December 8, 2013

Scouting at St. Raymonds. In May of this year the Boy Scouts of America reversed its long standing policy on Scouting membership and same-sex attraction. The new policy, effective January 1, 2014, now prohibits packs and troops from denying membership “on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”

Before that May decision I had publicly stated that this change would cause me to end St. Raymond’s relationship with BSA. Since then, however, I have remained largely silent, responding to Bishop Loverde’s request that pastors refrain from any action until he gave us his formal guidance. Unfortunately, other important matters have understandably delayed the Bishop in issuing this guidance, and my long silence caused some confusion among St. Raymond’s scouting families. Ultimately, as more and more families made plans to join other packs and troops, I felt compelled to speak more frankly to the parents about my intentions, but always with the proviso: “depending on what the Bishop says.”

But time has run out on me: the charter for both St. Raymond’s Cub Scout Pack 683 and the Boy Scout Troop 683 will expire on December 31, and the Pack and Troop will be dissolved.

To be clear, it was my decision not to renew the charters. Few decisions in my priesthood have been so heart wrenching as this. BSA has provided boys many rich opportunities for personal growth for over a hundred years—in particular for our boys these last few years. But this new policy changes everything.

I in no way condemn or hold any ill will towards those who disagree with me—either other pastors, parents or scout leaders. While this deals with objective truths, it comes down to a prudential judgment. I respect those who disagree with my prudential judgment, and I particularly respect parents for doing what they think best for their children, but I could not respect myself if I did not do what I thought was right for my flock.

And let me thank all the scout leaders who have served the parish pack and troop so well and so long—there are too many to name here. I can’t tell you how much I deeply respect, admire and appreciate all you’ve done for our boys—all the sacrifices, dedication and love. I can’t thank you enough.

Trail Life USA. Some look at our Pack and Troop and see the Boy Scouts of America. But I see a ministry of St Raymond’s that has partnered with Scouts to serve our parish boys. Now that partnership ends, but the ministry will continue with a new partner, and I invite all the boys, parents and leaders to stay with us as we take on that new partner: Trail Life USA.

“Trail Life USA is a Christian adventure, character, and leadership program for young men. [It] centers on outdoor experiences that build a young man’s skills and allow him to grow on a personal level and as a role model and leader for his peers…Trail Life is a journey established on timeless values derived from the Bible. …Our vision is to be the premier national character development organization for young men which produces Godly and responsible husbands, fathers, and citizens. …Our mission is …to guide generations of courageous young men to honor God, lead with integrity, serve others, and experience outdoor adventure.” (http://www.traillifeusa.com)

A group of parents has already begun the process of obtaining a TL charter for the parish, and I have pledged them my total support. There will be a meeting for interested parents (whether currently in scouting or not) on Monday 16 December, 7:15pm, in the Parish Hall.

I am very excited about this new partnership, and very hopeful that, with God’s grace, this will begin an exciting new chapter in our parish ministry to youth.

New Youth Director. Speaking of which, I am very pleased to announce that Jeanne Sause will be joining our staff as Director of the Youth Apostolate effective December 30. Jeanne is originally from upstate New York and is a graduate of Franciscan University in Steubenville. After graduation she travelled around the country as a NET Missionary for one year giving retreats to 4th-12th graders. After that she taught for three years in a Catholic grade school in Minnesota. She also has very extensive volunteer experience in organizing youth programs and retreats in New York and New Jersey.

And I’m very excited to have Jeanne join the parish, and thank the Lord Jesus for bringing her to us. May He bless her and our parish as we move forward in serving our youth and bringing them closer to Him.

Lessons and Carols Tonight. Remember to join me, the choir and the lectors for Lessons and Carols tonight at 6:30 in the church. Every year, as the word spreads, we get a larger turn out for this joyful and prayerful event. Part of its charm is its uniqueness—there’s really nothing else like it all year. And also, its peacefulness in the busyness of the “holiday season”: hearing the inspiring and joyful prophecies of the Old Testament and the first lessons of the Gospel, along with the beautiful strains of the choir—and the congregation—singing treasured carols and hymns, some so comfortably familiar, others thrillingly new to our ears and hearts. Please come join us!

Advent Series: Prayer. All are invited to join me this Thursday evening at 7:30 in the Parish Hall for my Advent Series: “Prayer: In Conversation with God.” This week’s topic will be “Praying with the Church,” as we spend some time discussing the Rosary and then have an introduction to the “Liturgy of the Hours.” Many Catholics are unfamiliar with the “Liturgy of the Hours” (or the “Divine Office”) but it is the prayer, anchored by the Psalms, that priests, religious sisters and brothers, and nuns and monks pray 5 to 7 times a day. The two “hinges” of this liturgy are “Lauds” and “Vespers,” or “Morning Prayer” and “Evening Prayer.” Come and learn more—whether you’re an experienced prayer looking for guidance or a beginner looking for new instruments to deepen your prayer life.

Senior’s Lunch. I want to remind all our seniors to join us on Saturday, December 14, for our annual Seniors’ Christmas Luncheon. Please call the office for more details. I look forward to seeing you there.

Correction. Two weeks ago I wrote about 2 disgusting ads promoting Obamacare (“My health care covers the pill…,” and “Don’t tap into your beer money to cover those medical bills…”), saying that they were government sponsored. That was incorrect. They were sponsored by independent groups. But they were still disgusting.

April 28, 2013

Boy Scouts of America and “Gays.” After months of taking criticism for proposing to admit active homosexuals as adult scouting leaders, volunteers, and members (boys), last week BSA announced they are changing their proposal (which still must be approved at their National Annual Meeting next month). The new proposal drops the change regarding adult homosexuals, but still provides that: “No youth may be denied membership …on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.” While this at first seems like a victory for Christians, it isn’t really.

What has happened here is the typical strategy that leftist-activists have been using for decades to change traditional institutions. First, they make outrageous and sweeping demands to change the institution in a way that radically contradicts its values. Then, they argue that any opposition to change is fueled by bigotry and hate, appealing to and manipulating the traditional values (charity and kindness) of the institution’s members and society at large. And finally, they pretend to grant a major concession, backing away from their most radical demands, but leaving one important change on the table. The activists thereby paint themselves as “reasonable” and “willing to compromise,” and the institution’s members feel relieved and obliged to go along—and even feel like “winners.” But when you lose something important to you, that has always been unquestionably yours, you are, by definition, not “winners,” but “losers.”

The current policy of BSA is this:

“While the BSA does not proactively inquire about sexual orientation of …members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA.”

That is completely just, charitable and kind. But the new policy, if approved in May, would be a statement that “gay is okay,” and would severely limit (if not completely prohibit) chartering organizations, like St. Raymond’s, from passing on its moral teachings about same-sex attraction and homosexuals.

In short, this new proposal does not change my previously announced decision: if it is adopted by BSA next month, St. Raymond’s association with BSA will end (effective in September). I continue to pray and hope that this does not happen. But if it does, I will give all the support I can to forming a new scouting group, independent of BSA, that will defend Christian values.

Dominican Nuns. On a much happier note…On Sunday, April 14, a small group of St. Raymond parishioners joined me at a dinner to raise awareness of the work of St. Dominic’s Monastery in Linden, VA, and to help raise funds in its support. I’m not a big fan of these kinds of dinners, but I go to quite a few to support worthy causes. But this dinner was different. First, because I feel very close to the Monastery and its work (I am one of its two confessors); and second, because no one from the Monastery was at the dinner! That’s because the Monastery is the home of 14 cloistered Dominican Nuns, whose work is to pursue a hidden life of worship, silence, prayer, study and penance. Like the Franciscan Poor Clares in Alexandria, these sisters never leave the enclosure of the convent except for absolutely essential reasons. Their life is totally dedicated to Christ.

While some say this form of life is a “waste of life,” the opposite is true. These sisters’ life and work embodies the greatest commandment: “Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.” Moreover, their community life together and their prayers for us embody the second greatest: “love your neighbor as yourself.” (They constantly assure me of their intercession for our parish, especially invoking our Dominican patron St. Raymond). And by their total pursuit of Christ and His love they set a striking example for all of us: while we do not all belong in cloistered monasteries, they remind us, in a radical way, to answer the call to love God and our neighbor in our own daily lives in the world.

I invite you to consider a visit to their mountain top Monastery in Linden (out near Front Royal), and to support the good sisters by your prayers. And if you are so inclined, you might consider supporting them financially. See their website: http://www.lindenopnuns.org/.

By the way, St. Raymond’s donated $5,000 at the dinner, and the dear Sisters personally asked me to pass on their deep gratitude to all of you.

Angelus Academy. St. Raymond’s has had a close relationship with Angelus Academy for over a decade. Before our church was dedicated in December of 1996, a lot of parish activities took place at Angelus’ facility, including daily Mass and weekly Religious Education (CCD). That close relationship was altered by the opening of the church (with the parish hall and classrooms) but it has not diminished the spirit of mutual support and cooperation between us: e.g., around 40% of Angelus’s students are our parishioners, the parish continues to lend it financial support, I am their chaplain, and Fr. Kenna and I offer Mass for the students once a week.

While I am supportive of all our children in whatever school they attend—public, private or Catholic—I especially recommend that children attend good Catholic schools, and particularly that parents consider Angelus Academy. Next Sunday, May 5, Angelus will be sponsoring our “Donut Sunday” in the parish hall (after all morning Masses) and representatives of the school will be on hand to share information and answer questions. Please join us.

Thanks. Marlene and Junior DiCola, long-time stalwarts of the parish, active in Legion of Mary, Adoration and many other activities. In particular, they have been responsible for coordinating the parish’s efforts of accepting (and sorting and delivering) donations of clothing to the House of Mercy in Manassas every week for the last 7 years. Marlene and Junior are stepping down from that responsibility now due to health concerns. But they will remain active in the parish. We thank them for their good and holy work—and especially for their holy example to us.

Remember: committed volunteering in the parish, done out of love for Christ and our neighbor, can be a source of great spiritual growth. What are you volunteering for?

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

February 10, 2013

LENT. This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. As I’ve said many times, this is my favorite season, in as much as it calls us to meditate on the ineffable and immense love of God that it would lead Him to die for our sins. At the same time, then, it is also a time to consider our sins—how we have failed to love him—and to work to overcome them, through our diligent efforts and His grace.

Lent, of course, brings a much busier parish schedule, which we’ve laid out in detail in this week’s insert. Please keep this insert in a central place in your home to remind you of the many opportunities for spiritual growth the parish offers this Lent. Please also note, we will NOT be adding any Masses to our Lent schedule, e.g., we will have an evening weekday Mass only on Wednesdays (as usual). But we will be adding confessions every weekday evening (see the insert for details).

Ashes will be distributed at all 4 Masses on Ash Wednesday: 6:30am, 8am, 12noon and 7pm. Since ashes are merely symbolic, and not a sacrament, they may be received by anyone who wishes to repent their sins—Catholic or not, in “good standing” or not. (Note: There are no confessions scheduled on Ash Wednesday).

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of both fasting and abstinence, and every Friday in Lent is a day of abstinence. Failure to “substantially” keep these penances is a grave matter (e.g., potentially a mortal sin). The law of abstinence requires that no meat may be eaten on these days, and binds all Catholics who are 14 years old or older. No other penance may be substituted. The law of fasting binds those who are between the ages of 18 and 59. The Church defines “fasting,” for these purposes, as having only one full meal a day, with two additional smaller meals permitted, but only as necessary to keep up strength and so small that if added together they would not equal a full meal. Snacking is forbidden, but that does not include drinks that are not of the nature of a meal. Even though these rules do not bind all age groups, all are encouraged to follow them to the extent possible. Children in particular learn the importance of penance from following the practice of their older family members. Special circumstances can mitigate the application of these rules, i.e., the sick, pregnant or nursing mothers, etc.

Of course all Catholics are encouraged to do personal acts of penance throughout the season of Lent, traditionally of three types: almsgiving (including acts of charity), sacrifice (what you “give up”), and prayer. Please choose your penances carefully, considering your health and state in life. Challenge yourself, but pick things you can actually do, rather than things that are so lofty or difficult that you may easily give up on them. Offer all this in atonement for your sins and as acts of love for the God who, out of love, died on the Cross for your sins.

Sacrament of Penance. Confession is really key to our fruitful observance of Lent. In fact, it is one of the Precepts of the Church that all Catholics “shall confess your sins at least once a year,” which is usually tied to the Lenten season. I strongly encourage that you take advantage of our extended Lent confession schedule—confessions are scheduled every day in Lent (accept Ash Wednesday). However, I ask that you do not postpone your confession to the end of Lent, as many did last year, when we had to have four priests hearing long lines—literally “out the door”—every weekday evening in the last two weeks. This year, with only two priests, if that same phenomena occurs it will extremely difficult on all of us. So, again, please go to confession early on in Lent, especially if you don’t go to confession frequently. As I did in Advent, I am trying to get extra visiting priests to come and help with confessions—but this is not an easy task since confessors are in such high demand during Lent.

Also, I remind you that while we schedule confessions every Sunday morning, that is not the optimal time to go to confession, since only one priest is hearing confession and stops hearing once Mass begins (those attending Sunday Mass should normally be participating in the Mass, not in confession). Moreover, Sunday confession times are provided not as a mere convenience but mainly to meet the real needs of those who truly cannot attend on other days or are otherwise in need of the sacrament.

Lenten Series. As I mentioned last week, Fr. Paul Scalia will be giving a Lenten series every Thursday evening during Lent, beginning February 21st. His topic will be “The Beatitudes: The Ladder to Holiness.” I highly encourage all of you to attend these talks.

SCOUT SUNDAY and BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA. Today, Sunday, we will remember “Scout Sunday” at the 8:45 Mass, followed by a ceremony in the Parish Hall honoring all those involved in scouting in our parish: Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, Explorers, American Heritage Girls, etc.. I am happy to recognize the good and hard work these children and their adult leaders do and the good qualities they take away from traditional scouting! So please join me in saluting and encouraging them all, especially our boys and girls and young men and women. God bless them all!

But on a national and international level, traditional scouting values have come on hard times. As I mentioned in last week’s column, this last Wednesday (Feb. 6) the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America (NEB) was supposed to vote on whether to change their rules to allow actively “gay” persons to become members and leaders in Boy Scouts. This would have been the death knell for traditional scouting as we know it.

Thanks be to Christ, as I write this column (on Wed., Feb. 6) the word comes that the NEB has decided to postpone any decision and lay the matter before a vote of the 1,400 member National Council of the BSA at their National Annual Meeting in May. This surprise about-face is directly the result of the tens (hundreds?) of thousands of complaints registered against the proposal in just in the last few days. So I want to thank all of you who prayed and called, emailed or wrote BSA—you made a difference! Unfortunately, though, this is just a postponement, and we must keep up our efforts to protect our boys from the potentially devastating effects of this still-proposed change, and to keep the Boy Scouts “morally straight.”

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

February 3, 2013

Last Week’s Bulletin. I apologize that we were not able to distribute the complete 6 page bulletin to you last week. I hope the single-sheet “abbreviated bulletin” we threw together was helpful, and I’m sorry if any group felt short changed if something they had running in the full bulletin was omitted. By now I hope you all received your copy of that full bulletin, mailed to each parish household courtesy of the bulletin company.

Lent Series. Lent is just around the corner and we will soon give you details about the Lenten schedule. But I wanted to announce early on that Fr. Paul Scalia (Bishop’s Delegate for Clergy) will be giving a Lenten series on five Thursday evenings, beginning Feb. 21. Father’s topic: “The Beatitudes.” Fr. Scalia is a bright and gifted speaker, and I am delighted he has agreed to speak. Please mark your calendar.

“Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty.” As I wrote in last week’s column, St. Raymond’s will take part in the United States Bishops’ “Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty.” I hope you will be able to actively participate in all 5 parts:
1) Monthly Eucharistic Holy Hour on every last Wednesday of the Month, from 6pm to 7pm.
2) Daily Rosary.
3) Praying for life, marriage and religious liberty at every Mass, both privately and in every Sunday’s Prayer of the Faithful.
4) Meatless Fridays: abstaining from meat of any kind (other than fish) on all Fridays of the year.
5) Observing a Second Fortnight for Freedom in the two weeks before the Fourth of July, much as we did last summer.

BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA AND “GAYS.” Perhaps you’ve heard by now that after years of courageously fighting off efforts by gay activists the Boy Scouts of America is now considering repealing their national policy prohibiting membership by openly “gay” people (both at the scout and adult leader levels) and leaving it to the local chartering organizations (e.g., St. Raymond’s) to set policy for their particular troops. BSA’s statement reads in part:

Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation. This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs. BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families.

The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic, or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address this issue. The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members, or parents. Under this proposed policy, the BSA would not require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs.

This change in policy is greatly disappointing: another huge loss for common sense, morality, Christianity and America. And although the proposed BSA policy change would allow troops like the one at St. Raymond’s to determine its own policy in this regard, Scout troops do not operate in a vacuum, but rather in conjunction and cooperation with other troops locally, statewide and nationally. On a practical level that means, for example, that since not all troops would keep the ban in place, our own local/parish policy would be useless any time our boys took part in any of the many activities open to other troops.

But there is more to this than the “practical.” What does it say when a group dedicated to forming men to fulfill their “duty to God and country” and to be “morally straight” doesn’t understand one of the most basic concepts of morality and human nature? What does it say when a group for years strenuously fights the forces of immorality, and then one day simply capitulates? What does it say that we continue as members of this group?

Consider the words of Jesus: “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” First “gay” activists just wanted their basic rights protected, and we agreed because it was only just. Then they wanted special laws to protect them from hate, and since Christians are against hate, we agreed. But then they said that if we call what they do or feel a “disorder” or a “sin,” then we are the haters, and no organization can be tolerated that takes a position they deem to be “hateful” toward them. And now they demand that we call their perverted relationships by the sacred name of “marriage.”

The modus operandi is clear. If they win this victory at BSA, they will not stop there. Why should they? The next step will be to use this victory to attack the local chartering organizations, like the troop at St. Raymond’s.

Well, as for me, as pastor and the one responsible for the troop, who signs the charter agreement every year, if this change is made I will not let our parish be associated with this group or provide the opportunity for my spiritual children to be.

So if this policy change goes through, St. Raymond’s will severe its relationship with BSA. No more compromising with the devil.

Now, lets’ be clear: I very much want to keep Scouting at St. Raymond’s, and the change has not been made yet. But the BSA board meets this coming Tuesday to make a decision. So it’s not too late to do something , but we must act quickly. Please call the BSA at 972-580-2000 to tell them that this change must not be made. You might also contact them through their website, http://www.scouting.org/ContactUs.aspx. You can also contact The Catholic Committee on Scouting at NCCS@scouting.org.

But most of all, pray. Pray that God will spare this organization that has done so much for so many young men, to teach them to be dutifully serve God and country, and to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. And pray, through the intercession of St. George (patron of scouting) and St. Raymond, that we will be able to continue to offer our boys the benefits of scouting.

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