Second Sunday in Lent

March 15, 2014 Column Father De Celles

Happy Birthday, Father Kenna! Who turned 50 years old this last Monday. Thank you, Father, for dedicating your life to serve all of us, in Christ. May the Lord Jesus bless you and His Mother Mary protect you. Ad multos annos!

“Mary of Nazareth.” Last Sunday 700 St. Raymond parishioners, and other guests, packed 2 sold-out private showings of the movie “Mary of Nazareth.” I don’t think I’ve done many things in the parish that have won me more heartfelt “thank yous” than scheduling this event. In reality, the thank-yous should go to parishioner Maria Sanchez-O’Brien’s, who proposed the project, and especially to Mary Butler, our parish secretary, who made it all happen. Many thanks to these two good “Marys,” and to all who helped and attended the movie.

And it was a really excellent film. Not the epic of the overwhelming “The Passion of the Christ,” but a powerfully uplifting movie, with fine acting and writing. Particularly noteworthy was the portrayal of Mary by young actress Alissa Jung, maturing before us from young teenager to a middle-aged mother. Most notable was her (and the writers, directors, etc.) capturing of some things very important about the essence of the Blessed Mother.

In particular, they showed us a true glimpse of Mary’s love. Nothing sappy or silly, but gentle and genuine—the kind of love you rarely see but that fills you with awe when you do see it in someone who is totally selfless, and doesn’t know it. This came through with everyone the movie-Mary encountered: her touching affection toward her parents, her tender but chaste love for St. Joseph, her unhesitating compassion for Mary Magdalene, her truly maternal devotion to her Son. It helped us see how Mary as a real human person, but one without any trace of sin, filled with grace, and consumed by love for God.

Then, there was Mary’s faith, which was perhaps the key theme and take-away from the movie, as she based her whole life on simple faith in God. Not “simple” in the sense of “stupid” or “unreasonable”, but a faith rooted in a deep but straightforward acceptance of God, in both His immense power and tender love. And from that faith we saw spring an indefatigable hope and trust in God: from her racing to enter the temple as a little girl, to her joyful acceptance of the Annunciation, to her sorrowful but confident resignation at the Cross. Especially enlightening was how the movie portrayed her faith leading her to gradually grow in her unique understanding of the great Mystery of Jesus’ life.

There are so many great things about the movie that there’s not enough space here. But one other last thing I must commend, is the way it showed how Mary was so essentially important to her Son, and so to our salvation. Not by portraying her as Jesus’ equal partner or master, but as a humble, holy woman chosen to be the true and beloved mother of God’s Son. It’s hard to imagine how anyone struggling to understand the Catholic vision of Mary could not walk away with a better understanding of our love for her. And it did all this while faithfully portraying so many of Catholic Marian traditions and dogmas (e.g., the tradition of her being raised in the temple, and the dogma of her perpetual virginity) without at the same time beating the non-Catholic over the head with them.

That being said, the movie did have its flaws, including an occasionally veering away from actual Scriptural accounts. Usually this was only in minor ways (probably for artistic purposes), there were a few more important errors. The most egregious of these was Joseph saying, when he first discovered Mary’s pregnancy, that he would end their “engagement” rather than, as Scripture says, “divorce her quietly.” Scripture says “Mary had been betrothed to Joseph,” which under Jewish law meant they were legally married, but not living together yet. There are many reasons why this is significant for us, the first being that it is the truth. So it was disappointing to see the writers make this and other similar errors.

Even so, it was an overwhelmingly great movie, and an excellent way to begin Lent. May our Blessed Mother, Mary, lead us closer to her Son Jesus during this most holy Season.

Cub Scout Assets. Two Sundays ago the Washington Post ran an article criticizing me for my handling of the assets of our former Cub Scout Pack when we ended our relationship with Boy Scouts in January. The article argued that although the assets legally belonged to the parish, it was morally wrong of me not to give those assets to the new Cub packs that many of our boys transferred to. I don’t intend to enter into debate, but I think you should know some facts.

A Parish Ministry. As I have explained before, the Cup Scout Pack and Boy Scout Troop were essentially part of St Raymond’s ministry to boys. For years this ministry had partnered with Boy Scouts of America, and now that same ministry continues with a new partner: Trail Life USA.  Legally (as BSA officials repeatedly insisted) the assets of the Pack and Troop always belonged to the parish, so it seemed clear that most of those assets should continue to be used in the same parish ministry that I hoped all the former Scouts would continue to participate in.

Popcorn. The Post was especially upset that we kept the money that the Cub Pack boys had raised from Popcorn sales last fall (2013). However, months before those sales began officials of the BSA warned certain key members of the Cub Pack leadership that all money from those sales would remain with the parish if the Cub Pack closed down, a possibility they were very aware of due to my previous public statements. Nevertheless, Cub Pack leadership decided to begin their sales in August. I did not make this decision, but I approved it since I planned/hoped that all the boys would stay with the parish ministry going forward, whether we were partnered with BSA or not. [Note, the final cash balance “assumed” by the parish was about $3600. Over the years the parish has invested several thousands of dollars more than that in the Pack.]

Final Distribution of Assets. Contrary to what was reported, in mid-December (2013) I directed the leaders of both the Cub Scout Pack and the Boy Scout Troop to get together with the new leaders of the new TLUSA group to divide all the physical assets (not cash), with the specific directive “to be as generous as possible” with the Scouts. According to Scout leaders this distribution has proceeded amicably.

Going forward. With eyes fixed on Christ Crucified, Lent is fundamentally a season of charity and forgiveness. I propose all concerned parties go forward in this Lenten spirit.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles