3rd Sunday of Easter
April 26, 2020
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
With the stay at home order the last month
many people find themselves increasingly turning
to the television or internet to either
connect to other people, or to be entertained, or even to worship.
If this describes you, as it does me,
have you noticed all the ads and commercials,
that talk about how “we’re all in this together” or “we can do this together”?
Or maybe saluting the many folks who are going to work every day
to actively fight the virus, or to keep us all supplied with food and goods.
Even the politicians and the news media do this.
A constant mantra to the greatness of mankind
working together to defeat the coronavirus.
And while I’m as grateful as anyone to all the people out there
working so hard or risking so much,
it strikes me that there is hardly a word said about the ONE person,
who all by Himself could end the crisis immediately: God.
Think about it.
One of the few people I’ve heard talk about God in all this was President Trump.
Now, I’m really not trying to be political here
—I’m just citing him as the exception that proves the rule.
Remember how his goal was to open things up again by Easter?
“Wouldn’t it be great to have all of the churches full?….
You’re going to have packed churches all over our country.
I think it would be a beautiful time.”
And he was roundly ridiculed and dismissed.
No one is talking about God.
No one seems to think God matters.
Instead it’s as if human “togetherness” or generosity or intelligence
are the new supreme forces in the world—mankind is the new god.
But the proof is already in: we can’t do it on our own.
There are at least 3 million coronavirus cases around the world,
with 200,000 deaths—50,000 of those in the United States.
Man can not do it on our own.
Yes, we can do our part:
social distancing and separation can “flatten the curve”
medical professionals can tend the sick
and eventually there will be a vaccine and even and cure.
But none of that will bring back the 200,000 dead.
Yes, we can do our part, but no one is talking about God’s part.
And sadly, this has found its way into our laws—at least at the State level.
A month ago yesterday, Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam
issued Executive Order 55, the stay at home order,
which specifically provided that:
“All public and private in-person gatherings
of more than ten individuals are prohibited.
This includes …religious…events…”
Now, there were important exceptions to prohibited gatherings,
for so called “Essential Businesses,”
Some of these exceptions seem obviously truly essential, like:
“Grocery stores, pharmacies,…Medical [offices], [and] laborator[ies],”
Some are less obvious, but I can see how they might be important sometimes:
“Automotive parts…Home improvement…
But some boggle the imagination to find anything essential about them, like:
“Lawn and garden equipment retailers…”
and “Beer, wine, and liquor stores…
And then on Good Friday, of all days, the Governor added Abortion Clinics
to this list of exceptions.
All these are so deemed essential that the 10 person limit doesn’t apply,
and in fact there is no limit to how many people can be there.
So, going to an abortion clinic is essential, but going to Church is not.
And the ABC Store, Walmart or Home Depot
can be packed with people shopping
for brandy or candy bars or wallpaper on any day of the week,
but get more than 10 people in a church to pray to God, even just on Sunday,
and you are endangering human life,
and could be punished with up to a year in jail and/or a $2,500 fine.
Think what has happened.
It seems to me the only way the governor could come to these bizarre dichotomies
was to, in effect, decide, willfully or accidentally, either
that God is not very important to fixing the COVID19 crisis,
or that the way we pray, and worship God is not very important.
The first of these, the notion that God is not important,
is repugnant to every law and ideal of our nation.
As the founders wrote:
“…all Men are …endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable Rights, …among these are
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness….”
The whole argument for all these restrictions is to protect life.
But the thing is that it is the Creator who gives us the life and right to life,
so that no governor has the authority
to deny the supreme importance of God, even over doctors and medicine,
in preserving and saving life.
Or maybe his decision assumed
that he knows the right way we should pray to or worship God.
In other words, he thinks you don’t have to go to church
to worship the way God wants.
That wouldn’t be so unusual: lots of people say this nowadays.
But that’s a problem when lawmakers adopt that as a political principle.
Because it immediately and necessary leads to specific conclusions,
such as it’s not very important to God
if Catholics go to Mass, or receive Communion.
Think of that—that’s exactly what the Kings and Queens of England did
to our English forebearers,
suppressing Masses and telling Catholics that the right way to pray
was found in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.
And that’s why our English forebearers, Catholic and Protestant,
established the government of the United States
with a fundamental law, right from the beginning, that the government,
“shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”
And so we Catholics, led by our bishops and priests, not our government,
have the right to determine the best way they should worship God.
And so we read in today’s gospel how the disciples on the road to Emmaus
didn’t recognize Jesus standing right in front of them
until “He was made known to them in the breaking of bread”
And we read last Sunday in the Acts of the Apostles how the first Christians,
to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life,
to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.”
“The teaching of the apostles”—they followed the apostles, the first bishops.
“The Breaking of the bread”—they were devoted to the Eucharist.
“The communal life”—coming together to live and to worship.
“And the Prayers”—the liturgy, public worship: the Mass.
So Catholics believe that the best way and highest form worship,
the way Jesus, God the Son, the Word of God made flesh,
told us to worship, is by coming together and Mass,
and receiving the Eucharist.
Now, is it absolutely essential, a matter of life or death, salvation or damnation,
to receive Communion to go to Mass every Sunday,
or even to go to Mass every Sunday?
No not absolutely
—Catholics can miss Sunday Mass for a serious reason,
and you can pray, and Jesus can give you His grace, in other ways.
And in fighting the coronavirus,
it’s not absolutely necessary that we muster all our best experts
and give them the very best equipment,
but we do that because we want to stop the virus as fast possible.
So then why would we settle for using
the lesser forms of worship and instruments of grace
to receive God’s help with the virus,
when we could bring out the big guns
—the amazing power of the Mass and Communion.
And yet that is what the Governor claims he has the right to do.
And to be clear there’s a huge difference between
a governor telling Catholics how to worship
and a Catholic Bishop doing so.
That is a Bishop’s right, as a successor to the apostles, to lead us spiritually.
And in fact, the Bishop has applied this rule across the board,
and consistently to all gatherings in the diocese, of any kind whatsoever.
I’m convinced the Bishop is acting in good faith and with reason,
doing what he believes is God’s will,
so even as you are free to disagree with his decision,
we must respectfully obey him.
And my point is not whether it was wise, just or necessary
for the Governor to close down religious gatherings.
Maybe it is truly essential to limit all gatherings to 10, including religious.
But by not applying this across the board, consistently,
and with general applicability to all organizations,
except for those few genuinely providing the bare necessities,
the Governor has made a huge mistake.
Either willfully or accidentally, he has effectively,
like so many other governors and so many Americans,
succumbed to the disastrous idea
that God and the way we worship Him is just not that important.
And the thing is, if this is our attitude,
is it any wonder that God has allowed this coronavirus to plague us?
I’m not saying that this is a punishment from God, although I suppose it could be.
And I’m not saying God doesn’t care, I know that can’t be.
What I am saying is that when we ignore God or place ourselves above Him
so we think can do whatever we want
and solve all our problems all by ourselves,
even as a society “all together,”
regardless of His will or law, or the power of His grace,
then why would we be shocked when He seems to back away a bit
to show us how just helpless we really are without Him.
The coronavirus should remind us all of that.
And it should reform our view of life.
Not to make us feel helpless, but to realize the power we have
in being in Communion with the God who loves us so much
He died on the Cross and rose from the dead.
And so to turn our hope and faith and love first to Him.
And worship Him, not ourselves.
Today, let us worship this God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, as best we can.
As your priest I will offer the Holy Mass of Jesus here at the altar,
but in front of this camera
so that you at home may more easily join me in spirit.
And as we offer the best prayer we can right now,
let us ask the good Lord Jesus to soon allow us to be together here again,
to offer our highest worship and receive the pledge of His grace,
as is His holy and true will.
“…and …He was made known to them in the breaking of bread.”