December 1, 2013

Advent. In the last week or so most of you receive copies of our Bishop’s (Most Rev. Paul Loverde) pastoral letter on the New Evangelization: “Go Forth with Hearts on Fire.” This couldn’t come at a more opportune time as today we begin the Season of Advent, 4 weeks preparing for the celebration of the Birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas. A time of preparing to celebrate the introduction of Christ to the world, the beginning of the proclamation of the Good News of our salvation. So Christmas is, in part, the celebration of the Original Evangelizing. So as we take the next 4 weeks to prepare for Christmas we must see these weeks in the context of evangelization—of sharing the Good News of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ with all around us.

I often lament how the world around us has turned the days from Thanksgiving to December 25 into a time of nonstop Christmas-sales, shopping, specials on cable, songs on radio, and, of course, Christmas-parties. All this can tend to turn the Advent season of preparation into a pre-mature Christmas celebration, virtually making superfluous the actual season of Christmas that begins on December 25 and runs for 3 weeks after that.

We have to be careful of getting caught up in that secular celebration, especially to the extent it omits Christ himself from the celebration. Advent must remain for us, first and foremost, a season of preparation to celebration. And by that I meant we need to spend time thinking and praying about the reason we celebrate Christmas with such joy: that we are sinners, but that God has not left us in our sins. That in spite of all the bad and stupid things we do to offend God and our neighbor, God so loves us that He entered the world as a tiny baby so he could truly be one of us, and communicate that love so dramatically: person to person, offering each of us a personal relationship with Him. So that the preparation of Advent must be a time of remembering our sins, and opening ourselves and our whole lives to the love of Christ. It is only with this sort of preparation that we can begin to understand and experience the true joy of this most magnificent gift.

But note, this joy should build in us throughout our preparation—as we become more prepared, we become more joyful. So that there is nothing wrong if even in the midst of the penance and prayer of Advent we also increasingly partake of the joy of Advent. But we must not confuse the Advent joy of Christ with the sentimental feelings of the secular “yuletide” season. Rather, we should transform the secular fun by our Advent Christian joy. And in this context we can share the true meaning of Advent and Christmas with everyone around us: sharing the good news of the Original Evangelization with the world, the New Evangelization. So that while we go about our shopping and partying and caroling we never lose sight of either our sins or the one who so lovingly forgives them. And we never waste the opportunity to share this “Good News of Great Joy” with those around us who clearly are so desperately in need of it.

As your spiritual father, I beg you, don’t waste this Advent! Remember, before you share true Advent joy you must first [re]discover it yourself through preparation. Here are some suggestions for how to do this:
–Christians always prepare for Holy Days by doing penance. In Advent this shouldn’t take on anything near the severity of Lent, but we should do some small penance every day to remind us that nothing is more important than Christ, and that everything we do is for Him.
–Add extra prayers to your daily routine. The Rosary is an excellent addition to our prayers, especially meditating on the Joyful Mysteries, or at least praying one decade every day, meditating on one of the Joyful Mysteries.
–Reading Scripture is an excellent way to renew your faith in Christ. Perhaps challenge yourself to choose one of the Gospels and read at least one chapter a day throughout Advent.
–Of course, charitable giving is a great way to prepare for the gift of the Baby Jesus. While it is a fine practice to give presents to people we love, it is an even better practice to give to those who do not know us and cannot give anything back to us. So make sure you make generous charitable gifts—either directly to those in need or to worthy charitable projects/institutions. The parish Giving Tree is one good way to do this, as are some of the special collections.
–Receiving the grace of the sacraments is one of the most important things you can do in Advent. Consider coming to Mass and Adoration during the week, and make sure you go to Confession. Once again, we will have confessions every weekday evening during Advent.
–Most importantly, live the life that Christ came to give us: make every day about loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Remember, Jesus said, “if you love me you will keep my commandments,” so follow the 10 Commandments and live out the Beatitudes. Forgive others, and be kind, patient, generous, and encouraging.
–Also: take part in the many special events and liturgies scheduled in the parish this Advent. Please find the insert of the Schedule of “Advent & Christmas 2013 Events” in this bulletin, look it over carefully and keep in somewhere central in your house (on the fridge door?).

Two parish “special events” I’d like to call your attention to in particular are:
Lessons and Carols. Next Sunday, December 8, I invite you to join me, the lectors and the choir at 6:30pm for a program of beautiful Advent music and Scripture readings, called “Lessons and Carols.” Weaving together prophetic readings from the Old Testament and pre-nativity readings from the Gospels, the readers lay out God’s breathtaking plan for the birth of His Divine Son. The choir adds to the atmosphere of joyful expectation by leading us in popular hymns and stretching their vocal wings in a few more complicated choral pieces. Don’t miss this truly special event.
Advent Series. How can we have the personal relationship Christ wants to have with us if we don’t talk and listen to Him? So I invite you all to attend my Advent Series on the 3 Thursday evenings of Advent: “Prayer: In Conversation with God” The first session this Thursday will look at the basics of prayer: the why, how, when and where of prayer. This will be a good refresher for experienced pray-ers and a good introduction for those just beginning. Please see the bulletin insert for further info.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

November 24, 2013

Typhoon Haiyan. I want to begin this week by thanking all of you who contributed to last week’s second collection for our brothers and sisters in the Philippines suffering from the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan. I was a little concerned about surprising you with this collection, but decided to go ahead with it considering the immediate emergency need. And you responded in amazing fashion: we collected over $17,000, one of the parish’s largest second collections ever. For those of you who were unable to contribute last week we will continue to accept donations for the next few weeks, forwarding them to Catholic Relief Services. Thank you for your continuing generosity. And please remember to keep the Philippines in your prayers.

I am also keenly aware that many members of our parish may have friends or family back in the Philippines who may have been effected by the Typhoon. If there is anything more that the parish can do for you or them, please do not hesitate to bring it to my attention.

Obamacare. I really don’t want to wade into politics here, but I am distressed by some of the developments of the last few weeks related to Obamacare. Of course the worst is the lie our president and so many senators and representatives told us that if we like our insurance or doctor we could keep them. We have all come to expect politicians to exaggerate in trying to sell their programs to us, but this lie was really over the top. In any case, it reminds us how lying is becoming more acceptable to us when we are trying to get what we want. But the overwhelming negative reaction reminds us that lying is still a terrible thing. It completely destroys the trust necessary to building and keeping unity and friendship, whether in a nation or among individuals. Perhaps this is why trust in government is at an all-time low. Perhaps this is why there are so many problems in society too: lies, whether in advertising or social propaganda or in individual relationships, are taking their toll.

Speaking of advertising, a second distressing development related to Obamacare is the advertisements our government is using to encourage young people to sign up. In one ad a young woman is standing next to a young man saying: “Let’s get physical. OMG, he’s hot! My health care covers the pill…,” and then goes on to express her raunchy desires about the guy. Is our government promoting health insurance or promiscuous sex? And what is it with the pill and this administration? And don’t they realize that you and I read this and say, “I don’t want to pay for her immoral lifestyle, not to mention her physically unhealthily lifestyle?” This promotion of a physically unhealthy lifestyle just to sell their program is repeated in a second ad that shows three young men surrounding a beer keg (one with the hose in his mouth), saying, “Don’t tap into your beer money to cover those medical bills. We got it covered.” Seriously? Why spend your beer money on doctors, when you can let some hardworking middle class family pay for it out of their budget? And get drunk and don’t worry about the consequences, someone else will pay for it.

Maybe it’s not so much about healthcare. Maybe South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn explains it best: “what we’re trying to do is change a values system in our country.” Indeed.

Advent. Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent, as we prepare spiritually for the celebration of the birth of our Saviour at Christmas. In the very good busyness of Thanksgiving week, please take some time to plan ahead for Advent so that it will truly be a time of holiness, not merely the shopping time between Black Friday and Santa Claus Day.

Next weekend we will have an insert with the full schedule of Advent events but please plan on you and your family taking particular advantage of the increased confession opportunities (every weekday evening from 6:15 to 7:00) as well as the many existing opportunities for weekday Mass.

Also, I invite you all to attend the Advent Series on “Prayer: In Conversation with God” that I will be giving every Thursday in Advent. We’ll begin the first week discussing prayer in general: why we pray, how to pray, etc. The second week we’ll focus on making use of the powerful prayers the Church gives us, briefly revisiting the Rosary and introducing you to the basics of how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, the beautiful prayers the priests, monks and nuns say five times during every day. Finally, in the third week we’ll discuss how to get more out of the Mass by actually praying the Mass with Christ and His Church. I’m looking forward to teaching this series and to seeing all of you there!

I also ask you to put another Advent event on your calendars: “Lessons & Carols” on Sunday, December 8, at 6:30pm. Please join me, the lectors and the choir at 6:30pm for a program of beautiful Advent music and Scripture readings, this year especially focusing on the Blessed Mother, as it falls on her Feast (Immaculate Conception). It’s a great way to help put things in their proper context this Advent.

Thanksgiving. Although it’s been a trying year in many respects, we all still have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, me especially. I thank the Good Lord Jesus for His saving love and grace that He continues to shower on me. I thank Him for my priesthood, especially the power to offer His sacrifice at the altar and to forgive sins in His name. I thank Him for my family who is always so supportive of me, and for the help of my brother priests, especially Fr. Kenna, Fr. Nguyen, and Fr. Daly (and the increasingly helpful Fr. Scalia). But most of all this year I thank Him for entrusting me with this parish, and with all of you, my spiritual children. Every year, no matter how difficult, is a year of grace from God that merits a devout and continuous thanksgiving from His people. Thanks be to Jesus Christ, now and forever! And a happy and safe Thanksgiving to you all of you and your families!

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

December 16, 2013

3rd Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday. Last week we celebrated the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. These feasts remind us that as this holy season of preparation and expectant joy continues we follow the example of she who was first prepared for the birth of Jesus, and who has always found the most joy in it, is His Blessed Mother, Mary.

Of course, in a certain sense Mary was prepared from all time for the coming of Jesus, as God promised in the Garden of Eden that he would send “the woman,” free from sin, who would bear a son, also free from sin, who would crush the devil and free us from sin. In fulfillment of that promise Mary was then conceived in her mother’s womb without the stain of original sin, and was filled with grace all her life, so that she never committed any actual sin herself. Thus prepared for Jesus’ birth, she was the perfect Mother for the Divine Son. In imitation of Mary we should be preparing for Christmas by ridding ourselves of sins, and accepting the grace the Lord pours out on us in this holy season. So that when Christmas day comes we can celebrate by presenting ourselves to Him as having truly welcomed and embraced His salvation.

But besides preparing ourselves we must also prepare others. When Mary had heard the news of the Incarnation she “departed in haste” to visit her cousin Elizabeth, and so truly bringing the tiny baby in her womb to Elizabeth, who responded with exuberant joy. Similarly, when the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Juan Diego in Mexico in 1531 she appeared to him as a pregnant young woman, again bringing Christ to all of Mexico, Latin America, and, in a sense, to all the “New World.” Our Advent preparation must also include this: imitating Mary by bringing Christ to those around us. We do this first by, as I wrote above, eliminating sin in our lives, and so live in charity and justice with our neighbors. But we must also be more pro-active: we must proclaim to all who will hear, a clear invitation to receive the Lord who came to us first at Christmas. Mary’s Visitation to Elizabeth was the first such proclamation of this invitation, and she has continued this through the centuries, including her dramatic invitation in Mexico in the 16th century. And in Advent she reminds us and teaches us that we must do the same.

There are a thousand ways we can do this: giving presents that effectively communicate the Christian message (Bibles, Hand Missals, Rosaries, Catholic spiritual classic books, etc.); putting up Manger scenes (crèches); praying and singing holy Christmas songs with our families; talking about Christ and sharing our belief in and love of Him; and especially, bringing others (our children, fallen away family members, interested friends and co-workers) to church with us—to Mass, to Confession, to adoration, etc..

As Advent continues let us turn to our Blessed Mother to help us to prepare in joy for Christmas, by her example and through her intercession.

Giving. Of course, St. John the Baptist also teaches us how to prepare the way of the Lord Jesus during Advent. Today’s Gospel tells us, “The crowds asked John the Baptist, ‘What should we do?’” Of course he tells them to stop sinning (last week we read that his first message was “repent”), but he also tells them: “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. ” This reminds us that during Advent it is not only appropriate but necessary to give gifts to others.

But we should remember at least 2 things about gift-giving. First, we shouldn’t just think in terms of material giving: the gift of Christ and of faith in Him are much more important than a new toy, tie or sweater. This especially important in families. Parents in particular should consider if they are doing everything they can to give their children the gift of true faith in Christ: giving them a good example of Catholic living; teaching them about Jesus and His Church, and praying to Him, in their home; sending them to Catholic schools or CCD; and bringing them to Mass every Sunday and to Confession regularly.

And second, we shouldn’t just give to those we know and love, but also to those we don’t know but should love, especially those in need. Again, we should give them the gift of Christ, as I discussed above. But as St. James tells us elsewhere: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is that?”

At the first Christmas God gave Himself to us by stripping Himself of the glory of heaven, and becoming a baby born into poverty. So I encourage you to consider carefully what you will give to those in need this Advent, whether individuals you know or charitable organizations that continue Jesus’ work on earth.

I would recommend, however, that when you give you make sure the group is solidly in line with the teaching of Christ’s Church so that your money isn’t diverted to unworthy uses. Let me recommend a just few organizations (there are many more organizations worthy of your help): the Little Sisters of the Poor (this week’s 2nd collection), Catholic Charities of Arlington (thank you for your extreme generosity last week), House of Mercy, Divine Mercy Care, Project Rachel, Gabriel Project, AAA Women for Choice (a pro-life group in Manassas), Mary’s Shelter (a shelter for pregnant women in crisis in Fredericksburg), the Poor Clares, and, of course, Angelus Academy. One of my personal favorite charities is St. Dominic Monastery in Linden, VA, the wonderful cloistered Dominican sisters who pray for our parish daily. And of course, St. Raymond’s itself still has a huge debt to pay off as it continue to strive to meet the spiritual needs of parishioners.

Thank you to all of those who gave to our Giving Tree and helped to provide Christmas to families in need.

Family Assistance. If you are aware of a family or person that is need of assistance this Advent, especially a parishioner, please do not hesitate to bring this to my attention.

Lessons and Carols. One excellent way to prepare for Christmas in joyful expectation is to come to Lessons and Carols this evening, Sunday, December 16, at 6:30pm. Adults and children alike will love this uplifting experience of Scripture readings laying out God’s breathtaking plan for the birth of His Divine Son, and beautiful Advent music sung by and with the choir. (Hint: If you know someone who’s not quite ready to come to Mass, this is a wonderful way to help prepare them for the right celebration of Christmas). Please join us!

Oremus pro invicem, et pro patria. Fr. De Celles

December 9, 2012

ADVENT, BAPTISM and PENANCE. Advent is a time to prepare for Christmas, not simply by buying presents or decorating the house, but by “prepar[ing] the way of the Lord” into our hearts and lives. We begin by reflecting on the words St. Luke uses in today’s Gospel to summarize the entire message of St. John the Baptist: “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Now, for the baptized, these words might recall to us our baptismal innocence, especially if we were baptized as babies: a newly baptized baby is absolutely pure and holy in the eyes of God. As we get older, though, we lose some of that innocence, eventually finding ourselves willfully committing sins, even terrible sins we deeply regret, and we develop sinful habits, “vices,” we can’t’ seem to get rid of.

For us, who have lost our innocence after baptism, what do we prepare the way of the Lord this Advent when we here St. John “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”? We can’t be baptized again, so what do we do?

First, we remember that Baptism is a sacrament that has no end: once baptized always baptized (so there is no “re-baptism”). And the Advent proclamation of St. John reminds us that we are not doomed to wallow or drown in our sin, but that as Baptized Christians we can and must make it a staple of our life to constantly “repent” and be open and eager to receive “the forgiveness of sins.”

And for that, even though we can’t receive the Sacrament of Baptism again, we can receive the sacrament many of the early Church Fathers compared to “a second baptism”—the Sacrament of Penance. In this sacrament our sins are once again washed away, so our souls are as pure as the soul of a newly baptized baby, and we have a new chance to start again to live the life Christ created us for and introduced us to in Baptism. But there’s a problem: while we have repented and sin is forgiven, all the sinful habits—vices—we’ve built up, and all our memories of past sins, and all our weaknesses developed over years of living in the world, all these remain. And they can become like valleys and mountains that seem so hard to get over, or like crooked and rough roads that cause us to stumble and fall in sin. Which is another reason we need the Sacrament of Penance, as it gives us the grace to level all obstacles, and to straighten the crookedness and smooth over the roughness our hearts, so that the sacrament becomes a fulfillment of the Advent prophesy and promise: “Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

During Advent, we will be hearing confessions every single day (until and including Sunday, December 23); in addition to the regular confession times a priest will be in the confessional every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evening from 6:15pm to 7pm (he may stay longer, but only if his schedule permits). Please take advantage of this sacrament to prepare the way of the Lord into your heart and life. But, please do not wait for the last minute, since we may only be able to have one priest hearing on some days and he may have to leave at the set time, even if the line remains. And don’t wait until Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning, and get upset when the priest has to leave when Mass begins!

INFANT BAPTISM. As we prepare to celebrate the Birth of the Baby Jesus, who opened to us the gates of paradise, and while I’m on the subject of Baptism, I’d like to take this opportunity to address something that is a growing concern to us priests. Since the first century the Church has happily baptized infants, not as a merely symbolic rite of entrance into the Catholic Church but to wash away the original sin and open to them gates of Eternal Life. Christ made it very clear that the grace of Baptism is necessary for salvation (“no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit”—John 3:5). And while the Church teaches that God sometimes gives the grace of Baptism in certain extraordinary ways, e.g., in the “baptism of blood” of the martyrs, the Church has always maintained that it does not know if anything like that applies to babies who die without baptism. And while Bd. John Paul II gave hope to all parents of unbaptized babies as he wrote to post-abortive mothers in Evangelium Vitae [99], “You can entrust your child to the same Father and to his mercy with hope,” this was not a change to official teaching. So, the Church continues to teach that we do not know if unbaptized babies go to heaven, and that, while we should always trust in God’s mercy we should also never presume on God’s mercy to do what we fail to do.

Because of this, and with loving concern for the eternal souls of babies, the 1983 revised Code of Canon Law, personally promulgated by Bd. John Paul, requires: “Parents are obliged to see that their infants are baptized within the first few weeks. As soon as possible after the birth, indeed even before it, they are to approach the parish priest to ask for the sacrament for their child….” [Can. 867 §1]

Unfortunately, many parents nowadays don’t seem to know about this “obligation” and delay their babies’ baptisms well beyond “the first few weeks.” So I write this, just as Bd. John Paul did, not to frighten or berate you, but out of love for babies and their parents, and to assure that all our babies will share in eternal life. Please keep this serious obligation in mind, and remind your Catholic friends and families as the case arises.

REMINDERS. I invite you all to join the choir, the lectors and me at 6:30pm next Sunday, December 16, for a program of beautiful Advent music and Scripture readings, called “Lessons and Carols.” Also, I will continue my Advent Series this Thursday evening, on the topic: “Re-Introduction to The Bible: An Overview.” Newcomers are more than welcome, especially those with little familiarity with the Bible! Finally, I remind all of you that the parish has a special fund set aside for families or individuals in need. Please let me know if you are aware of anyone, especially a parishioner, is need of assistance this Advent.

Oremus pro invicem, et pro patria. Fr. De Celles

December 2, 2012

Advent. Today we begin the Season of Advent, 4 weeks preparing for the celebration of the Birth of Jesus Christ. Many people tend to forget that this season is about preparing for Christmas and instead spend these weeks pre-maturely celebrating Christmas. And then when the actual 3 week Christmas Season begins on Christmas Day, they put all the Christmas things away and go on with life!

As I mentioned last week, this pre-mature celebration isn’t a bad thing, if we see it as part of the strong influence of Christianity on our culture. For many Catholics this is largely what is going on—people around them start celebrating Christmas, and it’s such a wonderful feast they (Catholics) get all caught up in it.

But this phenomena is not completely harmless. First of all, much of this pre-mature celebration is driven not by a culture influenced by Christianity, but by commercial interests taking advantage of that culture. Whereas, not too many years ago we might see a gradual movement toward celebrating Christmas in the first weeks of December, nowadays Christmas is everywhere the day after Thanksgiving. Sadly, much of this is nothing more than retailers playing on our emotional attachment to Christmas, in order to increase sales. Increasing sales is not a bad thing, but the reduction of Advent to a period of rampant commercialism/materialism and emotionalism is. All but forgotten is the spiritual/faith preparation to celebrate the wonder of the birth of the Baby Jesus, our Creator come to redeem us from our sins.

As your spiritual father, I beg you, don’t let this happen to you and yours this Advent. This is not to say you can’t, to some extent, take part in the cultural celebrations, as long as you make sure to also spend time preparing for the celebration of the Day that changed the world forever. Here are some suggestions:
• Christians always prepare for Holy Days by doing penance. In Advent this shouldn’t take on anything near the severity of Lent, but we should do some small penance every day to remind us that nothing is more than Christ, and that everything we do is for Him.
• Add extra prayers to your daily routine. The Rosary is an excellent addition to our prayers, especially meditating on the Joyful Mysteries, or at least praying one decade every day, meditating on one of the Joyful Mysteries.
• Reading Scripture is an excellent way to renew your faith in Christ. Perhaps challenge yourself to choose one of the Gospels and read at least one chapter a day throughout Advent.
• Of course, charitable giving is a great way to prepare for the gift of the Baby Jesus. While it is a fine practice to give presents to people we love, it is an even better practice to give to those who do not know us and cannot give anything back to us. So make sure you make generous charitable gifts—either directly to those in need or to worthy charitable projects/institutions. The parish Giving Tree is one good way to do this, as are some of the special collections.
• Receiving the sacraments is one of the most important things you can do in Advent. Consider coming to Mass and Adoration during the week, and make sure you go to Confession. Unfortunately, due to the reduced number of priests this year, we cannot schedule a 7pm Mass every weekday, but we will have confessions every weekday evening during Advent.
• Most importantly, live the life that Christ came to give us: make every day about loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Follow the 10 Commandments, live out the Beatitudes. Forgive others, and be kind, patient, generous, and encouraging.
• Also: take part in the many special events and liturgies scheduled in the parish this Advent. Please find the insert of the Schedule of “Advent & Christmas 2012 Events” in this bulletin, look it over carefully and keep in somewhere central in your house (on the fridge door?).

Two parish “special events” I’d like to call your attention to in particular are:
Lessons and Carols. On Sunday, December 16, I invite you to join me, the lectors and the choir at 6:30pm for a program of beautiful Advent music and Scripture readings, called “Lessons and Carols.” Weaving together prophetic readings from the Old Testament and pre-nativity readings from the Gospels, the readers lay out God’s breathtaking plan for the birth of His Divine Son. The choir adds to the atmosphere of joyful expectation by leading us in popular hymns and stretching their vocal wings in a few more complicated choral pieces. We started this Advent tradition 2 years ago, with a good-sized crowd the first year, and easily doubled attendance last year. Please come, because if you don’t, you’ll be missing something truly special.
Advent Series. I invite you all to attend the Advent Series I will be presenting on the 3 Thursday evenings of Advent: “The Word Became Flesh: Coming to Know God.” In this “Year of Faith” this will be sort of a re-introductory course to Faith in Christ and His Revelation. The first “class” this Thursday will look at the basic ways we come to know God, beginning with simple human reason and observation, moving to an overview discussion of Scripture and Tradition. This should not be just some dry theoretical discussion, but can help you to really grow in your understanding of God and our Catholic Faith. Please see the box on the next page and the bulletin insert for further info.

NOTE: Some of you may never go to special events like these, and feel awkward or hesitant attending anything but Mass. Some may feel you don’t “know enough” to come to, for example, a lecture series. You are exactly the people I am particularly hoping will come and take part in these and all the special Advent (and Christmas) events in the parish. I look forward to seeing you–all of you!

Family Assistance. Our parishioners have been very generous in contributing to our parish fund to help those who are in need of financial assistance, and I am pleased to say that we have been able to help many people with this fund. If you are aware of a family or person that is need of assistance this Advent, especially a parishioner, please do not hesitate to bring this to my attention. You can contact me directly, or contact the parish office. (Note: We also work with “institutions” that are giving direct aid to those in need; for example, a few weeks back we helped “House of Mercy” in their efforts to get emergency relief to the victims of Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey).

Oremus pro invicem, et pro patria. Fr. De Celles

November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving. I hope all of you had a great Thanksgiving. Although it’s a secular holiday and not a Catholic HOLY DAY, it’s a wonderful day of celebration. In fact, instead of “secular,” meaning “worldly, or “of the world,” which has all sorts of very negative connotations in the Christian context, let’s call it a “cultural holiday.” In that context, it reveals how deeply our culture is influenced by Christianity and how firmly it is rooted in Christian values.

In particular, the Christian virtues of fortitude and diligence (reflected in working hard to provide for oneself and one’s family), and charity (reflected in being willing to share the fruits of one’s labor or good fortune with others), and, of course most importantly and above all, gratitude or thankfulness to God for the gifts he’s given us.

In the end, everything we have is God’s gift. As St. Paul says, “What do you have that you did not receive?” This, of course, is not at all to discount individual hard work and ingenuity, but rather to realize that whether it’s the skills and talents we have or develop, or the opportunities we make or stumble upon, or the free will we exercise to choose to use and develop all of that, in the end all of that comes to us from God’s generosity and our response thereto. Whether it’s material goods, health, family, love, faith, or human dignity, rights, and liberty, God is the giver of all good things.

Unfortunately, if you watch and listen carefully, you will see that many people today treat Thanksgiving as a holiday to give thanks to one another, with no mention of God at all, or at best, a mention of him as an afterthought. There’s certainly nothing wrong with thanking people around you, but that is not the reason Thanksgiving was established as a national, cultural, holiday. That’s not what it’s about.

As President George Washington decreed on October 3, 1789, as he proclaimed the first Thanksgiving Day of the United States:

“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have …requested me “to recommend …a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God …Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted ….to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks …”

And as President Abraham Lincoln wrote in 1863, as he permanently established the official national holiday:

“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens…”

As the distinction between Christian values and “secular/worldly” values continues to widen, it’s important that we remember to celebrate American cultural holidays in the context of their Christian origins, i.e., as part of America’s historically Christian culture, and not reduce them to the understanding of the ever descending secular culture—a culture that barely recognizes God’s existence, much less His boundless and omnipresent generosity.

“Baby Mary”: Sofi Hill. One thing that I know we’re all unspeakably thankful to God for is the gift of the life of the newborn baby who was left on our property on the morning of November 14th, 2010. I first called her “Baby Mary Madeleine”, but, as you know, the wonderful family that adopted her named her “Sofi.” I received this short note from her family on her 2nd Birthday, and thought I’d share it with you:

“Dear Friends at St. Raymond’s:

“It’s hard to believe that another year has passed! So much has happened this past year and Sofi continues to grow to be a beautiful little girl. Sofi has gone from walking, to running, to jumping now! She has an endless supply of energy that mommy and daddy would love to tap into! She has such a sweet personality and is very good natured and melts the hearts of all who know her. Her favorite songs are, “The Wheels on the Bus”, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”, and of course “Jesus Loves Me”. This February Sofi became a big sister as we welcomed Charlotte into this world. Having two daughters is such a blessing and also a whole lot of work. Sofi really does love her little sister. She is very tender and very protective of her. They’re growing up into a fine pair of sisters making each other laugh and occasionally fighting over toys! Sofi loves playing mommy to her baby dolls and has a favorite she’s named “baby Honey”. She’s a great mommy and likes to push Baby Honey in her toy stroller. Sofi also loves going for walks, playing on swings, swimming, and helping mommy to cook. She is a sweet, sweet girl and I constantly marvel at God’s goodness and mercy in bringing Sofi to us.

“We are so blessed and thankful for all of you at St. Raymond’s. Thank you for your continued prayers and love. We treasure them and think about you all often. You’re a gift to us and we treasure you!

“All our Love, “The Hills Family, Mark, Jennifer, Anna Sofi, and Charlotte.”

Advent. Next Sunday, we begin the season of Advent, 4 weeks preparing to celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ, Christmas. Unfortunately the world around us has already begun it’s celebration of its notion of Christmas. This is not a terrible thing, to the extent it reflects the effects of Christianity on our American culture in a tremendously more powerful way even than Thanksgiving. But we must be careful, because so much of this early cultural celebration is being driven and manipulated by the “secular world”—the world that has no use for Christ, except as something to use for its own selfish ends: from the crass commercialization of the holiday to the manipulation of passions and emotions descending to decadence, greed, envy and lust.

So let’s not lose sight of what Advent is about. In this coming week consider carefully how you will spend these 4 weeks, what will you do concretely, as a Christian preparing spiritually and morally to celebrate the true and full meaning of Christmas: the humble birth of God the Son as a human being, Jesus Christ, and so the dawn of our salvation. We’ll discuss this more next Sunday, the 1st of Advent.

Oremus pro invicem, et pro patria. Fr. De Celles