20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 19, 2018
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Today I’m going to be a little more personal than I like to be in homilies,
since homilies shouldn’t be about the priest.
But I think this approach might be helpful today.
Four weeks ago we all heard the news
about the disgustingly reprehensible behavior
of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
And then this week, like a one-two punch,
we heard the nauseating news
about the multiple accusations of sexual abuse and systemic coverup
by priests and bishops, in Pennsylvania.
I am sure most of you are devasted and angry.
And I am too.
Angry, no, infuriated, at the priests, bishops and cardinals
who either committed unspeakable crimes with children
or abused their positions of trust with vulnerable adults,
or used their clerical celibacy to cover their revolting homosexual lifestyle,
or lied and schemed and organized to cover it all up.
Three weeks ago I preached about the whole McCarrick situation.
And I told you that we need hold to account and punish
those who are merely wolves in shepherd’s clothing.
But also I strongly urged you not to be discouraged or to lose hope,
because our faith and hope are not in cardinals, bishops, priests,
or even popes,
but in Jesus Christ and in the Catholic Church He founded.
And I reminded you, there are still many good priests out there
striving to be good shepherds, who need your support and trust.
But in the light of revelations from the grand jury in Pennsylvania this week
all that needs to be reiterated.
And there’s something else we need to talk more about.
That is, the tendency to suspect all priests and bishops,
and so not only distance ourselves from them, but from the Church itself.
This was brought home to me the day after the Pennsylvania news came out.
A parishioner came to me and said a friend of hers had told her
that she should keep her children away from all priests,
and shouldn’t let her son consider becoming a priest.
My friends, this is the master plan of the devil unfolding:
first, corrupt a few priests and bishops, directly or indirectly,
then devastate the lives of victims,
then destroy all trust in all the clergy,
and finally drive good people from the Church.
My friends, we cannot let the devil and his evil cooperators win.
So let me tell you a little story.
I was born, raised, educated and worked as a professional
in San Antonio, Texas—I lived there all my life, until I was 31 years old.
I loved San Antonio, and l loved Texas—I am a Texan through and through.
I never thought anything could take me away from my home.
But 27 years ago today, August 19, 1991,
I got in my car and left my home forever
to drive to Maryland,
to study for the priesthood at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary,
for the Diocese of Arlington—our diocese.
I had spent much of the previous year talking to and working with
the Archdiocese of San Antonio about studying for the priesthood there. But in the end, I just couldn’t do it.
Because the more I looked and knew about
the seminary and the clergy of the archdiocese,
it became clear there were 2 huge problems:
first, they were corrupted by false teachings,
and second, they were infected by the sin of lust,
in particular homosexual lust.
So I knew there was no way I could study or be a priest for San Antonio.
But the call would not go away: I still felt called to be a priest.
So after consulting Catholic friends and family all over the country,
and looking at different Dioceses,
I decided to come here to the Diocese of Arlington.
And I have never regretted for one moment.
The Arlington Diocese is not at all perfect.
We are not immune from false or weak teaching.
And we have not been impervious to scandalous and even reprehensible
behavior of priests.
But I can tell you, as a priest who finds all this false doctrine and sexual abuse
repugnant to my very being,
there’s nowhere in the world I would rather be than Arlington.
I thank God every day that I am a priest of Arlington,
where I can say that there are so many fine priests,
like no other diocese I know,
and where, to my knowledge, the incidents of this kind of wrong doing,
especially sexual abuse and homosexuality, has been very rare.
Now, let me be clear—even one act of evil perversion in the priesthood,
especially against a child,
or covering up that act,
is an abomination and deserves the swiftest and most violent retribution.
But I do believe that with all the evil in the world, and in the Church,
parents need not be afraid of the priests of Arlington
any more than they would be afraid of their child’s doctor, or teacher,
or anyone else in a position of trust.
Now, clearly, be careful: trust but verify.
And make sure your children know that they can and should tell you if anyone,
including a priest,
hurts them, or touches or speaks to them inappropriately.
Be careful not to jump to rash conclusions, act with charity and justice,
but feel free to call a wolf a wolf.
Even so, please, do not assume that all priests are evil or to be distrust us.
And do let the devil, and all his cooperating evil or weak priests and bishops,
keep you or your children away from good priests
or from the Church.
And do not discourage your sons, or yourselves,
from answering the call to priesthood.
I told you a moment ago about how I decided to come to Arlington.
But I didn’t tell you why, even after knowing all the bad stuff I did,
I still decided to be a priest.
Of course, I felt the call, after much prayer and discernment, to the priesthood.
But all that could easily have been more than offset
by all the crud I was aware of
—who would want that for the next 60 years?
No, in the end what overcame all that crud
was the realization that it didn’t have to be that way.
That there were, in fact, many good priests struggling to do Christ’s work.
That a priest could strive to be holy, faithful and chaste,
and do great things for God’s people.
And that without new men joining the good priests in the struggle,
they and the whole Church
would be left to suffer at the hands of all the bad priests and bishops,
and the devil would win.
So, it came down to this: if not me, who?
Now, that sounds a little arrogant
–there were literally thousands of other men who could do it,
and do it much better than I could.
But, that begs the question: if Jesus was truly calling me, why not me too?
And false or exaggerated humility
can easily be an excuse for cowardice or laziness.
In the end, we need all the able bodied and souled priests we can get.
Men who know exactly what they were getting into,
and are willing to make sacrifices to be faithful to the Gospel.
To try to be truly good shepherds, and truly loving fathers to God’s children.
Sometimes when vocation promoters talk about the priesthood
they make it sound kind of like the Peace Corps:
you go out and do nice things for people.
But the priesthood isn’t the Peace Corps:
it’s got to be more like the Marine Corps.
With brave, strong, intelligent, and dedicated men.
Men who will sacrifice everything for Christ and His Bride, the Church.
Men who will go into spiritual battle every day,
and never be discouraged by the wickedness or strength of their opponents.
Men who will strive constantly, with the grace and power of Jesus Christ,
and reinforced by an army of angels and saints,
to clean up the spiritual mess that the Church is becoming.
Men who know that they are as likely to be shot in the back
by so called “friendly fire” as by enemy fire,
but still have the fortitude to go forward.
Now, again, that sounds a bit arrogant,
and makes us all sound like a bunch of heroes and saints.
Clearly, we know, not even all the good priests are heroes and saints,
and I am definitely not,
[my father was a Marine, and my mother was a saint,
and I’m neither.]
But so many priests I know, especially in Arlington,
but also all around the Church, are striving to be just that.
What more can you ask of them?
And what more can you want for you son or brother,
if God calls him to priesthood?
And what more could a real man, a real Catholic young man, want for himself?
Today is kind of like the Church’s 9/11.
But this time the evil doers didn’t crashed into
the high and mighty Twin Towers or the soldiers at the Pentagon,
they took down a high and mighty cardinal,
and so many the soldiers of Christ, His priests.
But remember what happened after 9/11, 2001?
Remember how the whole nation seemed to come together
to rally against the evil perpetrated against us?
And remember how so many young men and women came forth proudly
to fight to defend us—even to lay down their lives for us?
Today, in the face of the evil we have seen trying to destroy our church,
will we rally, or will we run?
And will we and our sons stand up and be the men and women
God has called us to be,
or will we allow the Church, the Bride of Jesus Christ,
to be controlled, abused and dissipated by weak and evil men?
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us:
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you do not have life within you.”
Let me tell you another story.
When I was growing up, I was a very devout kid,
and I especially loved the Eucharist and the Mass.
But in college I stopped going to Mass.
Lots of reasons for that, but one of the most important was
all the really weak priests I knew.
I mean, it seemed to me that they didn’t believe, so why should I?
Well thanks be to God, I came back a few years later,
because I had to admit to myself
that regardless of whatever those foolish priests said or did,
I believed in Jesus, and all He taught, especially about the Eucharist.
And all that could only be found in only one place:
in the Church he founded, the Catholic Church.
So I started going to Mass again.
And even when I knew the priest was not very faithful,
I always knew he gave me the one thing I need more than anything else:
the bread of life, Jesus in the flesh.
And that in turn helped to reawaken the call to the priesthood in my heart:
I thought, “someone has to do this better, more faithfully.”
Again, if not me, who?
That is the question not only for men called to priesthood,
but really, also the question all Catholics should answer today.
As St. Peter tells us elsewhere in Scripture:
“Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion,
seeking someone to devour.
Resist him, standing firm in your faith….”
Who will resist and fight the good fight, if not you?
Who will help purify the Church of all this filth?
Who will stand up to the corrupt bishops and priests?
If not me and you, who?
And who will preplace them in the pulpit and at the altar,
not as wolves, but as true shepherds and fathers,
who will give us the Bread of Life, if we have no priests?
If not me and your sons, who?
Do not give up your faith in Christ and His Catholic Church.
Do not waiver one iota.
Love Him and His Bride, with all your hearts.
And fight for them both.
Do not settle for platitudes, or new policies and procedures
from the bishops, or the Vatican.
But demand a wholesale moral purification of the Church,
most especially her priests and bishops.
Support with all your hearts the ones who are clearly trying
to be good shepherds.
And with the power and might of Jesus Himself,
who comes to you in the Holy Eucharist,
oppose with all your strength
the wolves and the lions seeking to devour us.
If not you and me, who?