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

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