer, of course, is one of the 3 traditional forms of doing penance during Lent,

the others being almsgiving—or acts of charity—and sacrifice—or fasting.

If there were one thing I could improve about our prayer lives

—yours and mine—

this Lent it would be this:

that we would learn how to more devoutly and perfectly

pray the greatest prayer of the Church:

this prayer we’re doing right now: the Holy Mass.

 

Now, most people don’t think of Mass as a prayer.

Some think of it as something we do simply because we have to.

For these people the Mass often becomes an empty meaningless ritual.

 

Some think of it as sort of a series of prayers the priest says.

For these people the Mass becomes something they just sort of come to watch,

something that doesn’t really include them.

 

Still others think of the Mass something that should make them feel good,

For these people, Mass becomes a form of entertainment,

so that when it’s quiet, or the music isn’t to their liking,

or when the preacher isn’t funny enough,

or he challenges them in an uncomfortable way,

maybe, God-forbid, talking about sin and or morality,

they go away either bored, disappointed or even angry.

 

And still others think Mass is sort of performance or task to be done.

And they think if they are not physically active in the Mass in some notable way,

maybe serving, or lecturing, or distributing Communion,

or somehow moving around, or for some, even dancing,

they don’t feel like they’ve “done” Mass.

 

___

But Mass is a prayer

a magnificent prayer that involves all of us and each of us,

from beginning to end,

Although there are various different prayers in the Mass,

they all come together to form one prayer

—and when we understand that one prayer

and the meaning of that one prayer,

it becomes not only intensely personal and practical,

but profoundly meaningful and life-changing.

 

____

Again, let’s go back and look at the Gospel.

Why does Jesus take His disciples up the mountain to pray?

Can’t they pray wherever they’re at?

Besides, wasn’t Jesus in constant prayer, constantly talking to the Father?

 

While Jesus is God, He’s also a man, and can be distracted like all men.

And so He takes Himself and His very human apostles, Peter, James and John,

and takes them away to be alone to pray.

 

People often tell me they don’t need to come to Mass to pray

—they can pray anywhere.

And that’s true—just like Jesus.

But also like Jesus, and the apostles, to pray without distraction,

we also all need to go away to a quiet place where no one will distract us

—where no one will interrupt us and cell phones won’t find us,

someplace like a church.

 

But also, and most importantly we come to church to pray

for the same reason the apostles went up the mountain:

to be in the place where Jesus was.

Some say, but isn’t Jesus everywhere, spiritually speaking?

Sure.

But He has chosen to make Himself really and truly present in the church,

especially at Mass,

promising that the Eucharist would be His true presence among us:

taking bread and saying, “this is my body.”

So we come here to be in Christ’s true presence.

 

__

So….Peter, James and John go up the mountain

to be with Jesus and to pray with Him.

And what happens?

St. Matthew tells us:

“Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep.”

They went to pray, but got bored and distracted and fell asleep?

Sounds familiar.

How many of us have ever been at Mass and gotten bored or distracted

and fallen asleep?

Maybe physically taking a nap,

or maybe just mentally, letting our mind wander and daydream.

 

And what happens when the apostles fall asleep?

St. Matthew tells us a great miracle happens:

“[Jesus’] face changed in appearance

and His clothing became dazzling white.

And behold, two men were conversing with Him, Moses and Elijah.”

And all the while the apostles are asleep!

 

What happens when we fall asleep in Mass, physically or mentally?

A great miracle happens: Jesus appears on the altar,

and with Him, not only Moses and Elijah,

but the whole company of heaven—all the angels and saints, and Mary!

And we don’t even notice it, because we’ve let ourselves drift away.

 

Fortunately for the apostles they woke up before the transfiguration ended,

and they saw Jesus in his glory.

And they realized that in spite of the fact that “all” they were doing was praying,

this was no boring place and time,

this was a wondrous and momentous occasion!

So Peter doesn’t whine, “can we go yet?”

but rather gasps:

“Master, it is good that we are here;

And he doesn’t race to get away like so many do at the end of Mass,

but rather says:

“let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses,

and one for Elijah.”

In other words, he doesn’t want to leave!

 

You might say, well if Jesus appeared transfigured before us at Mass

we wouldn’t be bored or want to leave either!

But the thing is, He does!

He appears here just as surely as He appeared on Mt. Tabor,

the mount of Transfiguration.

Only here He appears transfigured not in glory, but in humility

—He is transfigured or transubstantiated

into the appearance of a piece of bread and a cup of wine.

Maybe not as glorious in appearance, but just as astounding and wondrous.

 

____

Of course there’s even more to the story

—the story of the transfiguration and the story of the Mass.

It’s interesting that Peter is the only apostle to speak in today’s Gospel,

while James and John remain silent.

Even so we know they must have been just as overwhelmed as Peter.

Which reminds us that it’s not only the ones who have, if you will,

active speaking roles that are involved in the miracle

—of both Tabor and the Mass.

 

Think particularly of St. John—the one called “the beloved disciple.”

Think of how all this affected this very young man

who became the great mystic and theologian of the apostles.

Imagine what he was thinking just a few weeks later when

he, John, stood on a different mount miles away

—not Mt. Tabor, but Mt. Calvary.

 

There he also stood looking up at Jesus.

And there he also saw Jesus with 2 other men, one on either side of Him.

But now Christ was no longer in transfigured in glory,

but in suffering and humility.

And the 2 men at His sides were not Moses the Lawgiver and Elijah the prophet,

but 2 criminals.

 

Even so, with the same eyes that saw His glory on Mt. Tabor,

and with the same ears that heard His Father say from the cloud:

“This is my beloved Son; listen to him”

John began to understand what Jesus had meant when He had said:

“when I am lifted up from the earth, then will draw all men to myself.”

 

And he remembered how at Tabor, as we read today:

“Moses and Elijah…spoke of his exodus

that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.”

And on Calvary, as he looked up at the blood flowing from Jesus’ hands and feet

staining the wood of the Cross,

John remembers that that very day—Good Friday—

was the anniversary of the exodus of Moses out of Egypt

–the Passover, when the Hebrews were freed

by the blood of the Lamb

staining, not the wood of a cross,

but the wood of their door posts!

He remembers how St. John the Baptist had called Jesus

the Lamb of God who would save his people.

He remembers how

before Moses, Abraham himself had offered sacrifice for his people,

and how after Moses the prophet Elijah had also offered sacrifice

to save his people,

and that just the night before Jesus had said that his body

would also be sacrificed, or “given up,” for his people.

 

And on Calvary John sees the 2 thieves

taking the place of Moses and Elijah at Jesus’ sides,

showing how sin seems to have conquered

the promises of the law and the prophets;

but then he hears one of the thieves repent, and Jesus say to him:

“today you will be with me in paradise”

and John understands that the love of the Cross conquers sin,

and offers the glory of heaven to every man.

 

____

Today we stand in the shoes of St. John at Calvary

beholding both the suffering of Christ and his glory.

We see his bloody sacrifice of the Cross transfigured before us,

into the unbloody appearance of bread and wine.

But like John we look beyond what we seem to see

and with the eyes of faith we see what is truly present:

we see the glory and wonder of the love of Christ offering himself

on the Cross for our sins,

and through our Holy Communion

with His Crucified and glorified Body

transfiguring or transforming us to share in his glory.

Or as St. Paul says in today’s second reading:

“He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body

by the power that enables him also

to bring all things into subjection to himself.”

 

_____

Who could ever think this is

an empty ritual, or that it doesn’t include us?

Who could ever be disappointed or bored, or even angry?

We could, and often do and are.

We who come to Mass and are so easy distracted because,

as St. Paul says:

“Their minds are occupied with earthly things.”

But my friends, Paul also reminds us:

“our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior,

the Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

___

Now, as we continue this Holy Mass,

let us go up the Mountain with Peter, James and John, and Moses and Elijah,

and with Mary and Joseph and Raymond

all the saints and angels of heaven

to pray with Christ.

Let us remember that

by the blood of Christ

we have become citizens of heaven

and for a few precious minutes

not let ourselves be bound by earthly ways of thinking.

Let us awake from sleep to see the magnificent miracle not of transfiguration,

but transubstantiation.

Let us see in what seems to be bread

the true glory of the Body of Christ Crucified for our sins.

Let us enter into the heavenly prayer of our Glorious Lord and his Church,

the Holy Mass.

Let us pray, and understand how truly “good it is that we are here.”

TEXT: 1st Sunday of Lent, March 10, 2019

1st Sunday of Lent

March 10, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

So we have begun the season of Lent.

It is a season that turns us in particular way to focus our minds and hearts

on the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross

and on the fact that is we and our sins who brought Him there.

 

Unfortunately some insist that this is the wrong approach to this season:

they try to downplay the ideas of suffering, sacrifice and crucifixion

and turn our attention straight to the joy of resurrection

—why focus on the negative, when there’s so much positive?

 

But they are misguided:

they’ve lost sight of who Jesus really is and why He came into the world.

This is nothing new:

it’s the same problem the devil had in today’s Gospel reading:

The devil really seems not to understand who Jesus is.

For example, he says twice: “If you are the Son of God…” [do this or that].

And besides, if he knew that Jesus was really God,

he wouldn’t have even tried to tempt Him,

because he’d know that he’d fail miserably,

and the devil hates to be humiliated.

 

The devil has angelic powers and knowledge,

but he’s not all-powerful or all-knowing.

He knew Jesus was different than any creature he’d seen,

and he may have recognized Him as the Messiah,

but maybe he didn’t understand that the Messiah

would also be the “Son of God,” and “God the Son.”

Or maybe he just couldn’t accept that

the Creator of the Universe would choose to become

this weak pitiful creature starving in the desert.

Whatever the reason, it seems pretty clear that in the desert

Satan didn’t really understand who Jesus was.

 

But he does now.

And while he no longer even dreams of tempting Christ,

he still tempts the rest of mankind on earth.

And he tempts us to become like him,

—particularly by helping us to simply not recognize Jesus for who he is.

To forget that he is the God who, out of love for us,

was nailed to the cross by our sins.

 

But we mustn’t fall to this temptation.

And so in Lent we go out into the desert to face the devil and his temptations

just like Jesus did.

Mind you, we don’t go out looking to find new temptations

—but to become aware of the temptations we’ve been falling prey to

every day of our ordinarily lives.

 

___

In the desert the devil tempted Jesus to make bread out of stone

–to satisfy his appetite.

Every day the devil also tempts us to satisfy our appetites,

to seek the meaning of life in pleasure, not in suffering.

And so we don’t understand that Christ came to suffer and die

for the times we embraced the pleasures of the flesh,

trying to “live on bread alone,”

rather than “on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”

 

The devil tempted Jesus to have dominion over the kingdoms of the world

–to find his purpose and success in the world.

And the devil tempts us to find our success and purpose in the world

—in money, power and possessions.

And so we don’t understand how Jesus’ could find

success and purpose in poverty and humiliation.

 

Finally, the devil tempted Jesus to cast Himself from the parapet

and make the angels catch Him

–to prove He was God and had power over the natural order of creation.

And he tempts us to try to act like God,

to usurp God’s authority and manipulate the natural order of God’s creation,

by trying to control and redefine the meaning

of life and death and love,

not to mention sex, marriage and wealth.

And so we can’t understand how Jesus could come to be obedient to His Father,

even to point of submitting to His Father’s will to accept death on a cross.

 

____

Lent is 40 days of preparation for celebrating the Resurrection on Easter.

But before the glory of Easter comes the suffering of the Cross on Good Friday.

All of Lent, then, is, in a way,

a meditation on and an attempt to share in the Passion of Jesus,

and to become more worthy of His love.

 

We do this in various ways.

We make sacrifices, to our show our desire to pay for our own sins,

and to free ourselves from the temptation to be attached

to our appetites, to worldly power

and to trying to manipulate God’s natural order

And we also “give alms”— acts of charity, of love, for those in need,

just as Jesus did for love for us sinners, so desperately in need of his help.

 

But above all we pray.

In Lent we have particular ways of praying, praying that specifically leads us

to meditating on the love of the Cross.

One way we do this is by praying the Stations of the Cross

—either alone or together, as we do here

every Friday evening with the whole parish.

Other ways include the special Lenten Holy Hours and talks

we’re having every other Thursday during Lent

—I’ll be giving a ½ hour mediation each week on

“the Agony in the Garden.”

 

But above all, we have the greatest prayers of Church: the sacraments.

In Lent, as we focus on our sins and doing penance for them

the Sacrament of Penance comes to the forefront.

All of our efforts to recognize and confront our sins and temptations

and all the sorrow and all the firm resolve to amend our lives

bears fruit as we then bring them to Christ Himself,

and confess them to the priest standing in place of Christ.

Here the love of Christ pours forth from

from His pierced hands and feet and side

and we receive the grace both of forgiveness and to amend our lives.

 

And yet, when you consider that on any given Sunday

about 3000 adults attend Mass and receive Communion in this church,

it is a scandal that in any given week only 50 to 100 adults

attend Confession and receive absolution.

 

Perhaps this is because

we’ve not only forgotten what the Sacrament of Penance is,

but also what the Sacrament of the Eucharist is.

But in Lent the Church reminds us that the Mass is first and foremost

a re-presentation of the very same sacrifice

that Jesus offered on the Cross on Good Friday,

and we really, truly and completely

look upon Him whom we have pierced with our sins.

How can we look on Him, and worse yet,

how can we say that we love Him and receive Him in communion,

when we have failed to confess our sins and receive His forgiveness

in the manner He specifically gave us,

when He told the apostles:

“who’s sins you forgive are forgive,

whose sins you hold bound are held bound.”

 

Some will say, but Father,

the sacrament of penance is only necessary for mortal sins,

and only mortal sins make me unworthy to receive communion.

True, but there’s more to Confession than that!

How many of you are willing to stay seated during Communion today

denying yourself the chance to be one with Christ in this most sacred way under the logic, that well, I received last week, or last month or last year,

so I really don’t have to receive today.

And yet so many will tell themselves this week

I went to confession last month, or last year,

I don’t really have to receive the grace of Christ’s forgiveness today,

I don’t want to take time to think about how my sins

have pierced the hands and feet of my Savior,

and I don’t really need to bathe

in the love poured out from His wounded side.

No. I don’t want that, I don’t need that.

 

___

It’s so very easy to be tempted into misunderstanding who Jesus is,

and why He did what He did for love of us,

and how we do not do what we do out of love for Him.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

This Lent, don’t listen to those who would confuse you about Jesus.

Do not seek Him in pleasure, but in sacrifice.

Not in works that lead to distraction or amusement,

but in works that lead to meditation and reflection.

Not in the world, but in His Church, His word, and His sacraments.

For these 40 days in the desert, focus your mind and heart

on the love of Christ poured out on the Cross,

and on the repentance of your sins that nailed Him there.

TEXT: 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, March 3, 2019

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time

March 3, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

This last week we saw 2 outrageous failures committed by our leaders

that should make us all angry and bewildered.

Last Sunday, the leaders of the Catholic bishops’ conferences around the world

closed their Vatican summit with the Pope for the protection of children

with almost nothing really new accomplished.

And then on Monday, the democrats in the U.S. Senate defeated a bill called

“The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act”,

which would have required that babies born alive after failed abortions

would receive the same life-sustaining medical care all newborns receive

—meant to counter the growing trend at the state level to legalize

the killing of these newborn babies, either directly or by neglect,

as was recently promoted by our own governor and delegate.

 

It is amazing to me that our leaders, in the Church and in our nation,

could fail so miserably to see the truth of the great sins and crimes

that lay so obviously before them,

that they could have prevented or corrected, but chose not to.

 

It’s as if they were blind.

Which begs the question Jesus asks us today:

“Can a blind person guide a blind person?

Will not both fall into a pit?”

 

How can the bishops plan to lead us,

when they are blind to the most basic problems staring them in the face?

How can they lead us to holiness, to purity, to the truth, to humility,

if they don’t see the impurity, lies, and pride that lead them

to abuse the vulnerable or to cover-up for or even promote those who do?

 

And how can senators lead us to be a nation

respecting the rights of human beings,

when they can’t even see that the most fundamental right to life

clearly applies to babies, at least once they’re born,

if not also while still in the womb.

If they can’t defend the most fundamental right to the life

of the most innocent and vulnerable among us,

how can we take seriously their claims to understand

what is good and necessary for the rest of us?

And if they are anti-human-life,

are they not also totally anti-woman, anti-gay, and anti-minority?

 

___

Today Jesus tells us:

“A good tree does not bear rotten fruit,

nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit.

For every tree is known by its own fruit.

 

Both our nation and our Church are fundamentally good trees,

and not just good, but great trees.

So why is it that both are bearing such rotten fruit nowadays?

The thing is, both are actually bearing both good fruit and rotten fruit.

The Church is producing great saints,

but there are also so many great sinners in our midst,

like the McCarricks we know and don’t know.

And America is doing great things, and yielding some great leaders,

but also some who are so foolish, or even downright evil.

 

So while both trees are fundamentally good,

there seems to be something like a disease infecting both.

And not surprisingly, it’s the very same disease: sin.

 

But the thing is, that sin infects the whole tree:

not just our cardinals and bishops, and senators and congressmen,

but also the people of the Church and the nation—you and me.

 

How do you think we got so many rotten leaders?

In politics, the people elected them.

And they elected rotten leaders fundamentally because of sin.

For example, the sins of greed, envy and lust:

too many times we vote for whoever will offer us the most of what we want,

instead of what is best for each and all of us.

Or maybe just the sin of sloth, laziness, as we were too lazy to get out and vote.

 

And in the Church, how many times did I hear Ted McCarrick,

when he was cardinal, praised for how nice he was,

how smooth and clever he was.

In all candor, he was never known as a great defender of the faith.

He used to say things that made people feel good, that would make him popular.

But he would run away from saying the hard things that Jesus Himself taught.

 

As the first reading from Sirach tells us today:

“the fruit of a tree shows the care it has had;

so too does one’s speech disclose the bent of one’s mind.”

And as St. Paul tells us elsewhere:

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine;

but wanting to have their ears tickled,

they will accumulate …teachers …in accordance to their own desires…

No doubt St. Paul despises the false teachers,

but he places part of the blame on the “people”

who “want to have their ears tickled.”

 

___

Jesus goes on to say today:

“Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye,

but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?”

Now, I want to be careful here, because I don’t want to be misunderstood as

“blaming the victim.”

But let’s be honest with ourselves.

We can and should be mad as heck at the bishops or politicians

for being blind to the reality around us,

but don’t we also bear some part of the blame?

Aren’t we also blinded sometimes, by our own sins?

If not, how did all these bad politicians get elected?

 

Now, many of you did get out and vote, and you voted well.

And many of you do not want your ears tickled by weak priests and bishops,

and you’ve done your best to embrace sound doctrine.

But none of us is perfect.

People say that I’m pretty outspoken and forthright,

but how many times have I sat by and said nothing

when a bishop or priests preached heresy in the public square?

Maybe I did so out of wisdom or prudence,

but sometimes maybe it was just out of simple laziness or cowardice….

 

And maybe it’s not a great big “wooden beam” in your eye,

maybe it’s just a little “splinter.”

Fine.

But, a tiny splinter in the eye can cause the same pain and blindness as a beam.

So, paraphrasing Jesus:

“Remove the splinter or beam from your eye first;

“then you will see clearly to remove the beam or splinter

in your brother’s eye.”

 

____

This Wednesday we begin the Season of Lent,

a great time to “perceive” and “remove the splinters and beams from” our eyes.

So, as a rule during Lent, I try to avoid preaching about things

that touch on broader societal or Church matters, like abortion or abuse,

and instead try to focus on growth in personal holiness

and appreciation of Jesus’ love for us.

 

But as you see, the 2 are connected, intimately.

So as we look out on a country and a Church in the middle of real crises,

mired in the corruption of sin,

we also begin Lent, and so turn our eyes to ourselves.

For, lasting change in the world and in the Church can only come

from cooperating with the grace of Jesus Christ,

and that change and cooperation must begin with us.

Whether it’s simply changing our willingness to accept and be satisfied

with the self-serving promises of politicians or bishops,

or whether it’s a turning away from our more deadly personal sins,

even those reflected in the lives of those same politicians and bishops.

 

____

Lying to ourselves and ignoring the truth

has gotten our country and especially our Church into the mess we are today.

Don’t let it do the same to you.

Whatever it is, let’s be brutally honest with ourselves this Lent.

Let us no longer be blinded, by the beams or splinters of sin,

but by the grace of Christ, let us remove them from our eyes first,

“then [we] will see clearly to remove the splinter in [our] brother’s eye.”