TEXT: 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 27, 2019

January 31, 2019 Father De Celles Homily

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 27, 2019

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA


“As a body is one though it has many parts,

and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,

so also Christ.”

These are words of great joy and hope.

But they are also words of great grief and anguish.

Because even as Christ calls His Church to be His one body,

we look around and we see that in so many ways

the Church doesn’t look or act like “one body in Christ.”


Most obviously we see this in the divisions that appear

between the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox,

and the many various Protestant denominations.

More subtly we see this even within our own Catholic Church.


This last week we’ve celebrated a week of prayer for Christian Unity.

But before we’ll ever achieve real Christian unity,

we have to come to understand 2 things:

first we have to understand what one set of beliefs unites us,

and second, we have to understand how to

                             live out that belief together as one body.


Of course the core belief that unites all Christians

is faith in the revelation of Jesus Christ.

But that’s also where all the divisions start.

The Catholic Church has always believed that

while there is only one revelation of Christ,

it comes to us in two complementary ways:

in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition,

or the oral teaching handed down by the Apostles.

And we also believe that Christ has protected this revelation

by having the Holy Spirit guide his apostles and  their successors,

the popes and bishop,

in authoritatively interpreting Tradition and Scripture

–we call this the “teaching office” of the bishops,

or the “magisterium.”


The original great division in the Western Church in the 16th century came

when MARTIN LUTHER and his followers argued

that Christ’s revelation comes to us in Scripture alone,

and rejected Tradition and the teaching authority, the magisterium,

of the pope and bishops.

But what they soon found out is that

when you eliminate the Tradition and magisterium,

you can wind up with as many different interpretations of Scripture

as you have individual Christians.

And so today we see 10s of 1000’s of separate Protestant denominations

interpreting Scripture as they see fit.

And, unfortunately, we also now so many Catholics who do the same.



Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus Himself showed how necessary it is

to have someone who can interpret Scripture with authority.

It tells us that after He had read the scriptures in the synagogue

He went on to explain their meaning to the people.


And elsewhere we find that Jesus passed this authority on to His Church

through the ministry of the apostles, telling them:

“What every you bind on earth will be bound in heaven,

and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

And at the Last Supper, Jesus prayed:

“I do not pray for [the apostles] only, but also

for those who believe in me through their word,

that they may all be one.”



But as I said earlier, unity comes not just in being one body in belief,

but also in acting and living together as one body.

St. Paul tells us in today’s 2nd reading that:

“God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as He intended.”

And elsewhere in St. Paul’s writings about the body of Christ, he says that

“Christ is the head of the body, the Church.”

So, remembering that Jesus has sent the apostles out to speak for Him,

the Church has always referred to them and their successors in ministry

—the popes, bishops and priests—

as standing “in persona Christi capitis

—”in the person of Christ the head” of the body.



But clearly, the head is not the only member of the body.

St. Paul goes on to say:

“Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker

are all the more necessary.”

and “The head [cannot say] to the feet, ‘I do not need you.'”

And so the Church recognizes that every Christian

has a special vocation within the Church,

and that no matter how important or unimportant it may seem,

it is still indispensable in God’s plan.


The thing is, for the Church to be like Christ’s perfect body,

its members must live and work together,

respecting their own and each other’s dignified place in the body.

And so, for example, the [Second Vatican] Council taught us that:

Pastors should recognize and promote

the dignity and responsibility of the laity in the Church.

They should willingly use their prudent advice…. ”

And it went on to tell us that:

“the laity are empowered–indeed sometimes obliged

–to manifest their opinion on those things

which pertain to the good of the Church.”



Now, of course, this doesn’t mean we can believe or do whatever we want,

no matter what the Pope or Bishops say.

In particular, we’re never free to disagree with the Pope or bishops

when it comes to matters

of settled doctrine or official magisterial teaching in faith and morals,

when they teach what has clearly been handed on to them

from centuries of Tradition, or Scripture itself.

So when the Pope says the Eucharist is really the body of Christ,

or that abortion is always wrong and a grave sin,

we can’t disagree with him, and still call ourselves practicing Catholics.



But we can certainly disagree with bishops and priests, and even the Pope,

when it doesn’t involve doctrine or official teaching.

For example, when it comes to the mere discipline of the Church,

the Church laws that govern the daily peaceful and orderly functioning

of the Church as one Body,

we can disagree, even though we still have to obey.

For example, a few months ago I decided that we’d start using an altar rail.

Some parishioners respectfully disagreed at first, which was fine,

but in the end almost everyone accepted it charitably,

which I greatly appreciated.

In doing that, they did what Vatican II called on them to do,

when it said they should always act:

“with reverence and charity towards those who…

represent the person of Christ” [the priests and bishops],

and “should promptly accept in Christian obedience

what is decided by the pastors.”



But then there are also many areas not involving official doctrine

or legitimate internal discipline,

where you cannot only disagree with but even not obey

the bishops and priests, and even the Pope.

So, for example, Vatican II taught that in the politics of nations and states,

“All Christians …must recognize the legitimacy of different opinions

with regard to temporal solutions.”

So a bishop or priest can tell you that it’s a grave sin

to support or promote abortion or “gay-marriage”

—since these always directly involve settled doctrine.

But, that same priest or bishop cannot to tell you

what your position should be on every issue in the public square,

whether it be health care, taxes, the government shutdown,

immigration, the wall, or climate change.

Because while all of those problems involve morality,

they do not clearly have only one morally correct solution.

And if a priest or bishop or pope pretends that they do,

you are not absolutely free to disagree.


[It’s like the old question of whether to give a fish to a hungry man,

or teach him how to fish

—there is no sin in disagreeing over which is the wiser choice:

both are trying to feed the man.]


And in fact, a priest or bishop who tries to impose his mere opinion on his flock

may actually be committing a sin, and perhaps a grave sin,

at least objectively—we can never judge their souls.

For example, last week the bishop of Covington, Kentucky,

clearly unjustly condemned some high school boys in his diocese

for an act of abuse they obviously didn’t do

—in fact, they were the ones who were abused.

And then his neighboring Bishop, in Lexington, Kentucky,

also condemned those teenagers,

treating as Church doctrine his own mere opinion

that you can’t be “pro-life” if wear a “make America great again” hat.


We can not only disagree with bishops who do and teach things like that,

we can publicly, though with respect and charity, call them on it.

Because by doing that, they are attacking the unity of the Church.

They are the dissenters, not us who disagree with them.

As St. Paul tells, us: “The head [cannot say] to the feet, ‘I do not need you.’”

And neither can any bishop or priest

assault the dignity of his people by judging them unjustly

or pretending his mere political opinion is more holy than theirs.



“There are many parts, yet one body…. God placed the parts, each one of them,

in the body as He intended….”

Any time Christians ignore the God-given roles

of the other members of the body of Christ,

–whether it’s laity ignoring the role and dignity of the bishops and priests,

or bishops or priests ignoring the role and dignity of the laity—

there will be problems, threats to the true unity of the one Body of Christ.

As St. Paul says:

“If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it…”


The call unity in the body of Christ is a source of great joy,

but also great suffering,

as the pain of divisions and dissension causes us to realize

that we are not living the oneness, the unity, that Christ calls us to.

As we come together today to celebrate the sacrament of the Eucharist,

the greatest sign and source of unity

–the sacrament of the actual personal Body of Christ

–let us pray for true unity among all Christians—

throughout the world,

and in our own midst.

Let us look for that unity first and foremost in unity of belief in the word of God

protected by the Holy Spirit through 2000 years of apostolic succession.

And let us pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit

so that we may recognize and accept

the part each of us is to play in bringing about and living that unity.

Because division among the members of the body,

is a rejection of Christ’s prayer at the first Eucharist

“that they may all be one.”

And dissension is a rejection of the promise that:

“As a body is one though it has many parts,

and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,

so also Christ.”