22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 30, 2015

September 3, 2015 Father De Celles Homily

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 30, 2015

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us that

“Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person,

but the things that come out from within are what defile.”

Of course this is true, it’s our own personal choices between right and wrong,

–the decisions made in our hearts, inside of us, within us–

that make us good or bad people.

No one and nothing else outside of us can make these choices for us, so,

“nothing that enters from the outside can defile” us.


But an essential presupposition to Christ’s teaching here

is that a person is free to choose between good and evil.

And sometimes Jesus’ saying can be easily misunderstood if we forget this.

Because sometimes things from outside us can limit our freedom,

and so directly affect our choices,

so that sometimes, in some sense you can and must say:

somethings that enter one from outside do defile that person.”


Sometimes our freedom to choose between good and evil,

is impaired by external force or coercion:

someone holding a gun to your head, figuratively or literally.

But there’s a second more subtle way this happens:

it’s external, but becomes internal.

Its’ called “learning.”

What we learn—and what we’re taught—directly affects our freedom.

For example,

If we’re not taught that certain choices exist,

learning can effectively eliminate choice;

Or by teaching that something good is really bad,

learning can confuse us and make some choices seem impossible;

And also, not being taught the difference between right and wrong,

can affect our ability to make intelligent choices.


Our country values freedom more than any other right or virtue.

For over 200 years Americans have fought and died to defend

freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press,

and freedom of assembly.

In the last few decades and years we’ve argued and debated about

some very different supposed freedoms;

freedom from religion,

freedom of choice to kill an unborn baby,

freedom of sexual expression and orientation.

But there’s one aspect of society

where freedom doesn’t seem to play much of a part:

the freedom of parents in the education of their own children.


Parents’ freedom to educate is limited in many ways nowadays.

Of course, the first limitation that comes to mind is that parents are greatly limited

in their freedom to choose what school their children will attend,

first by their ability to pay for private education

or to afford to homeschool,

but also by the government telling them which public schools

their children will attend.


But there is also a more pervasive force

against freedom in educating our children today:

that is, the actual content of our teaching.

Remember: what we learn, what goes into the student,

can directly affect our freedom.


Consider, for example, the content of the course

taught and required in Fairfax County schools

called “Family Life Education”.

How can you teach about “family life”

without understanding and communicating an understanding of

the creator of the family, and the giver of all lifeGod?

How can you teach family values without reference to the law God has revealed?

Some claim to try,

but what they really do is replace a Christian God

for a sort of secular god.


Or take specifically sex education.

Some argue that they merely teach the biology and psychology of sexuality

—they don’t impose a moral or values system.

But how can you teach a child about contraception

and not communicate an implicit approval of condom use?

How can you teach about the various sexual choices we make

without teaching that some are bad choices and some are good choices?

How can you teach, as Fairfax County Schools are planning to do soon,

that same-sex attraction, or gender diversity is natural and good, and say you haven’t taught moral values – what do “natural” and “good” express if not moral values?


Some say, well parents are always free to “opt out” of those classes.

But which classes do they opt out of?

—the history class that teaches the heroism of Margaret Sanger,

the racist founder of Planned Parenthood

—which is now the largest non-government provider of abortions in the world,

that we now know sells body parts of the babies for a profit?

What about an economics class

that praises the failed social justice theories of Karl Marx

but never mentions the social justice teaching of the Catholic popes?

Not to mention a 2nd grade reading class that reads

“Heather Has Two Mommies”?

The same crowd that says you can “opt your child out” of sex ed class,

is so often the same crowd that rants so loudly

that “opting a child out” of voluntary school prayer ostracizes that child.


Everything we teach in school is permeated with values,

or one moral perspective or another.

But whose moral perspective?

In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls the Pharisees “hypocrites” as he tells them:

“[You] are teaching as doctrines [things that are only] human precepts.

You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”

Schools that teach without reference to God have to cling to theories

which are mainly merely “human precepts”

invented to coincide with the latest mandate

of politically correct social activists.


Now, let me stop and make it clear

that I in no way mean to insult or degrade the contributions and hard work

of public school teachers and administrators

who try their best to be Godly teachers and examples

to the children entrusted to them in a defective system.

My saintly mother was a public school teacher for 20 years.


And I in no way mean to disparage parents

who after long thought and prayer and in good conscience

have chosen to send their children to public school,

while struggling as best they can

to continue to educate their children in the truth of Jesus Christ.


Nor do I mean to come down on the kids who go to public schools

—God knows it’s hard enough for you to witness to the faith

without me adding to your troubles.


Besides, these problems are not reserved only to public schools:

they’ve also infected most private schools

and even many Catholic schools in one way or another.

The present system of education, in too many places,

is simply not the way it was meant to be.


In today’s first reading Moses says:

‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’ For what great nation is there

that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us…

Or what great nation has statutes and decrees

that are as just as this whole law

which I am setting before you today?”

Moses was of course talking to the Israelites,

but from the very birth of “this great nation” of ours

—the United States of America—

we have also believed that God is close to us,

and that we find our very conception in his law.

In the most glorious statement of our national heritage

Thomas Jefferson referred to (quote)

“the Laws of …Nature’s God”, as he affirmed for posterity:

“that all Men…are endowed by their Creator

with certain unalienable rights,

that among these are Life, Liberty,

and the Pursuit of Happiness.”


Liberty, or Freedom, is our founding principle.

And the foundation of that freedom has not been some politically correct ethic,

some “human precept” or merely “human tradition.”

Freedom in the American conscience, and in the Catholic conscience,

is founded on the wisdom of God.


This week or next our children are going back to school.

It is a time of both excitement, and confusion, and even some fear.

And in the midst of all this it might be easy for parents to see themselves

as turning their children over to the schools to educate them.

But my dear parents, you can’t do that:

because, as the Catholic Church teaches, and as you know in your heart:

you are the primary educators of your children,

and schools and teachers are there only to help you do your job.

So, as you take your children back to school this week,

whether it’s to a public school,

or to a private school or even a Catholic school,

remember that you are the supervisors

and the final arbiters of what they learn.

You must review the books they read, the classes they take,

and the discussions they have in school.

And you must protect them from lies, and teach them the truth.


If they’re in public or private school, you have to make sure

that you supplement that learning by continuing to teach them

about Jesus and his Church,

both at home and in CCD.

And if they’re in Catholic schools,

you and I both know that some Catholics are confused

about what the Church teaches,

and so some of that can even creep into

our Catholic schools.

And sometimes kids just misunderstand what the teacher is trying to tell them:

One time a 1st grader asked me if dogs go to heaven,

and I tried to carefully explain

how dogs don’t have eternal souls, etc…

And that night I got a call from an upset mother

who said her son was crying because I had told him dog was going to  hell.

(For the record: dogs never go to hell.)

So, as they say: “trust, but verify.”

And teach! You are the primary educators of your children!

The teachers in schools, and in CCD, are helping you, not replacing you.


And what about all of you who don’t have kids going back to school this year?

Don’t think you don’t have a part to play.

It’s your job to support these good parents,

by defending their fundamental rights and freedom

to form the consciences and minds of their children.

And it’s your job to support their children’s right to know the truth

and their freedom to make learned choices.

And it’s your job to support those good and just teachers and administrators,

in public, private or Catholic schools,

to give them the tools and the freedom

to serve God as they serve our children and their parents.

You can do all this in lots of different ways:

at the ballot box, or with your checkbook,

or by offering a helping hand to a tired parent,

or a confused kid, or a distraught teacher.

And most importantly, you can do this by praying for them all.


We are Americans, but first we are Catholics.

Thank God that on the issue of freedom

there need be no conflict between the two.

As Americans and Catholics

we must defend the freedom of parents and children

when it comes to education.

For as Catholics we cannot hold with those who

“teac[h] as doctrines human precepts…

disregard[ing] God’s commandment.”

And as Americans we pray that the words

that Moses spoke to Israel 3200 years ago,

will remain true of us today:

‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.

For ….what great nation has statutes and decrees

that are as just as this whole law

which [God is] setting before you today?”