TEXT: Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 11, 2024

February 11, 2024 Father De Celles Homily

6th Sunday Ordinary Time                                                          

February 11, 2024

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

This Wednesday is the secular celebration of Valentine’s Day, so

we’ve been hearing a lot in advertisements about love.

Of course, the secular understanding of love is pretty much all wrong.

So, as I reflected on today’s readings,

         two particular aspects about the real meaning of love stood out to me,

         one very simple, and one very profound,

         yet both important for living the Christian life of love,

or what we call “charity.”

First, for the simple.

In today’s second reading St. Paul tells us,

“Avoid giving offense…just as I try to please everyone in every way.”

This is a very simple and important instruction,

but it is so often either ignored or misunderstood.

Essentially, what Paul is talking about is

not offending other people unnecessarily.

Of course, nowadays everyone seems so easily offended.

In fact, the culture seems to be based on looking for offense,

         as so much is dominated by extreme “wokeness”

         trying to regulate and ban

speech or acts that are offensive to certain people.

Now, some say this is really just loving your neighbor.

But the thing is, it’s not really based on love, but on arbitrary standards

         –sometimes rooted in fear, sometimes on ideology–

         that absolutely prohibit us from offending some groups

         but permit us to offend others.

So it can sometimes lead to utterly absurd results

like when government officials

—such as public school administrators and teachers—

refuse to follow basic science and recognize

that a boy is a boy, and a girl is a girl.

Or consider how the media would never dream of saying a negative word about

         the so called “gay community,”

         but no one seems to mind too much

if the FBI investigates traditional Catholics

or calls our grandmothers “extremists” and “bigots.”

My point is not to rail against the secularists,

but rather to point out the moral absurdity of “wokeness”

and propose we replace that by the simple application of true charity,  

including what is sometimes called

“common courtesy” or “good manners.”

And I’m not just talking about the media or government

insulting whole groups of people

—I’m talking about you and me and the small things we do every day

         to unnecessarily offend each other.

Good manners, common courtesy—what ever happened to those ideas?

I’m sorry to say it, but most of us seem to have forgotten or never learned

much about good manners.

We see this in marriages

where a husband speaks to his wife as if she were a servant.

We see it in children when an adult greets them

and the child doesn’t even bother to acknowledge the adult’s existence,

much less show them respect.

We see it especially in the latest tool of rudeness and bad manners: the cell phone.

Some people will say, “What’s the big deal?”

Well, Jesus tells us,

“Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them,”

         and, “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters

is also trustworthy in great ones.”

Folks, sometimes it’s the little things that can often make or break charity.

And that’s what good manners are

—the small norms of charity, developed over years in a culture,

that help us to be considerate of other people.

So, on your drive to work, someone rudely cuts you off in traffic,

and the rest of the day is infected with your anger.

On the other hand, someone at work

greets you with a smile and by name, and the day’s off to a great start.

Some people would say I’m being rude

by even pointing out the bad manners of others.

But in today’s Gospel Jesus tells the leper,

         “Go, show yourself to the priest.”

It was the job of the priest then, and still is today,

to point this out: This is good, this is bad; this is charitable, this is uncharitable.


This brings me to a second, more profound, aspect of charity

in today’s readings.

It’s interesting how so many in the media and politics claim “free speech”

         when they offend Catholics or Evangelicals with offensive speech or images,

but how they go nuts if a priest or preacher

says something which is a simple statement of our ancient faith.

For example, if a Baptist minister or a Catholic priest teaches

that marriage is only between a male and a female,

         inevitably the press will rail against them, calling it “hate speech.”

No mention of “free speech” here, much less “freedom of religion.”

Some would say that on so many issues Catholic priests

are not following St. Paul’s advice: “Avoid giving offense.”

Unfortunately, they confuse giving offense with charitably giving good advice.


Look at today’s readings again.

In the first reading, God tells Moses that lepers should be

“declare[d] unclean” and “shall dwell apart” from the rest of the Jews.

On the other hand, the Gospel says that Jesus allowed the leper to “come to” Him and that Jesus was “moved with pity” and healed him.

Some would say that 

the Old Testament seems judgmental and uncharitable to the leper,

         while Jesus seems welcoming and charitable.

The reality is that both attitudes reflect charity.

Moses didn’t have the power to heal lepers, so all he could do, in charity,

         was protect the community from being infected by leprosy

by requiring the lepers to dwell apart.

And notice that Christ does not rescind this law of Moses.

But since he does have the power to heal,

Jesus acts with particular charity for the leper and heals him.

And then, with charity for both the leper and the community,

         Christ tells the man to obey the law and go to the priest

to reassure the community that the man is safe to associate with.

Also, notice what both the Old Testament and the New Testament do:

They both recognize leprosy for the terrible disease it is,

for both the person and the community.

Some people say that charity requires the Church

to be silent on issues of the day

since some people are offended by what we say.

That’s like saying charity would require Jesus

to ignore the man’s leprosy.

That’s not charity; that’s not good manners.

That’s simply “wokeness” at its most absurd.


But what about St. Paul’s instruction to, “Avoid giving offense”?

As I said before, he’s talking about causing unnecessary offense.

Normally we shouldn’t cut people with knives,

but sometimes it’s necessary to use a knife to cut someone

while performing life-saving surgery.

And that surgery is painful, but we still have the surgery if it’s truly necessary, 

but use anesthesia to avoid unnecessary pain.

Jesus Himself was constantly telling people their sins in order to save them.

Think of the story of the woman at the well.

Of course this is a great story of Jesus’ mercy and charity,

but when the woman runs to tell everyone about Jesus, she doesn’t say,

         “Come see a really nice guy,”

         but rather, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did.”


Today’s gospel tells us that,

It was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.”
It’s fascinating that both Jesus and the leper can’t enter town,

but for opposite reasons:

Jesus is too popular, and the leper is too unpopular.

In the end, though, Jesus will be as unpopular as a leper

when the people figure out that he didn’t come just to cure the sick,

but to preach about the true meaning of love and sin.

The Church is also popular when people see us

helping the sick and feeding the poor.

But when we exercise our freedom of speech and freedom of religion

         to proclaim Christ’s teaching on love and sin,

         the world also treats us like lepers.

And they say we are hurtful, we are uncharitable,

and we are mongers of hate-speech.


In charity we must always try to “avoid giving offense,”

         and try always to be considerate of others.

Charity demands a rediscovery of good manners.

But never be confused

between good manners and cowardice, or

between the charity of correcting moral evils

and the foolishness of wokeness.

The Church—and all Christians—must always proclaim the Truth

—true love, true charity, demands it.

We must always follow St. Paul’s instruction

not to give unnecessary offense to anyone,

but always keeping in mind first, as St. Paul also says,

“Doing everything for the glory of God.”