TEXT: 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 24, 2019

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 24, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA



Today’s Gospel reading is really one of the most beautiful texts in Scripture:

everything from the radically profound concept to

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you”,

to the wonderful promise:

“Give, and it shall be given to you.

Good measure pressed down, shaken together, running over,

will they pour into the fold of your garment.”

But as wonderful as these sayings are,

they are also very hard sayings to apply and live out:

“When someone slaps you on one cheek, turn and give him the other;”

“Do not judge, …Do not condemn, ….Pardon, and you shall be pardoned.”


If we’re honest with ourselves,

the whole idea of loving our enemy is very intimidating.

Why must we love our enemy?

In today’s 1st reading from Samuel,

we’re reminded of the story of Saul searching out David, to kill him.

And in this particular passage we see

where God has presented David with the perfect opportunity

to end his troubles as he comes across his enemy Saul

when Saul is asleep and completely vulnerable.

But David refuses to kill King Saul:

“Do not harm him,” he says,

“for who can lay hands on the Lord’s anointed.”

But, as we read elsewhere,

while David will not do anything to harm God’s anointed,

he does not hesitate to kill his other enemies

–in fact as he’s dying he tells his son Solomon to continue killing his enemies.

Clearly, King David has not yet understood the concept of loving his enemies,

or turning the other cheek.


It takes another son of David, the one who is the anointed one

–the Messiah or Christ–to introduce this teaching and to give it meaning.

At the last Supper Jesus told His apostles:

“Greater love has no man than this,

that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Here, Christ calls us to love our friends even to this radical extent, to die for them.

But what about our enemies?

The thing is, that at the Last Supper,

Jesus is speaking in the context of His knowledge

of the death that awaits Him the next day.

A death He endures, not just for His friends, but even for His enemies.

It’s true that only those who are His friends

can benefit from His death and resurrection,

but the thing is that in His death He invites all mankind

–His friends and His enemies–

to be not only His friends, but also His brothers and sisters,

sons and daughters of His Heavenly father.

He dies so that even His enemies can share in His very own life

–to truly become, through Him,  “God’s anointed”.


So in today’s Gospel we hear Jesus tell us that if we love our enemies:

“You will rightly be called sons of the Most High,

since he himself is good to the ungrateful and the wicked.”

The concept of loving our enemies

is not built on some sort of sick divine masochism,

but on the fact that these are the ones whom Christ

invites or calls to be his family,

to become “anointed ones of God” with Him.



Christ died for us all–friends and enemies—

and invites us to share in His sacrificial death–His greatest act of love for us.

And so just as He allowed His enemies to not only crucify Him but also

to curse Him, and to strip Him and take all of His clothes

                   –even to slap His cheek,

He tells us in turn to:

“bless those who curse you…

when someone takes your coat, let him have your shirt as well…

When someone slaps you on one cheek, turn and give him the other.”

And even though He is falsely judged and condemned, He said on the Cross:

“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

So He tells us today: “Pardon, and you shall be pardoned.”



Jesus goes on and on with examples of loving our enemy,

because He wants this love to permeate every aspect of our lives.

This, as I said can be intimidating.

But we have to remember 2 very important things.

First of all, the examples Christ gives here are just that: examples.

Sometimes when our enemy strikes us

we should not simply silently let him strike us again.

For example, when Christ is being tried before the Sanhedrin, Scripture tells us:

“one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand….

Jesus answered him,

“If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness to the wrong;

but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?”

Think about this: Jesus doesn’t just silently turn the other cheek to be slapped

–He asks, “why are you hitting me?”

He verbally and with reason pushes back

—because in His divine wisdom

and in love for the guard, the people around and for us,

He sees it as necessary that we hear Him correct the guard.

But also in love, He restrains Himself:

He could have hit the guard back, but He doesn’t.

In fact, as He told Peter just minutes before this,

He could have called down “more than twelve legions of angels”

to strike down the whole place.



What Christ is demanding in these examples

is that all of our actions should be made in the context of love

–even when dealing with our enemies.

The first response in love is patience and humility,

but sometimes, IN LOVE, for either the person, or the whole community,

we have to respond in another way.

Maybe we have to turn the other cheek, or walk away, or remain silent,

or maybe we have to speak up and correct, or even chastise,

or fight or even punish.

But whatever we do, it must not be done with hatred, bitterness or malice,

but in love, even if it’s painful to us personally.



There’s also a second more important factor to consider

when we think of the hardness of these sayings.

In Chapter 19 of St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus gives another set of hard sayings.

When the apostles show their frustration with the difficulties He’s presenting,

saying, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus tells them:

“With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

For man, loving our enemies is impossible.

For some of us, turning the other cheek, or pardoning or not passing judgment,

may seem impossible.

But for Christ, our Lord and God, nothing is impossible.

–His incarnation, His death and resurrection show us this very clearly.


But think now: by our baptism we have been born again into a  new life

which is a participation in the very life of Christ Himself.

We have become not only friends, but family, and not only family,

but members of  Christ’s Body.

And in the Eucharist we are present once again

at the death and resurrection of our Lord,

His sacrificial laying down of His life for us and for all.

And in the Eucharist He calls us to take our sacrifices made in love

–the times we’ve turned the other cheek, given our coat or been patient,

or even painfully corrected someone in love—

and offer these to be united with His own sacrifice

so that they and we can be transformed by the love of the Cross,

and enter more fully into the life of the risen Lord.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit working in this sacrament of the Eucharist,

and in all the sacraments, we receive the power to live the life of Christ,

to love our enemies, and do good to those who hate us.


Because it’s not merely our love at work, but the love of Christ Himself.

So that even if these things are impossible for us,

nothing is impossible for us when we live in Jesus Christ.

As St. Paul says in today’s 2nd reading:

“Earthly men are like the man of earth,

heavenly men are like the man of heaven“—Jesus.



Christ’s call to “love our enemies” is at one and the same time

sublimely beautiful, and devastatingly hard.

But if the Cross is hard, so also is it beautiful

as the act of perfect love that leads us to the resurrection and eternal life.

As we now begin to enter into the mystery of the Holy Eucharist

let us ask Christ to unite our sacrifices to His own,

that we may have the strength to see everyone we meet as called to be

“God’s anointed” and so

–to turn the other cheek, to pardon and not condemn

–to lay down our lives as Christ lays down His life,

for those who are His friends

and those who are now His enemies

but whom He calls to be His friends.

And let us praise Him,

knowing that in that in this giving of ourselves in the life of Christ’s love,

He in turn gives us all  good things, in

“Good measure pressed down, shaken together, running over.”



TEXT: 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 17, 2019

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 17, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


“Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.

… But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”


I suppose we could use this verse

to talk about a lot of problems in the world today.

But let me focus on one you might not expect: the treasures of the Church.


If you think about, it would be pretty hard to call the Catholic Church “poor.”

In fact, we’re pretty rich.

Which might seem to run afoul of the saying “blessed are the poor, woe to the rich.

But of course, the wealth of the Church is not a problem in itself,

just as being poor is not a good thing in itself.

After all if being poor were in itself a good thing,

then we should never try to help the poor out of poverty.


Of course, Jesus is talking about how riches can corrupt us so easily,

as it’s so easy to love money more than God,

so that we must all be, as St. Matthew clarifies, “poor in spirit.”


And really, to some extent it’s good that the Church is wealthy.

For example, our wealth helps keep us independent from governments.

Or more importantly, most of the wealth we hold

is largely in beautiful religious art and magnificent churches,

built, often by the faithful poor,

as a sign of our love and praise for God.

But, given that, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if we lost all that

—we’d survive with God’s grace.


Because the Church really has two great treasures:

first, its material wealth,

but there’s a second treasure, much much more important.


You’ve all heard the story of the 3rd century martyr, St. Lawrence,

who was in charge of the finances of the Church in Rome.

One day the emperor demanded he turn over all the Church’s treasury to him.

So St. Lawrence came to before the emperor

and pointed outside to a huge crowd of poor, sick and suffering people, and said “These are the true treasures of the Church,”

The second treasure of the church is its people: you and me.



So clearly there’s nothing wrong with the Church having treasures of either kind.

The problem comes when priests and bishops use those treasures

for their own personal selfish gain or satisfaction.


Sometimes, this happens in simple and very common ways.

For example, using the money of the Church to build an opulent rectory.

Or…when a priest uses the people,

by avoiding preaching any hard teachings of the faith from the pulpit,

because he wants them to like him,

even at the risk of neglecting their souls.

He uses them for selfish emotional comfort.



But sadly, we also see it in more dramatic, terrible ways.

We see priests and bishops actually stealing money from the Church

to pay for extravagant hidden lifestyles.

And most horribly, we see it when priests and bishops abuse their people,

especially by stealing the innocence of the most vulnerable,

particularly children.


Of course of the abuses of the 2 kinds of treasures of the church,

the second, the abuse of the people, is by far the worst.


This last week our Bishop Burbidge, the Bishop of Arlington,

released a list of priests of the diocese

who have been at least, as he says, “credibly accused” of abuse of minors.

I hope you know that I believe strongly

that priests who are guilty of this sin are despicable,

and deserve every punishment they get in this world and in the next.

As Jesus says today:

“Woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry.

“Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep.”


But as you consider that list, it’s important for your wellbeing of spirit

to remember a few things,

First, a “credible accusation” is not the same as being found guilty

—it might be compared to a civil judge saying

there’s enough evidence to have a trial.

But about half of these priests never had any kind of trial

in the church or in civil courts,

because they were accused after they had already died,

and so never had a chance to defend themselves.

And there are at least 2 who maintain their innocence.

In the case of one of those 2,

Rome has decided that there’s not enough evidence to find him guilty,

and they have allowed him to retire, as a priest, without any public ministry

–case closed.


Nevertheless, some of those on the list were found guilty by the Church.

Again, if they are guilty, let them be punished on earth and in hell or purgatory.



But as horrible as they are,

worse than the crimes and sins of mere priests

against the vulnerable in the Church

are sins and crimes of those who have been given

the highest responsibility to protect and care for

these treasures of the Church—bishops and cardinals.

Whether these sins are lying and covering up and facilitating the sins of priests,

or the bishop’s own actual assaulting or manipulating of the innocent.


If there was a list of these of offenders, which there isn’t,

right at the top of the list would be

the former Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick.

Today/yesterday (Saturday) the Vatican finally announced

that he had been found guilty of sexual abuse

of minors and adult seminarians, including in the confessional.

Guilty as charged of the worst kind of abuse, as a high-ranking churchman.

Thanks be to God!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t revel in his crime, or even in his misfortunate,

but I do rejoice that justice has finally been served

and this evil tumor is ripped from the bowls of the Church.



That’s a good start.

But as I told you months ago,

Mister McCarrick’s abuse had been widely known

among seminarians, priests and bishops for almost 30 years,

but most of us couldn’t do anything about it

because we had no evidence, only persistent third hand accounts.

But the thing is, people who were in a position to know,

and could have investigated with authority, did nothing about it.

And he kept rising in the Church, from bishop, to archbishop to cardinal.


Finally someone did something about it—Pope Benedict XVI prohibited

the retired McCarrick from exercising public ministry,

requiring him to live a life of seclusion and penance.

But for some reason Pope Francis lifted those sanctions

and made McCarrick one of his trusted advisors,

some say giving him great influence on the selection

of new bishops and even cardinals in America.


Now, we shouldn’t assume a person’s guilt

until it’s been proven in a legitimate trial, or until they admit it themselves.

But there are accusations that specific named Vatican officials

ignored or hid official internal reports about McCarrick’s crimes

to support his promotion up the ranks.

And there are even accusations that this is part of a wide-ranging

sub-culture of homosexuals in the hierarchy.

I don’t know if any of that is true,

but since these accusations come from several highly placed sources,

including the former nuncio, to the United States, Archbishop Vigano,

it would seem that those accusations are at least as “credible”

as the “credible accusations” against the priests on the list released this week.

So, in justice they also must be thoroughly investigated,

or it’s all a bunch of hypocrisy.



But if Mr. McCarrick is simply a scapegoat–“move along, nothing to see here”–

then we are only allowing the cancerous filth to continue

to corrupt the body of the Church.

And we are begging for even great disaster.



This week the leaders of all the Bishops Conferences around the world

will gather in Rome for a Summit with the Pope

to discuss the problem of clerical child abuse,

especially the role of the bishops.

Many people hope this will be the beginning of a true reform.


But the signs are discouraging.

For example, Pope Francis said last week that

“The expectations need to be deflated…

The problems of abuse will continue.

It is a human problem, everywhere….


Moreover, the Pope named one of McCarrick’s alleged protégés,

Cardinal Cupich of Chicago,

to be one of the cardinals in charge of the summit.

Much as McCarrick was one of the bishops in charge of the Dallas meeting

17 years ago, when the bishops exempted themselves from the rules

they wrote for investigating abusive priests.


And lastly, last week, the Pope named another McCarrick protégé,

Cardinal Kevin Farrell,

to be the Vatican Camerlengo: the Cardinal who will be

temporarily in charge of the Church when the Pope dies or retires.

As they say, the optics are bad.



Now, maybe I’ve depressed you.

Some days I get a little depressed too.

Some of you may even be tempted to give up hope.

Be we can’t do that.


Earlier I mentioned that the Church has 2 treasures:

material wealth and the people of God.

But I intentionally left out the 3rd and by far the greatest treasure we have:


Jesus, and His Body on earth, the Church, that contains and hands down to us

all the spiritual gifts of Christ, including Scripture Tradition, Doctrines,

the sacraments, His Grace, and all the great Catholic saints.


As Jeremiah tells us in today’s first reading:

Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings,

who seeks his strength in flesh.

but, “Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD,

whose hope is the LORD.”


I’ve said it before, we trust and follow Jesus and His Church

–we do not follow mere human beings,

even if they are bishops or priests, or cardinals, or even popes,

Yes, trust bishops and priests if they are they are following Jesus,

and helping you to do so also.

And thank God for them, and love them, respect them, and support them.

But in the end, we all, laity and priest alike,

must place our hope and trust together in Jesus and His Church.

And if we do that, as Jeremiah says today, we will be:

“like a tree planted beside the waters

that stretches out its roots to the stream:

it fears not the heat when it comes;

its leaves stay green;

in the year of drought it shows no distress,

but still bears fruit.”



As we now move more deeply into the great mystery of this Holy Mass,

let us thank the Lord for the purification He is manifesting in His Church.

But let us pray that by His almighty power,

He will continue to cleanse the filth from His Church.

And let us pray for all priests, bishops and cardinals,

that they always recognize that the treasures of the Church

are not theirs for plundering,

but they are merely poor stewards of these riches

that Christ hands on to us.



TEXT: 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 3, 2019

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 3, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,

before you were born I dedicated you,

a prophet to the nations I appointed you.”


These words of God flowing from the pen of the prophet Jeremiah,

give a strong and unambiguous testimony of our faith

in God’s love and His creation of each and every human life.

“Before I formed you…I knew you…”

And to the personal identity of every human life

from the beginning in a mother’s womb:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,

before you were born I dedicated you…

Not a blob of flesh, not a tumor…

Not an ambiguous IT, but a personal individual YOU.


And so as believing Christians, Catholics, we hold as a matter of faith,

that a baby in the womb is a human being, an individual person,

right from the moment HE or SHE exists in the womb.

And because of that, when God tells us, “you shall not kill”

and applies it to every single innocent human life,

all of us embrace that and understand it to apply

to the most innocent human life: you shall not commit abortion.



Now, right about now, some of you are already tuning me out.

“There he goes again, talking about abortion.”

Or, maybe, “yeah, yeah father, I’m pro-life too,

but why are you preaching about it AGAIN?”

You know what?

I’m tired of preaching about abortion:

I wish it could just go away I could preach about

how love is patient, love is kind.

But it won’t go away.

And this week it took a terrible turn for the worse, and right here in Springfield.

So we can’t afford to be tired of talking about abortion.

Not today.



You see, our belief in isn’t just a religious belief.

Certainly our faith clarifies, informs and helps us to understand

the significance of this belief.

But really, our understanding is rooted in science.

And that understanding through science

has becoming clearer and clearer in the last few years.

For decades abortion defenders use to say,

“Oh, that’s not a baby, it’s just a meaningless, parasitical blob of flesh.”

But science always told a different story.

And now it tells it even more clearly.

For example, scientists can take the DNA from a zygote

—the tiny one celled creature that after 2 weeks is called an embryo,

and after 11 weeks is called a fetus,

and after 20 years is called a man or woman.

Scientists can take the DNA from a zygote

and they find not the DNA of the mother, not the DNA of the father,

but the DNA of a brand new individual personal human being.

The identical DNA they will find in that same person if they test it

20 years or 90 years later.


Or, for example, at about 3 weeks after that one celled zygote is formed,

doctors can take an ultrasound of a mother’s womb

and see a live picture of an embryo

with a head and arms and legs and fingers and toes.

And at about 5-6 weeks they can see the little heart pumping,

although science also tells us it actually started pumping

about 3 weeks earlier.


Science shows us that that thing in the woman’s tummy

is not a mere “blastocyst”, but a real-life baby.


Now over the years, this has usually been the most important fact

to make to most people who called themselves “pro-choice.”

And if you talked to them, calmly, reasonably, and respectfully,

once you showed this to them,

you could usually move them to be at least a little more “pro-life.”


In fact, that has actually happened on a societal scale.

Because while different polls go back and forth about the country being

51% percent pro-choice or 51% percent pro-life,

if you dig a little deeper into those polls, they tell a different story.


For example, a recent Marist poll showed that over 50% of Americans

self-identify as “pro-choice.”

But, that same poll found the following:

  • 61% of Americans want abortion prohibited after the first 3 months of pregnancy
  • 65% want the Supreme Court to substantially overturn their decision in Roe v. Wade, either outlawing abortion altogether, or turning it back to the states to decide
  • 75% want substantial limitations on abortion


So pro-life is actually winning little by little, and in a landslide.

Except with certain extremists who insist on abortion on demand,

without any restrictions or regulations or protections whatsoever.


Extremists, like the former Senator from New York who ran for president 2 years ago,

who was a champion for partial birth abortion

—aborting the baby as it is being born.

Or Extremists, like those in the New York legislatures

and the governor of New York,

who just passed a law that made abortion legal up until

40 weeks of pregnancy—full term.


But these extremists aren’t just aren’t just up in New York.

Sadly, they are right in in Virginia,

as this week our Governor defended his support for late term abortion:

“If a mother is in labor,” he said,

“The infant would be delivered…

“The infant would be resuscitated

if that’s what the mother and the family desired…..”


Think of this: after the baby is born alive,

it would still be up to the mother whether to let it live.

That’s not just late term abortion…

Our governor was supporting infanticide.


And sadly, extremism is right here in Springfield.

Last week our delegate, Kathy Tran, introduced a bill

essentially calling for abortion on demand

up until the full 40-week term of gestation.

So when asked the question,

“So where it’s obvious that a woman is about to give birth,

…would that still be a point at which she could still request an abortion

She’s dilating?…

Tran responded: “My bill would allow that, yes.”



So it doesn’t matter that God and His Church tells us

it’s a human being that we shall not kill.

And it doesn’t matter that DNA, and ultrasound and medical science tells us

this is a living human baby, just as human as you or me.

And it doesn’t matter that the vast majority of Americans and Virginias

agree with all that.

All that matters is that these barbarians think

that it’s okay to kill any baby whenever you want,

up to the point of natural birth,

and you can let it die of neglect even after being born.

Thanks be to God they didn’t have the votes to pass their gruesome agenda.




I’m tired of talking about abortion, and your tired of hearing about it.

But that doesn’t really matter: what matters is the lives of BABIES!

1 minute before they’re born, and 1 minute after they’re born.

And 3 months, and 6 months and 9 months before they’re born,

or 3, 6 and 9 months after they’re born.



So have courage and zeal.

Don’t let these barbarians drive us into silence,

whether out of fear or out of simple weariness.

Rather, take these new threats against the unborn as a rallying call,

and as we read in today’s first reading:

“gird your loins; stand up and tell them all that I command you…

for it is [God]…who have made you …a pillar of iron, a wall of brass,

against the whole land…”


Now sometimes when I or you get all riled up like this,

some people mistake it for hatred.

Let me be clear: hatred has no place in the pro-life movement.

We must stand up and defend babies, but not with hatred against our enemies,

but with the love of Christ.


Because as St. Paul tells us today,

“if I have all faith so as to move mountains,

but do not have love, I am nothing.”

I love babies.

And I love their mothers.

But we must also love people who don’t care one whit for them at all.

So even as we stand up in righteous anger against extremist,

we remember that Christ tells us, “love your enemies.”

And so we fight them, all the while remembering that,

“Love is patient, love is kind… it is not rude….it is not quick-tempered,

And when we get discouraged or weary, remember, love,

“… bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.”



Let us beg our Lord Jesus Christ to shower his love and grace

on our great Nation and our beloved Commonwealth of Virginia,

and on Springfield itself.

May he make us strong in his love, to stand up for the right to life,

And may we leave here today, sent by God, strong in his love,

to proclaim the truth about the dignity of unborn babies to all who will hear.

Remembering the word of God given to the prophet Jeremiah:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,

before you were born I dedicated you,

a prophet to the nations I appointed you.”


TEXT: 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 27, 2019

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 27, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


“As a body is one though it has many parts,

and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,

so also Christ.”

These are words of great joy and hope.

But they are also words of great grief and anguish.

Because even as Christ calls His Church to be His one body,

we look around and we see that in so many ways

the Church doesn’t look or act like “one body in Christ.”


Most obviously we see this in the divisions that appear

between the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox,

and the many various Protestant denominations.

More subtly we see this even within our own Catholic Church.


This last week we’ve celebrated a week of prayer for Christian Unity.

But before we’ll ever achieve real Christian unity,

we have to come to understand 2 things:

first we have to understand what one set of beliefs unites us,

and second, we have to understand how to

                             live out that belief together as one body.


Of course the core belief that unites all Christians

is faith in the revelation of Jesus Christ.

But that’s also where all the divisions start.

The Catholic Church has always believed that

while there is only one revelation of Christ,

it comes to us in two complementary ways:

in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition,

or the oral teaching handed down by the Apostles.

And we also believe that Christ has protected this revelation

by having the Holy Spirit guide his apostles and  their successors,

the popes and bishop,

in authoritatively interpreting Tradition and Scripture

–we call this the “teaching office” of the bishops,

or the “magisterium.”


The original great division in the Western Church in the 16th century came

when MARTIN LUTHER and his followers argued

that Christ’s revelation comes to us in Scripture alone,

and rejected Tradition and the teaching authority, the magisterium,

of the pope and bishops.

But what they soon found out is that

when you eliminate the Tradition and magisterium,

you can wind up with as many different interpretations of Scripture

as you have individual Christians.

And so today we see 10s of 1000’s of separate Protestant denominations

interpreting Scripture as they see fit.

And, unfortunately, we also now so many Catholics who do the same.



Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus Himself showed how necessary it is

to have someone who can interpret Scripture with authority.

It tells us that after He had read the scriptures in the synagogue

He went on to explain their meaning to the people.


And elsewhere we find that Jesus passed this authority on to His Church

through the ministry of the apostles, telling them:

“What every you bind on earth will be bound in heaven,

and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

And at the Last Supper, Jesus prayed:

“I do not pray for [the apostles] only, but also

for those who believe in me through their word,

that they may all be one.”



But as I said earlier, unity comes not just in being one body in belief,

but also in acting and living together as one body.

St. Paul tells us in today’s 2nd reading that:

“God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as He intended.”

And elsewhere in St. Paul’s writings about the body of Christ, he says that

“Christ is the head of the body, the Church.”

So, remembering that Jesus has sent the apostles out to speak for Him,

the Church has always referred to them and their successors in ministry

—the popes, bishops and priests—

as standing “in persona Christi capitis

—”in the person of Christ the head” of the body.



But clearly, the head is not the only member of the body.

St. Paul goes on to say:

“Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker

are all the more necessary.”

and “The head [cannot say] to the feet, ‘I do not need you.'”

And so the Church recognizes that every Christian

has a special vocation within the Church,

and that no matter how important or unimportant it may seem,

it is still indispensable in God’s plan.


The thing is, for the Church to be like Christ’s perfect body,

its members must live and work together,

respecting their own and each other’s dignified place in the body.

And so, for example, the [Second Vatican] Council taught us that:

Pastors should recognize and promote

the dignity and responsibility of the laity in the Church.

They should willingly use their prudent advice…. ”

And it went on to tell us that:

“the laity are empowered–indeed sometimes obliged

–to manifest their opinion on those things

which pertain to the good of the Church.”



Now, of course, this doesn’t mean we can believe or do whatever we want,

no matter what the Pope or Bishops say.

In particular, we’re never free to disagree with the Pope or bishops

when it comes to matters

of settled doctrine or official magisterial teaching in faith and morals,

when they teach what has clearly been handed on to them

from centuries of Tradition, or Scripture itself.

So when the Pope says the Eucharist is really the body of Christ,

or that abortion is always wrong and a grave sin,

we can’t disagree with him, and still call ourselves practicing Catholics.



But we can certainly disagree with bishops and priests, and even the Pope,

when it doesn’t involve doctrine or official teaching.

For example, when it comes to the mere discipline of the Church,

the Church laws that govern the daily peaceful and orderly functioning

of the Church as one Body,

we can disagree, even though we still have to obey.

For example, a few months ago I decided that we’d start using an altar rail.

Some parishioners respectfully disagreed at first, which was fine,

but in the end almost everyone accepted it charitably,

which I greatly appreciated.

In doing that, they did what Vatican II called on them to do,

when it said they should always act:

“with reverence and charity towards those who…

represent the person of Christ” [the priests and bishops],

and “should promptly accept in Christian obedience

what is decided by the pastors.”



But then there are also many areas not involving official doctrine

or legitimate internal discipline,

where you cannot only disagree with but even not obey

the bishops and priests, and even the Pope.

So, for example, Vatican II taught that in the politics of nations and states,

“All Christians …must recognize the legitimacy of different opinions

with regard to temporal solutions.”

So a bishop or priest can tell you that it’s a grave sin

to support or promote abortion or “gay-marriage”

—since these always directly involve settled doctrine.

But, that same priest or bishop cannot to tell you

what your position should be on every issue in the public square,

whether it be health care, taxes, the government shutdown,

immigration, the wall, or climate change.

Because while all of those problems involve morality,

they do not clearly have only one morally correct solution.

And if a priest or bishop or pope pretends that they do,

you are not absolutely free to disagree.


[It’s like the old question of whether to give a fish to a hungry man,

or teach him how to fish

—there is no sin in disagreeing over which is the wiser choice:

both are trying to feed the man.]


And in fact, a priest or bishop who tries to impose his mere opinion on his flock

may actually be committing a sin, and perhaps a grave sin,

at least objectively—we can never judge their souls.

For example, last week the bishop of Covington, Kentucky,

clearly unjustly condemned some high school boys in his diocese

for an act of abuse they obviously didn’t do

—in fact, they were the ones who were abused.

And then his neighboring Bishop, in Lexington, Kentucky,

also condemned those teenagers,

treating as Church doctrine his own mere opinion

that you can’t be “pro-life” if wear a “make America great again” hat.


We can not only disagree with bishops who do and teach things like that,

we can publicly, though with respect and charity, call them on it.

Because by doing that, they are attacking the unity of the Church.

They are the dissenters, not us who disagree with them.

As St. Paul tells, us: “The head [cannot say] to the feet, ‘I do not need you.’”

And neither can any bishop or priest

assault the dignity of his people by judging them unjustly

or pretending his mere political opinion is more holy than theirs.



“There are many parts, yet one body…. God placed the parts, each one of them,

in the body as He intended….”

Any time Christians ignore the God-given roles

of the other members of the body of Christ,

–whether it’s laity ignoring the role and dignity of the bishops and priests,

or bishops or priests ignoring the role and dignity of the laity—

there will be problems, threats to the true unity of the one Body of Christ.

As St. Paul says:

“If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it…”


The call unity in the body of Christ is a source of great joy,

but also great suffering,

as the pain of divisions and dissension causes us to realize

that we are not living the oneness, the unity, that Christ calls us to.

As we come together today to celebrate the sacrament of the Eucharist,

the greatest sign and source of unity

–the sacrament of the actual personal Body of Christ

–let us pray for true unity among all Christians—

throughout the world,

and in our own midst.

Let us look for that unity first and foremost in unity of belief in the word of God

protected by the Holy Spirit through 2000 years of apostolic succession.

And let us pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit

so that we may recognize and accept

the part each of us is to play in bringing about and living that unity.

Because division among the members of the body,

is a rejection of Christ’s prayer at the first Eucharist

“that they may all be one.”

And dissension is a rejection of the promise that:

“As a body is one though it has many parts,

and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,

so also Christ.”

TEXT: 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 20, 2019

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 20, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


Today’s gospel is one of my favorite texts in scripture.

It really is what I often call a treasure chest of rich gems and precious jewels.

For example it gives us foundational teaching on

the sacraments, grace, marriage, the Eucharist and Mary.


Think about that.

Jesus changes water into wine:

He takes naturally good and healthy water, essential to all,

and transforms into something more wonderful,

that lifts our spirits and opens us up to peace and joy.

This is exactly what happens in the sacraments.

For example, in baptism Jesus takes a naturally good thing, like water,

and transforms it into a life-giving spring of grace

purifying us and pouring His life into us.


And we see the effect of Jesus’ grace,

acting on the sacrament and in the sacrament.

In today’s story, Jesus’ grace first transforms water into wine

and that in turn saves the wedding feast

and transforms the couple’s panic into joy,

Just like in the Eucharist,

when Jesus’ grace transforms bread and wine into His Body and Blood,

and that in turn strengthens us and draws us closer to Him in Communion.


And if He can change water into wine,

He can, and does, transform a good and loving human relationship

between in a man and woman

into a communion of life and love that shares in the very love of God Himself.

And so we see the sacrament of marriage prefigured in the wedding at Cana.


And then we see Mary: the text tells us that this was

“the beginning of [Jesus’] signs …and so revealed His glory.”

In the same way, this was the beginning of Mary’s

great intercession for the all of us,

thus, revealing the glory Jesus has given her.

Notice, Jesus calls her “woman”,

which is what Eve is called in the first chapters of Genesis,

showing us Mary as the new Eve, who says “yes” to God, when Eve said “no.”

And then, without being asked,

she sees the problem and brings it to Jesus, as His Mother.

And trusting in Jesus, she tells the servants: “do whatever He tells.”



It’s an amazing text: a true treasure chest.

But like all treasure chests, sometimes when focus on the most spectacular gems,

we miss the other jewels that are not so stunning, but still priceless.


And in this story that tends to be … “the servers”.


The servants bring their simple water to Jesus

and then wind up taking the best wine ever to the wedding guests.

They are transformed from being mere waiters to messengers of God

—like the angels, or the apostles, sent by Jesus,

to distribute His grace to the wedding feast.

They become just as much a part of the miracle as the water and wine,

and Mary and Jesus.

Just as Mary is not equal to Jesus, but is given an essential role in His Mission,

the servants are also not equal to Jesus or Mary,

but are also given an essential role in His mission.

How will the Word go out, how will the grace spread, if someone doesn’t take it.



I’ve been thinking a lot about this aspect of the text over the last few weeks,

and it’s proven to be a real pearl of great price

to help me understand a something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about.

And that is, service in our parish: parishioners volunteering to help in the parish.


In today’s second reading St. Paul tells us,

“there are different forms of service but the same Lord…”

This is something that rings very true and practical in the life of the parish.

Think of all the different forms of service.

Father Smith (and Daly) and I have the service of being your priests.

Then there’s the parish staff:

running the office, taking care of the building, educating your children, etc.

And then there’s all of you.


What is your service?

Now, some serve our parish by simply, but amazingly, being good parents,

or by representing our parish in the world as civic leaders.

But then again, even folks like that often find that the Lord is inviting them

to server the the parish more directly.


St. Paul today goes on to talk about the spiritual gifts each person has:

“To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit

is given for some benefit.”

Actually, that’s a weak translation of the Greek.

It really ought to say,

“To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit

is given for the common good.”


God has given us all various gifts—both supernatural and natural—

and all of them are given to us for “the common good.”

And so I say to you, what natural gift has God given you for the common good?

And how might he be asking you to use that at St. Raymond’s?



It seems pretty clear that most parishioners don’t do a lot of service in the parish.

We have about 6000 registered parishioners,

of which a little over 2,300 come to Mass every week.

Of that, only about 300 people regularly commit to a particular role of service

in the parish.

And of those, about 50 take many different roles of service—they’re everywhere.


300 people, out of 6000, or out of 2300.

Think of that: a lot of people seem to come here only to

hear the word of God or receive the sacraments—to be served.

It’s as if they want to go to the wedding feast to enjoy themselves as guests,

but very few want to serve the meal and the wine.



Now, I’m not complaining,

Please understand: I love this parish and you are great parishioners and I wouldn’t trade you for anything.

And I’m not picking on anyone–really.

But I am inviting everyone.

The truth is, Jesus established His Church,

so that most of us would usually be the ones being served

—because Jesus is always serving us:

He “came not to be served but to serve.”

But as St. Paul tells us elsewhere, we must,

“be servants to one another out of reverence to Christ.”



Now, there are lots of ways to be servants.

Even if you are sitting in the pews at Mass,

you can serve each other and God by simply praying,

or by being kind to each other,

or even by saying the prayers and singing songs,

and so helping others to pray and sing.


But there are also many other more concrete and committed ways

that the gifts God has given you

might be meant to serve “the common good” of our parish.



Now, some may be thinking this is a very clever way of Father

trying to get some free help in the parish.

Of course, others may say it’s a pretty clumsy way.


But the thing is, I don’t need your help—at least not for my benefit.

I mean, I could eliminate a lot of the things we do around here,

and my life would be a lot easier,

and the Bishop wouldn’t fire me or dock my pay dime.

I know a lot of parishes that have a lot fewer activities and services,

and their pastors are doing just fine.


This is not about my good, it’s about the common good of our parish

and your own good.

I don’t want this parish to be “okay”, or “good”—I want it to be the best it can be.

And by that I don’t mean having the most or nicest things to do,

but having the best things to help you live the Christian life in this world

so that one day you will live it in heaven.

And for that, I do need your help!


The truth is, Jesus wants you to serve Him and your neighbor, out of love.

And He put you here, in this parish: these are your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Can you be truly good, if you are not a good servant to them?



When I was the Vicar at St. Mary’s in Old Town—now the Basilica

—there were lots of very important people there.

Cabinet members, a former Speaker of the House, Generals, etc.

One of them told me he wanted to serve in the parish on the Finance Council.

And the guy would have been great at it.

But I suggested that instead of that, why not begin with something a little simpler.

I suggested he be an usher.


Well, honestly he didn’t much like the idea, but he did it.

And about two months later he came back to me thanking me profusely:

he was a powerful guy in the world,

but that often led him to sometimes be prideful and rude,

and working as an usher was helping him to grow in patience, charity

and above all humility.

By serving, he was becoming holy.



Some people say, “I’m too busy.”

I think of at least three different couples in the parish,

Who are constantly working in important jobs,

while also raising large families with lots of kids,

but also find time to be the back bone of

so many committees and activities of the parish I don’t even know them all.

They haven’t been “too busy” for years.


Some say, but I don’t really have any talents to offer, or I’m not well enough.

I think of the elderly homebound parishioner who loved teenagers

but couldn’t figure how she could help with the Youth Apostolate,

until Jeanne asked her to make food and snacks for the kids’ meetings.


In the end, none of has what it takes to serve the way we should.

But then we remember that at Cana Jesus transformed simple water into wine,

and simple waiters into God’s messengers.



I can think right now of particular needs we have for volunteers to serve

as ushers, youth group leaders, and in the choir.

But there are dozens more opportunities

—if you look in today’s bulletin you’ll find an insert with a whole list.

So look in the bulletin today.

And maybe make a call to volunteer tomorrow or next week.



My friends, as we move more deeply into this Holy Mass,

the Wedding Feast of Heaven come down to earth,

let us ask the Blessed Mother to intercede for us

to know how Christ wants us to serve him and each other.

And as He transforms wine and bread into His own Blood and Body

and we receive Him in Holy Communion,

let us beg Him to transform us by this grace,

to have the courage to follow His Mother Mary’s instructions

to the servants of the feast: “Do whatever He tells you.”