Home and Family. Last weekend I was in South Bend, IN, for my niece’s wedding. I have to say I had a great time visiting with my family gathered from around the country: all 4 of my brothers and sisters and their spouses, 12 of my 15 nieces and nephews, and 13 of my 18 grandnieces and grandnephews (all under the age of 9). We had a wonderful time catching up. Now I’m back from that 3-day trip (2 days driving), and I’m looking forward to a week’s vacation golfing in Florida starting next weekend. (FYI, parish priests get 30 days of vacation a year, which allows us to rest after working 6 to 7 day weeks the rest of the year).
In my 20 years of priesthood I’ve been assigned to 6 parishes. I will be honest: in some of those parish it was sometimes difficult to come back from vacation. Not so much because I didn’t want to work, and definitely not because I didn’t love my priestly vocation, but because, frankly, sometimes some parishes offer challenges that are not always the most pleasant to deal with. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved each of my assignments, but some of them were more personally trying than others.
I thought about this as I drove back from South Bend last Sunday (bringing the frigid and snowy weather with me). But I have to say that I was also looking forward to coming home. Home: that is what St. Raymond of Peñafort is to me. And even as I was sad to leave so many of my dear (grand) nieces and nephews behind (they are the closest I have to my own natural offspring: in my mind I call them “my kids”), I also knew that I was coming home to my own spiritual children, my spiritual family here. Being spiritual Father makes my life a very happy one, in spite of the regular trials of being a pastor.
I am very proud of my nieces and nephews, “my kids”. They are all very good Catholic young men and women, and some of them are very accomplished in the world. But I am also proud of my spiritual children here at St. Raymond’s. I think of all the folks that come out to hear and learn from the orthodox and sometimes difficult teaching shared by our various speakers and homilists. I think of all the folks who work to end abortion—especially those who walk or stand in the cold or heat to bear public witness. I think of the welcoming attitude of folks at Mass, especially to our babies and children. I think of all the children in CCD, homeschool and Catholic schools, and their parents who are striving to raise them to be good Catholics. I think of the generosity of our people, to the poor and needy, and to one another, both in the gift of their time and money.
But the one thing that kind of sums up the best of our parish, in my mind anyway, is the reverence and devotion we show to Our Lord’s True Presence in the Blessed Sacrament. This is a huge thing. It’s one thing to get fired up about social and moral issues, or to be moved with compassion for others. But the test of a truly Catholic faith is a personal love for the person of Jesus Christ. Yes, all this is expressed in all these other ways, but to believe in his words, “This is my Body,” and to conform our behavior and hearts to that belief, says volumes about our love for Him.
After all, He is truly there, physically. Yes, He’s with us always and everywhere, but never so intimately and uniquely as in the Eucharist. It’s kind of like being with my (grand) nieces and nephews: they are with me in some way all the time—in my heart, my memories, pictures, in the smiles and trials of other children and young adults, etc. But to actually be with them physically I am happy to drive 650 miles in the winter, because that is of a completely different order: to talk to them, smiling or tear-filled face to face, to hold their hands, or to hold them in my arms. This is what happens with the Eucharist: He is there with us, face to face, looking at us with unspeakable love. He and we speak to each other in the beautiful prayers, especially in the Mass, and He and we embrace in Holy Communion. And as wonderful as “my kids” are, Christ is someone altogether more wonderful—my love for my kids, and your love for your kids, siblings, spouses and parents, is merely a glimmer reflecting the infinite love and greatness of God.
So I am very proud of your reverence and devotion before our Lord, inside and outside of Mass. Focusing on Him alone, in love, delight and joy, but also in sorrow for your sins, and bringing all the trials of your life to Him, knowing He is really there, with His body crucified out of love to take away your sins, risen to lift you above the hardship of this fallen world.
None of us is where we need to be yet—none of us is perfect. We have much to learn about our faith. We have many battles to fight against our own sins and the sins taking root in society. We have a long way to grow in charity, mercy and generosity toward others. But we will grow, if we begin with focusing on and loving Jesus. And that begins with our pious and true devotion to Our Lord present to us in the Blessed Sacrament.
Defending Marriage and Life. On Thursday, January 14, about 250 people turned out in the parish hall to hear Dr. Ryan Anderson give us an excellent and lively talk about the continuing efforts to redefine sexuality and Marriage in our society. This follows on the large crowds that turned out for the first two parts of this series of speakers, Fr. Tad Pacholczyk in September and Abp. Cordileone in November. I pray that they will bear fruit in all of us as we continue to defend the true meaning of Marriage and sexuality.
Since I write this on Wednesday (Jan. 20), I can’t give much of a report about the March for Life on Friday (Jan. 22). I can say that we signed up enough people to fill 3 full buses (with a long waiting list), with dozens of our teens planning to come separately with our Youth Group, not to mention the many folks cooking for the chili dinner in the hall afterwards. I pray it all goes/went well, especially in spite of the weather, for our good and the good of unborn babies and their mothers.
And I thank our Respect Life and Religious Freedom and Marriage committees (especially the Lairds, the Westburgs, the Hildebrands, and the Burns families) for organizing all these activities.
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles