TEXT: Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, January 6, 2019

Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

January 6, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


For the last few weeks–both in Advent and during the Christmas season–

almost all of the people we’ve encountered in the Scriptures at Mass

have been Jews living in Palestine

–and most of those of humble origin and state.

But today we find a radically different sort of people–Magi from the East:

extremely well-educated and wealthy,

and perhaps even priests in their own pagan religion.

Yet, the Scriptures tell us that when they arrive in Bethlehem

–after traveling hundreds of miles

and enduring great discomfort and suffering–

these great wise men “prostrate themselves and do homage”

to a tiny vulnerable peasant child.

And they offer Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

And while these gifts are generous and full of meaning,

they are not the greatest gift given that day.

The greatest gift was not from the magi at all,

but from God to the magi, and to the whole Gentile world

–the gift of His Epiphany,

of God’s manifesting, or showing Himself to the world,

as the human baby Jesus.



Still, while today’s Gospel is principally a reminder

of God’s Epiphany to the Gentiles,

it also reminds us of Christ’s coming to His chosen people–the Jews.

On Tuesday, on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God,

we read from St. Luke’s Gospel

about the Jewish shepherds

coming to adore the baby Jesus in Bethlehem.

But today St. Matthew also tells us about another Jew

discovering the birth of the Messiah–King Herod.

Herod is a Jew, but not by race

—he is not a descendant of Jacob who was called “Israel.”

His family was Idumæan, but his family converted to the Jewish religion

about 100 years before the birth of Christ.

So he was technically a Jew.

But how different this Jew reacts to news of the Messiah

than the way the Jewish shepherds react.

So caught up in his enjoyment of power and riches

allowed him by his Roman masters,

he hears of the birth of the messiah

and instead of immediately going to worship Him with the Magi

he sends them on alone, while he waits behind,

planning to kill the child.


Since the days of the apostles,

the Church has seen herself

                   as the fulfillment of the promises to Israel under the Old Covenant

–she views herself as the continuation of the chosen people

–the New Israel, the New Jerusalem,

under the New Covenant.

And in that sense, we can see those who do not believe in Christ

as sort of a “New Gentiles”

–those who are not members of God’s people.

The magi were Gentiles–but they were also the first to join the New Israel

— they became the first converts.



As a cradle Catholic, I’ve always been amazed and awed by converts,

especially those who come from among the New Gentiles

–especially the magi of our day

–who come to Christ not from birth

but by diligent search for the truth.

And of course, I’m also impressed by the cradle Catholics and other cradle Christians

who, like the shepherds, humbly accept the gift promised to their ancestors

and handed on to them as a rich inheritance.


But what about those of us cradle Catholics,

who act less like the shepherds, than they act like King Herod

–King Herod who was a member of the God’s people,

and yet treated the fulfillment of God’s great promise

as if it were news of the plague?



Now, many of us go back and forth

between being shepherds and being Herods.

And we live in a world that is more and more

like the world that the magi came from

than the world that the shepherds came from

–a world of Gentiles, or New Gentiles.

But still Christ remains the light of that world.

The prophesy of Isaiah is still true:

“Jerusalem! Your light has come,….See, darkness covers the earth,…

But upon you the Lord shines, …Nations shall walk by your light,

…Raise your eyes and look about;

they all gather and come to you.”

In the midst of a growth in the darkness

of non-Christian and even anti-Christian  values and culture

–a culture that we Christians too often let effect

and even dominate our lives

–Christ is still the light that shines on us.

And if we look we will see millions of people

who are gathering to come to the light.

Like the Magi–the wise men following that bright star—

the light piercing the darkness

–everyday we encounter people who are searching for the truth,

for wisdom, for salvation, for the Savior—the Christ.


But when we meet them, do we meet them like the humble shepherds,

leading them as they led their sheep to the manger?


Or do we meet them as King Herod did?

When the magi came to him searching for Christ,

Herod sent them on alone to Bethlehem.

How many times do we have the opportunity

to lead someone who is looking for the fullness of the truth about Jesus

and we either send them on their way,

or allow them to go on searching without giving them anything

but the most cursory help?

Herod points to Bethlehem and says:

“When you have found him, bring me word…”

Herod should have led the way to Bethlehem!

And so should we, today!

But to do that–to assist the seeker of truth toward conversion–is difficult

because it involves a sacrifice of time and energy

–it involves an act of giving of ourselves.



Today’s Gospel tells us that the Magi gave gifts to the Baby Jesus,

and Tradition tells us that each of these gifts has a special meaning:

–the gold represented the kingly riches

that the new born King deserved.

–the frankincense represented the incense

which should be burned before Jesus as God,

symbolic of our prayers to Him.

–and the myrrh–a spice used in ancient times

for the preparation of the dead for burial–

tells us that Jesus the King and God

came into the world to suffer and die.


When Gaspar laid down his gold before Christ,

Herod should have been there to offer his gold crown to Christ,

and offer Him all the protection

that his worldly Kingship could provide,

instead of grasping after his power

in fear that the child would take it from him.

We too should offer Christ our gold

–the worldly gifts and talents and power he has given us

to help those who seek Him.


When Melchior offered his incense,

Herod should have offered to carry the Christ-child to the temple

to let Him sleep in the Holy of Holies

–his true Father’s home—

where incense and the prayer it symbolizes

could be offered to Him day and night.

We too should offer Christ our incense–our prayers–

–prayers of adoration

and prayers of intercession

for those who are struggling to find Him or accept Him.


When Balthazar laid down the myrrh,

Herod should have offered to suffer with Jesus,

to suffer the loss of Caesar’s respect

and die to all the power and comfort that it brought.

We too should offer Christ our suffering;

opening ourselves to the ridicule that often comes

–and which we so often fear–

when we share our faith in Christ and his Church with others.

Perhaps even opening ourselves to loss of friends,

and in some cases even employment

–Herod didn’t want to lose his friend Caesar,

or his cushy job as King of Judea.



We are Christ’s Church–his people on earth–the new Israel.

In Advent, we prepared for Christ’s coming to us

and during Christmas we celebrate that coming

–the dawn of the light that shatters the darkness.

But as the end of our celebration of this season approaches

we turn from our celebration of His coming to us,

and remember that He came not only to us, but to the whole world.


Today, we begin to focus on our vocation to assist Christ

in carrying His light to a world filled with so much darkness

–to those who don’t know Him at all,

and to those who know Him well, but incompletely.

So that as He manifests Himself to the world not simply as a star in the dark sky,

but as the Epiphany of His wondrous light that shatters the darkness,

let us offer Him our gold, all our worldly gifts;

let us offer Him our incense, our prayers rising up to Him;

and let us bring Him our myrrh, uniting our suffering to His suffering;

And so let us boldly proclaim His arrival to all we meet

–with prudence and charity,

but also with the clarity of the light,

and without concern for worldly pride, pleasure, or comfort.


And with the magi and the shepherds,

and with the entire Church,

come let us adore Him,”

let us prostrate ourselves [before Him,] and do Him homage.

TEXT: Feast of the Holy Family, December 30, 2018

Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

December 30, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


On Tuesday, Christmas Day, most Masses read

the beginning of St. John’s Gospel which tells the story of Jesus’ life

by drawing a direct parallel between the Birth of Jesus

and the creation story found in the book of Genesis.

As John wrote, echoing the story of Genesis:

In the beginning was the Word, ….

and the Word was God….

All things came to be through him…

[and] The word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

What John was saying was

that Christ’s coming to dwell among us at the first Christmas

was a new “beginning” for mankind

—the new beginning made so clear

in the innocent newborn Babe in Bethlehem.


But remember, Genesis, also tells us that

in the beginning God created man to live in a family:

male and female He created them.

And God blessed them, and God said to them,

“Be fruitful and multiply…””

And so when God offers mankind a new beginning at Bethlehem

it’s no accident that He does so

by entering the world as the child of a real human family,

the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary, and, now, Jesus.

Because to renew man He must renew him as he truly is:

a creature created to live and love in a family.


Nowadays the institution of family

seems desperately in need of renewal.

Sins that most families once managed to carefully steer clear of for the most part

have become all too commonplace for the typical family today:

things like substance abuse, sexual abuse, contraception,

promiscuity, delinquency, bitterness, infidelity….

At the same time, things that were once considered unthinkable

have become mainstream alternatives for families in our culture:

things like abandonment and divorce,

cohabiting parenthood without marriage, in-vitro fertilization,

so-called “same sex marriage,” and on and on.


Of course there are many reasons for this,

but I would propose 2 key errors of our culture’s understanding of family

that precipitate all these problems.


First of all, we’ve come to treat family members as if they’re

mere instruments of satisfaction for each other.

Spouses are meant to give you pleasure,

so you choose the ones that are the most fun,

or the most sexually pleasing to you,

or the one who can best help you achieve your personal goals in life.

And when they stop doing those things, you move on.


Children are meant to entertain or give you a sense of fulfillment or being loved,

so you postpone having them until you have all the other things you want,

or you have them because no one else loves you,

or you have them and ignore them when they’re tough to deal with,

or not any fun.


And in turn, children treat their parents as if they’re there

only to cater to their children’s every whim,

pay for all their expenses,

and then get out of their way and let the kids do as they please.


And we wonder why there’s so much unhappiness in families.


That’s the first problem.

But the second problem may be even worse,

and that is the loss of any sense of what it means to be a family,

or more precisely, what it means to be a normal family.


Now, some will say, there is no such thing as a “normal” family.

But that all depends on what you mean by “normal.”

One definition of the word “normal” is “average” or “typical”,

and this has become the common—or “normal”—use of the word.

But another definition

—what used to be the “normal” meaning of the word—

is following some sort of norm or rule:

in other words, normal is

the way things are supposed to be.


Let me give you an example.

The average, typical American adult heart

has a high level of arterial clogging,

and is overstressed by things like

obesity, high-cholesterol, high blood pressure.

That’s average and typical, but is that normal?

If it is, then why worry?


But if you go to the doctor, and he tells you all the tests came out “normal”

–is that a cause for concern, or for relief?

To doctors, “normal” is “healthy”—the way it should be.


Normally a family is supposed to be a married man and woman with children

living and loving together.

Now, I know, that no family is perfect.

Some are downright broken and disintegrated.

But it’s one thing to see a family that’s trying its best be healthy and whole

despite being maimed by misfortune or sin,

even a family broken by death or abandonment,

and it’s a completely different thing to see

families that purposefully maim themselves,

like marriages based on selfishness or transitory pleasure,

or 2 men or 2 women attempting to “marry” each other.


One models itself after and points to the goodness of God’s plan for families,

and the other mocks and rejects that Divine plan of normal family life.


Some say, how do we know what’s normal for families?

It doesn’t take a genius to figure this one out—at least in general terms.

History tells us that in virtually every civilized society

the laws and customs about families

have defined family the same basic way:

the permanent and faithful union of male and female

with the desire to procreate children,

in order to strive together for mutual love, support and wellbeing.

And it’s also clear from current sociological data and research

that men and women and their children are happiest

in stable traditional family relationships.


Still, we don’t get the full picture

until we turn to the one who invented family life “in the beginning”—God.

This is part of Christ’s reason for coming to us at that first Christmas:

to reveal to us what we need to do to become who He created us to be,

especially, in the context of family.


He begins to teach us by being born and growing up in a family,

under the loving and protective care of Joseph and Mary.

Mother and wife, Mary, who called herself God’s handmaid.

And father and husband Joseph,

who sacrificed everything for his son and wife,

even to the point of leaving behind his home and business in Nazareth

in order to take Jesus to Egypt to protect him

from the murdering King Herod.

And of course, Jesus taught us how to be a good son:

as the Gospel reminds us today,

even though he knew ultimately his place was in Jerusalem teaching,

“He [returned with Joseph and Mary] … to Nazareth,

and was obedient to them.”

And when He grew up He would teach us, as we read in Matthew 19,

that the key to understanding Marriage

is to go back to Genesis and remember

that “in the beginning”

“God made them male and female…

they are no longer two, but one flesh.”


Of course this revelation didn’t begin with His incarnation and birth.

It began “in the beginning.”

In the beginning was the Word,

and the word was spoken for centuries

through the Old Testament prophets.

One of the most beautiful and instructive prophetic texts about family

is the one that we read today from Sirach in our first reading.

Think about what he says;

notice especially the interdependence, or complementarity

between the parents and the children.

For example:

“He stores up riches who reveres his mother….

“Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children….

“He who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother.”

Honoring your father will please your mother,

and will bring you happiness as well, as will revering your mother.

The three love together, and bring each other happiness.


And this revelation didn’t end when Jesus ascended to heaven.

And so in today’s 2nd reading St. Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit,

continues to teach us what family life should be:

“Husbands, love your wives….

Children, obey your parents in everything…

Fathers, do not provoke your children…”

And, of course, everybody’s favorite:

“Wives, be subordinate to your husbands…”


Now, sometimes people get upset at this last instruction.

To make a long story short, to understand this passage

you have to really look at the same instruction

that Paul gives in his letter to the Ephesians.

You see, the Churches in the cities of Colossae and Ephesus

were made up mainly of converted pagans,

who, unlike the Jews, effectively treated their women as mere property

owned either by their fathers or husbands.

That is not the Christian way.

So Paul, as he makes very clear in his letter to the Ephesians

rebukes them for this and tells them

“husbands should love their wives as they love their own bodies…

He who loves his wife loves himself.”

In effect saying,

“stop treating your wives like objects and treat them as you treat yourself

—LOVE them!”


The key, in Ephesians, is that before he says

“wives be subordinate to your husband”,

he first says:

Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.”


In other words, while he recognizes that husbands and wives

each have different responsibilities in the family,

St. Paul reminds us that just as Christ loved us

and came “not to be served but to serve”,

both husbands and wives must love each other

by becoming servants to each other.

He makes this point in Colossians today when he says:

“whatever you do, ….do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.”


Which brings us back to the Holy Family,

especially to the lives of Joseph and Mary,

who loved each other very much,

but also did everything in the context of their love for Jesus.


If only all families could do this.


Now, some might say that the Holy Family was no normal family.

Yes and no.

They were not “normal” in any sense of the word as “typical”.

But they were normal in the sense of being everything a family should be.

It is true that unlike our families, the Holy Family was sinless,

but, as difficult as it may be,

with God’s grace and our cooperation

our families can strive to be sinless too –

that’s why Jesus was born, to save us from our sins!

Nothing is impossible for God.

It is true that none of the children in our families is God the Son,

but as St. John tells us elsewhere in the Scripture for Christmas,

we “may all be called children of God.”

If only we will treat Jesus as the most precious member of our families.


As we continue our celebration of the Octave of Christmas,

let us look to the Holy Family

as both an example of God’s plan for the family,

and an instrument of His blessings and grace for our families.

Let us remember to invite Jesus Christ to be the at the center our families,

to do everything in his name.

And let us pray that in this Christmas season

all mankind may rediscover the true meaning of family,

and accept the grace of a new beginning,

promised by the Baby Jesus,

born to Holy Family of Mary and Joseph.

TEXT: The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, Christmas December 25, 2018

Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord


December 25, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


Merry Christmas!

Good to see all of you here on this glorious night/day.



2018 or so years ago today, God the Son descended from heaven,

to bring us salvation.

The Creator of the Universe became one of His lowly creatures,

taking on our flesh so that He could die on the Cross for our sins.

All because He loved us.

Amazing. Magnificent. Glorious.


But you if had visited the stable in Bethlehem that day, you might never know it.

Because all you would have seen was

just a poor tiny newborn baby boy, lying in a food trough,

surrounded by smelling barn animals,

and being fussed over by His young parents.

Nothing Amazing, or Magnificent or Glorious.


Unless, you were one of the shepherds we read about (at midnight Mass),

who visited the stable that night.

Then you would have seen something much more.

As the Gospel tells us, just a few minutes before they came to the stable,

those same shepherds had been tending their flocks outside of town.

And there something happened that they would never forget.

As the Gospel relates:

“The angel of the Lord appeared to them

and the glory of the Lord shone around them,

and they were struck with great fear.”


Now, we all have some idea what an angel is,

but how many people know exactly what it means that,

“the glory of the Lord shone around them”?

To understand this, we need to go back to the Old Testament

to the book of Exodus.

And there in the passage about Moses going up Mount Sinai

to receive the 10 Commandments from God, it tells us:

“When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it,

and the glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai.

…To the Israelites the glory of the LORD

looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.”

…. there was thunder and lightning,

…and a very loud trumpet blast.

…. the Lord descended …in fire.…

and the whole mountain trembled violently.

…[and] Everyone in the camp trembled.”


THAT’S “the glory of the Lord”:

like thunder and lighting and clouds of consuming fire.

And that is pretty much what the shepherds saw as the angel appeared to them,

so that, as St. Luke tells us, when they saw it,

like the ancient Israelites who “trembled” at the sight,

the shepherds too, “were struck with great fear.”


And then, seeing all this amazing glorious spectacle

of fire and lightening in the sky, and hearing the angel tell them:

“today …a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.”

Scripture tells us that,

“suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel.”

Now, artistic renderings of this scene normally show lots of angels in the sky,

maybe 10s, or even 100’s of angels floating around,

and usually they’re little smiling cherubs.

But the word “host” here is another word for “army,”

so we’re talking an angelic army here, we can imagine in full battle array.


And this is what the prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament

says about the number of angels that involves:

“the host of heaven cannot be numbered

and the sands of the sea cannot be measured….”

And the prophet Daniel tells us:

“a thousand thousands served him,

and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; …”


So we’re talking about a sky filled with so many angels

no one could count them—100’s of millions.


And that my friends is amazing, magnificent and glorious.



But then the shepherds go to Bethlehem

and find this tiny baby in its mother’s arms.

Where are the angels, where is the lightning and thunder and clouds and fire?

Where is the “glory of God”?


It’s there, but you just can see it.

All that is hidden, in the flesh of the Baby Jesus.

And the glory of God no longer frightens them

—now they can only be amazed by the All-Powerful and All-Glorious God’s

humility and tenderness,

and all they can feel is awe and love.



Nowadays, it seems to me, consciously or not,

we try to replicate the glory the shepherds saw in the sky.

All the lights and candles on the trees and houses, and in the churches.

All the bright wrapping paper and colorful bows.

All the sights and sounds we all associate with Christmas

find their roots and origins in this amazing manifestation of heavenly glory.

And rightly so.


But all those are merely symbols, and as beautiful and enchanting as they are,

they are nothing in comparison to the real thing,

what the shepherds saw in the sky that night.

And they are even less in comparison to what they saw in that manger

—the God who radiates that Glory, the Baby Jesus.


In a few weeks, all those symbols will be gone,

in the trash or packed away for next year.

But the glory of God remains.

As the Baby would later promise us: “behold, I am with you always.”


And so He is—always here in His full glory and power to love us and to save us.

Although He is often hidden.


He is here hidden in His Word: the Scripture and Tradition,

the wealth of teaching handed down from the Apostles to the Fathers

to us today.

He is here hidden in His Sacraments,

the outward signs instituted by Christ Himself

to manifest and pass on His graces.

And He is here hidden in His faithful people—you!

In the sacrament of baptism, and renewed in the sacrament of penance,

He has come to live in you,

where nothing but our own gravely sinful choices can drive Him away.


And He is here hidden in His Church.

Oh, I understand better than most that this seems a strange thing to say,

amidst all the scandals we hear about with priests and bishops

But the fact is, but hidden amidst all the sinners and saints

the Church is still the instrument Christ Himself established and sustains

to proclaim and protect and His word, dispense His sacraments

and nurture His people.


But the most wonderful way He remains with us is in what we’re here for today:

hidden in the Mass, or more specifically, the Eucharist.

Nowhere do we capture more fittingly the presence of the Savior

who was born in Bethlehem than in this Blessed Sacrament.


In Bethlehem, He literally entered into the world to save us and remain with us;

in the Eucharist He literally enters into each of us to save us,

and remains with hidden within us as we go out into the world.

In Bethlehem, He humbled Himself by hiding Himself human flesh;

          in the Eucharist He comes again in human flesh,

humbling Himself even more by hiding in the poverty of a piece of bread

In Bethlehem, He hid His divine glory so that we could approach Him without fear,

and receive Him with love;

          in the Eucharist, He does the exact same thing.

And yet that divine glory is there, in the Baby and in the Eucharist.

And just as that glory and power would ultimately shine forth in the life of Jesus,

in His life-changing preaching and His mighty miracles,

that same divine glory will shine forth in us

as the Eucharist can miraculously transform us

to live according to His preaching, if we let it.


This connection between Bethlehem and the Mass is actually foretold

in the Gospel narrative of the Nativity.

Let’s go back to those shepherds.

Many scholars believe that these were the shepherds

that Jewish law required to tend flocks of sheep year-round,

even in winter,

within the immediate vicinity of Jerusalem,

to provide for the year-round sacrifices of the Temple.


For example, somewhere near Bethlehem, just 5 miles from Jerusalem.


These shepherds would often separate a new lamb from the other sheep,

and then wrap it tightly in linen,

to protect it from injuring itself,

because only spotless lambs could be sacrificed in the Temple.


And these shepherds would go and find a new born baby

wrapped similarly in swaddling clothes,

and remember that the prophet Isaiah foretold that the savior

would be sacrificed for his people, “like a lamb led to the slaughter.”


And they found the babe laying in a manger

—a food trough for animals, as if He Himself were food.

And that manger is made of wood, like the wood of the cross.

And that manger was located in a town called “Bethlehem,”

which is Hebrew for “House of Bread.”


So that as we celebrate this holy Mass tonight/today,

and it looks like all we see is a little piece of bread,

remember the shepherds seeing that little baby,

and knowing that but truly present, though hidden,

were countless angels, and lightening and thunder and clouds of fire

—truly the glory of the Lord.


And know that that same thing, that same glory,

is hidden but surely here at this Mass tonight,

which traditional calls “Christ’s Mass”, or Christmas,

but also at every single Mass throughout the year.



If we’re paying attention, Christmas can be a powerful time of discovering Jesus,

and His presence and His love.

A time of truly experiencing the glory of the Lord.

I hope and pray that is the case for all of us today.


But as the season passes, and the lights and trees come down,

and all the bright wrapping paper goes into the trash,

and we return to our normal daily routine,

it will be so easy to forget about the glory of the Lord that we have seen.


But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Because that glory remains in the Church until the end of time.

And it can remain in you, if only you will recognize it hidden in the many graces

He offers to you throughout the year,

and be not afraid of that grace, but accept it eagerly and joyfully

as we do today from the humble, tender and glorious Baby Jesus.

TEXT: 4th Sunday of Advent, December 23, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Advent

December 23, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


This morning before the 8:45 Mass, at about 8:15,

the fire alarm went off in the church.

And after evacuating everyone, and having the fire department come and go,

and all the confusion in between,

before Mass in the sacristy I gathered the altar boys together for prayer,

and reminded them, “Let us place ourselves in the presence of God.”


Advent can sometimes be like a fire drill, with all the confusion of shopping and decorating and everything that goes with preparing for the cultural celebration of Christmas.

But then you come here to set things straights, to focus on the real meaning of Advent—to place yourself in the presence of God.

But really, all of Advent should be that way, continuously trying to place yourself in His presence.

And in these last few hours of Advent to help us with that, I encourage you

to also place yourselves in the presence of the 2 people

who understand what it means to prepare for the birth of Jesus

better than anyone: the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph.



Not much is known about the early life of the Blessed Mother.

Scripture is silent about her childhood,

and for the most part, so are the early fathers of the Church.

Even so, Scripture and all the Fathers are unanimous

in their deep reverence and love for her,

and her unique grace and status in creation

is explicitly extolled from the earliest days.


And not all of the Fathers are silent about her childhood.

Some are very clear in their belief that she knew from a very early age

that God had a special mission for her in life.

Think about it: the Church teaches infallibly that

she was conceived in the womb of her mother

without the stain of original sin,

which means she never suffered from concupiscence:

she could see very clearly the difference between

the good and evil around her;

and she never once committed a personal sin.

This is, in part, what the angel Gabriel meant when he said to her:

“Hail, full of grace!”


This was no ordinary child.

So it’s no surprise that some of the fathers held

that when she was a very little girl

Mary made a vow of virginity to God:

consecrating and dedicating her whole life to Him.

Some say that from the age of about 3 years old she was

brought to the Temple where she was educated by the priests and scribes

until she was about 12.

Some talk about the fact that she would have had multiple experiences

of visions and inspirations from God.


In any case, between Mary’s

unique holiness, her clear intellect, and her complete love of the Lord,

combined with God’s unique love for her,

we can only imagine how splendidly she was prepared

to be His mother.

Think of God the Son, who existed from all eternity,

and imagine how sitting on His throne in heaven

He must have looked down with love and tenderness

on this young girl who He knew would one day become His mother.

Think of how He would

provide for her and protect her,

how He would send His angels to defend her,

how He would speak to her lovingly, even before He was born,

perhaps even more clearly and intimately

than He spoke to Moses and the prophets.


This is the girl, who, when the angel Gabriel came to her

and told her that she would be the Mother of God himself,

did not run and hide from her calling.

Instead she responded: “How can this be, since I know not man?”

–in other words, “I’m a virgin, what am I to do? tell me, and I’ll do it!”

This is something else we certainly know about this young girl:

she was a virgin.

The Gospels make it clear that she’s a virgin

because they want no doubt that that no mere man

is the father of this child, but that God alone is His true Father.


And when the angel told her this great news she responded:

“let it be done to me according to your word.”

Complete and utter faith, trust, and acceptance of God’s will.


This is the woman, who received her Lord in perfect faith and love.

Who held Him in her womb;

who cared for and worried for her baby

as only as an expectant mother could,

and waited for Him with joy and love beyond all telling.


What about Joseph?

If we know little about Mary’s childhood, we know even less about Joseph’s.

We know that, like Mary, he was a direct descendant of King David,

and that he was perhaps born in Bethlehem,

but more likely born in Nazareth

where he lived and worked as a carpenter.

His relative obscurity in Scripture leads us to conclude that he was humble man,

who taught his son, Jesus, to be a humble man

—to serve, not to be served.


Some of the legends about him say

that he was an old man when he married Mary.

Some suggest this as a reason he was able to be celibate with the Virgin

—but that degrades both the gift of celibacy and the virtue of St. Joseph.

So, another strain of the tradition, running through the great Augustine and Aquinas

holds that he was a young man of marrying age.

But above all, we know he was a righteous man,

which, in the language of Scripture,

means a man who was an exceptionally holy man,

always following the will of God.


And so, it shouldn’t surprise us that it is the tradition of the Fathers,

and the “common teaching” of the Church,

that like Mary, he too was prepared from an early age

for his role in salvation history.

That Joseph, who unlike Mary, was not conceived without original sin,

nevertheless, like Mary never committed a personal sin in his life.

Indeed, some even believe that Joseph was purified from original sin

after his conception in his mother’s womb, before he was born.

All of this because he had been chosen to stand in, on earth,

for Jesus’ Father in heaven,

to adopt Jesus, and to be a true father to Hhim.

To teach Jesus, insofar as he was human, how to be a man, a righteous man.


It is this Joseph who is married to the Virgin Mary.



These are the Joseph and Mary that were prepared for the birth of Christ

from the earliest days of their lives

—chosen by God to prepare a place for Jesus in the world.

To welcome Him with open and loving arms.

To serve Him, even as He was to serve them.

To worship and adore Him, even as they corrected His childish mistakes.


This is the Mary and Joseph who traveled on the rocky mountainous roads

from Nazareth in the North of Israel, to Bethlehem in the south,

during the cold month of December.

This is the Mary and Joseph, dedicated to their baby and to each other,

who wandered the streets of Bethlehem

looking for a place to lay their heads.

This was the Mary and Joseph who hastily cleaned the stable,

sweeping the floor, washing the dirty manger and laying out fresh hay.

This was the Mary and Joseph who watched in awe

the miraculous birth of God the Son

—who were filled with the immeasurable joy

at the coming of the Messiah.

This was the Mary and Joseph who loved our Lord

as only a new mommy and daddy can

—more than you and I could ever begin to.



While the best Christmas present is always saved for Christmas morning,

most of us get a few Christmas presents in the days before Christmas.

As we make our last minute Christmas preparations this week,

let us remember to open the wonderful gifts God gives us today:

the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph.

Gifts He gives us to help us prepare for His greatest gift of Christmas—His Son.

Let us turn to them as examples,

and ask them, who prepared so perfectly for the coming of their son,

to show us how to prepare.

And as we a move into these last few days before the birth of their little baby,

let us stay close to them so that they may show us

the wonder, the awe, the joy and love that Christmas means.

TEXT: 3rd Sunday of Advent, December 16, 2018

Third Sunday of Advent

Gaudete Sunday

December 16, 2018

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


Today is Gaudete Sunday: rejoice Sunday.

In one sense, with all the festive atmosphere around us at this time of year,

being joyful today makes a lot of sense.

But part of me struggles to rejoice today, because the fact is,

the world is becoming a crazy place, and there are troubles all around us.

I won’t go through the list, you know it too well,

and sometimes I feel like I talk about it too much.

We try to ignore it, but the reality is that in this world there is a lot of evil

and far from causing us to rejoice, it causes us a lot of fear and anxiety.


The outward festivities of this time of year help to lift or mitigate all this a bit.

But the problem is, that’s only temporary, and it only goes so far:

the Christmas trees, and lights and presents are wonderful,

and all the warm feelings and memories are beautiful,

but in the end, they just ease the pain for a little while,

while underneath the fears and anxiety are still there,

and in a few weeks when the season passes, the troubles will still be there.


Then again, as strange as it may seem,

this is actually exactly what Gaudete Sunday is all about.

And it’s exactly what Advent is all about.

It’s about the permanent, total solution to all of our problems.

About the irradiation of evil and pain.

About replacing anxiety with peace, and fear with joy!

Not just on the surface, but in the depth of our hearts.

And not just for a few days or weeks, but forever, both on earth and in heaven.


Our faith teaches us that there will be no real abiding justice in this world.

Because Man continues to perpetrate injustice against man,

and yet man continues to think

that man and man-made things and man-centered ideologies

are the solution.


But man is not the solution.

He can be part of the solution, but only when he—we–admits his role

in contributing to the evil in the world.


As scripture reminds us, in the beginning,

tempted by the devil and accepting his lies,

Adam and Eve chose to put themselves first, above God.

The creature rejected the Creator’s understanding and plan and design

of what He had created,

and man tried to make himself, not God, the center of all things.

And of course man failed, but in doing that,

he brought evil into all of creation

—both the moral evil of sin,

and the physical evil of sickness, natural catastrophes and death.

Man rejected God’s loving and perfectly ordered design,

and replaced it with the devil’s hateful confusion.


But God loved man too much to let it stay that way.

So He promised that He would send a savior, born of a woman,

who would crush the devil and all his offspring,

and save mankind from himself.


Friends, this is what Advent is all about.

Sometimes people get upset with me

because I fret too much about  the way our culture turns Advent

into an early celebration of Christmas

—and a secularized Christmas at that.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying these things—I get it.

Santa’s great, Christmas trees, and lights and all,

they have their special place.

It’s just not enough, in that it tends to the superficial,

and tends to ignore the enduring.

And that’s not Advent.


Advent is about really thinking through—contemplating—

the real meaning of Christmas

so you can celebrate for what it really is it when it comes.

Advent means asking:

“Why did God become a little baby?

What difference did it make?”

Advent means remembering that baby grew up

to teach us some very hard sayings,

and to die on the cross for our sins.

Advent means remembering that sin is in the world,

and man is not the solution, but part of that sin,

unless and until he accepts the fact that Christ is the only solution,

the wonderful and joyous news

that Christ came and did crush the serpent’s head,

He has conquered evil,

and brought His kingdom of justice, love and peace

to the world.


Of course, some say, well if Christ crushed evil,

why are there all these troubles today?



Because most people have not accepted Christ,

and not joined Him in HIS battle against evil.

They—we—all too often want to fight evil on our terms,

with our own solutions,

and many times we simply want to ignore it all together.

Because, in a sense, my friends,

people ignore the importance of something like Advent.


Advent is a season of expectant joy, but not to pretend that all is well.

A season of hope in Jesus, but not of simply dulling the pain with

hot butter-rum punch, or spiked eggnog.

A season not of ignoring evil, but rather of recognizing it,

but not so we can feel dejected or afraid,

so that we can truly rejoice that with Christ we can overcome it all.

Things can be as they should be:

there can be peace on earth, and goodwill among men,

and you and I can be the truly good persons,

the good fathers and mothers,

the good children and friends,

the good priests we long to be.

Because Advent is the season of mentally, spiritually, and morally

wrapping our minds and hearts around the fact

that God the Son came into the world 2000 years ago,

as a real human baby, and so

entered right into the middle of our anxiety-, fear- and despair-filled lives,

and conquered it all.

And it is the season of recognizing that that all too often

we simply reject His coming, and do not let it transform our lives.



So Advent is a time when we should be like the crowds in today’s gospel,

asking John the Baptist: “what should we do?”


And a time to listen and take to heart John’s responses.


To the Crowd he says:

“Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none….”

He calls us to be kind, charitable, patient.

To be generous, especially to those in need.

But most especially to be like Jesus who gave Himself to us on Christmas:

we need to be generous in giving of ourselves, self-giving.

So many of us focus on ourselves, but John says, focus on others,

beginning by focusing on Christ, placing Him at the center of everything,

and then that will always lead you to focus on your neighbor.



And to the tax collectors he said:

“Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”

There is so much greed in the world, and dishonesty, and lying.

And we all get caught up in it, both the rich and the poor.

Especially, amazingly enough, at this time of year.



To the soldiers he says,

“Do not practice extortion…”

Or we might say, stop taking advantage of people when they’re vulnerable.

He says: “…do not falsely accuse anyone…”

How easily we blame others for our faults and sins—especially those we love.

He says: “…and be satisfied with your wages.”

Envy, or jealousy, eats away at so many,

especially in America, especially in Northern Virginia,

especially, again amazingly, at this time of year.



Today’s reading stops there,

but if we’d read on to the very next verses in the Gospel of Matthew

it tells us that John the Baptist also told King Herod

to stop committing adultery with his brother’s wife.

Today our society has practically elevated adultery and sexual depravity

to an Olympic sport.

Advent must be a time of renewed chastity and purity.



All around us we see signs of the good cheer of the “holiday season,”

but we don’t  have to look to hard to see all the evil.

But during Advent Season we see this evil, and know its cause,

and we know that 2018 or so years ago,

Jesus Christ was born to save us from all that,

if only we will accept His coming.


And so even in the middle of all the troubles that surround us

today’s teaching from the prophet Isaiah still rings true:

“On that day, it shall be said …:

Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!

The LORD, your God, is in your midst,

a mighty savior…”

“That day” is Christmas Day.

The day our mighty savior came to crush the serpents head.

So that today, on this 3rd Sunday in Advent, Isaiah insists:

“Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel!

and St. Paul joins him telling us:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!

…Have no anxiety at all…”

“….The Lord is near.”



As we continue our Advent season,

let us do so filled with joyful expectation

that evil, in the world, or in our hearts, cannot triumph

against the power and love of our Savior.

So let us repent, and rejoice, for the Lord has come, Our Savior is in our midst.

And He can and will change us, and the whole world, if we let Him.


This is the meaning of Christmas,

and it is what we must contemplate and act upon

in this holy season of Advent.


“Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!”