TEXT: Solemnity of St. Raymond of Peñafort, January 14, 2024

January 14, 2024 Father De Celles Homily

Solemnity of St. Raymond Of Peñafort                                     

January 14, 2024

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of St. Raymond of Peñafort,

the patron of our parish.

His feast is normally celebrated on January 7,

but this year the 7th was the Epiphany,

so, with Bishop Burbidge’s permission,

I transferred the celebration to the next Sunday, today.

Most Catholics don’t know much about St. Raymond;

         in fact, many have never even heard of him.

Most of those who are familiar with him know him only as a great canon lawyer, the “father of canon law,” which he is.

In fact, that is the direct reason this parish was named after him:

The bishop at the time of our founding, good Bishop John Keating, was himself a renowned canon lawyer and so, St. Raymond is his patron saint.

But being the father of canon law and patron of all lawyers,

         –both canon and civil

                  doesn’t automatically make you a saint,

and that was not the main reason Keating named him our patron.

Rather, as a canon lawyer, Bishop Keating came to see Raymond of Peñafort as a holy, zealous, brilliant, and humble man: an amazing saint.

And so, he gave him to us as our great patron not to make us all good lawyers,

         but to help make us saints.

There is so much more to our patron, and we should know it and appreciate it.

He was of noble birth, son of the count of Barcelona, Aragon, now Spain.

He began his ecclesiastic career at twenty years old,

         and after ordination and earning doctorates in both canon and civil law,

he was made a Canon, a sort of monsignor, of the Cathedral of Barcelona.

He soon became a professor, eventually chairman of Canon Law,

         at the prestigious University of Bologna,

which was sort of in the “Ivy League” of the Middle Ages.

And with that, he soon became famous for his preaching and teaching.

But fame and stature were not where his heart was.

His heart was with Christ, and his only ambition

was to grow in holiness and serve Him.

So, at age forty-seven he became a Dominican friar,

giving up all ecclesiastic and academic honors and all his family wealth

to become a poor, humble, obedient novice friar.

And he soon became even more well known

         for holiness, wisdom, and scholarship.

Knowing the gem they had found in Raymond,

         his Dominican superiors ordered him,

as an act of humility, penance, and obedience,

to write a book laying out his tremendous knowledge

of the sacrament of Confession for the use by confessors, priests.

And so he wrote his famous book on confession,

         the Summa de Casibus Poenitentiae,

a masterpience on the doctrines and laws of the Church

regarding the various sins and problems

that come to the attention of priests in Confession.

Very quickly, this was recognized as the most authoritative book on the topic,

         revealing not only the great mind of Raymond to the Church,

         but also showing him to be a great confessor,

teaching others the truth, justice, and mercy of the sacrament.

Not surprisingly, the pope at the time, Pope Gregory IX,

read the Summa Casibus

and called Raymond to Rome to be his personal confessor and theologian.

Coming to know firsthand his wisdom, intellect, and holiness,

he soon appointed Raymond “grand penitentiary”–

the chief judge of the Church over all moral questions and confessions.

This is what the silver key we see Raymond usually depicted in so many pictures as carrying means: St. Peter’s key to bind and unlock sins.

But the Pope also gave him a new and monumental task:

To pull together all the various laws that existed in the Church,

issued over eleven centuries, in different decrees, bulls, and other legislations,

and to synthesize and coordinate them into one book, or code.

He was able to finish this huge project in less than four years,

         and the Pope was so pleased that he issued it to the Church

and ordered that this code be the primary source of law in in the Church

—which it remained so for 700 years until it was updated in 1917.

Wearied of all the attention and life in the curia, and now 60 years old,

Raymond petitioned the Pope who allowed him to retire and return home to Barcelona to quietly teach.

But he was too important to be allowed to step away from responsibility,

so the Dominicans soon elected him third Master General of their order

—successor to St. Dominic and Bd. Jordan.

This was the last thing Raymond wanted,

but he accepted his election in humble obedience.

But…as Master General he did what he was famous for:

The Dominicans wanted this great legal and holy mind

to rewrite the constitutions of the order,

         the rules of life of all the Dominicans.

So he did that.

But being the expert lawyer he was, he snuck in a provision

         that allowed the Master General to resign whenever he wanted

         —something his two predecessors had not been allowed to do.

And so, as soon as the Dominicans had happily approved the new Constitutions,

they were stunned as their Master General resigned due to old age at sixty-five years old.

He was too old, he said; his time was over.

But, returning to Barcelona, he proceeded to live thirty-five more years

         to the age of 100,

all the time continuing to work hard, especially in converting Jews,

not by force and fear, as was sadly not uncommon in those days,

but by reason and persuasion.

For example, he famously organized what history calls

         the “Disputation of Barcelona,”

         where a distinguished rabbi was allowed freedom

         to publicly debate a Catholic theologian

         in the presence of the King of Aragon, his court,

         and other notable prelates and theologians.

But his most ardent efforts in evangelizing were directed toward the Muslims.

This goes back to when he was a younger man,

when at about age forty-three, Our Lady appeared to him

         and asked him to help one of his spiritual sons, Peter Nolasco,

         to found a new religious order.

Remember, at that time, Muslim pirates would raid Christian ships and capture

         the Christians onboard, forcing them to convert, and/or selling them as slaves.

So the Blessed Mother, or Our Lady of Ransom,

         said that the new religious order would be called     

         to ransom these Christian captives of Muslims,

         either by raising money to buy their freedom

         or even exchanging their own lives for the lives of the captives.

And so, Raymond, along with St. Peter Nolasco and King James of Aragon,

         founded the Order of Our Lady of Mercy and the Ransom of the Captives

         —the Mercedarians.

Thirty-three years later when he “retired to Spain,”

         he returned to this work with the Moors (Muslims)

         and is credited with converting over 10,000.

Again, not by coercion, but by reason and persuasion–

         what we would call today “apologetics.”

To help him do this, he convinced his friend and fellow Dominican theologian,

         the Great St. Thomas Aquinas,

         to write his book Summa Contra Gentiles,

         to address the issues raised in debates with Muslims.

He also convinced the Spanish Dominicans to teach Hebrew and Arabic

         to their priests, so they could preach to the Jews and Moors.

It was during this time, and as part of these evangelizing efforts,

         that he performed what was to be his greatest miracle.

In the year 1269, Raymond traveled with King James of Aragon

         to the newly conquered Moorish island of Majorca.

He came to preach to the Moors, but discovered that

         the married and supposedly devout Catholic King James

         had brought his mistress on the trip.

Raymond chastised the King to his face, calling him an adulterer,

         and insisted he repent,

         threatening to go back to Barcelona immediately if he didn’t.

But James refused and ordered the captains of all the ships in the harbor

         not to take him aboard.

So, our beloved saint went down to the seaside,

         bowed his head in prayer,

         made the Sign of the Cross over the water,

         and then, tying one end of his long black cloak to his walking staff,

         he threw the other end of the cloak onto the water and stepped onto it.

And then…the cloak filled with wind, becoming a sail and carrying him miraculously

         160 miles to Barcelona in less than six hours

         —an event testified to by hundreds of eyewitnesses on both shores.


This is our patron, not just a canon lawyer,

         but a great saint and example for people of all ages and every class of life.

Consider how he was saintly as a young man

         with the courage and humility to pursue the priesthood.

And then, in middle-age, at age forty-seven,

         he humbly accepted God’s call to reject his titles, wealth, and prestige

         to become the lowest ranking novice of the Dominican order.

And then, as an old man, especially for those times,

         at sixty and sixty-five, he took on and accomplished grand projects

         affecting the life of the whole Church.

And he continued his preaching,

         including going to Majorca to preach and denounce the King at age ninety-four,

         until his death at the age of one hundred.

He was a priest and confessor,

         insisting on justice and mercy for penitents and for well-formed confessors.

He was a scholar of the law, both civil and canon.

You know, some mock canon law as just a bunch of rules,

         but laws help us to live in an ordered society,

         protecting rights and defining the duties we each have.

And so, they help ensure justice and mercy,

         when properly followed and enforced,

         in the humble example of St. Raymond.

And when it comes to civil law, he was the patron saint of all lawyers

         before Thomas More joined him in that role—and still is.

As such, he is a great example to civil lawyers

         of the need for true justice and right order,

rooted in first principles, respecting God and man.

But he is still more than that.

He worked to protect Christians from Moorish captors,

         and so is an important advocate for us in this age of persecution and of terrorism,

         and all the political strife threatening true liberty in our own country.

But he also loved his enemy, working to convert Moors and Jews,

         not by anger, but by persuasion.

That example is so important today as it teaches us to love our enemies

         even as we fight them.

And if we love them, we will also boldly offer them the Gospel.

In this time of so much confusion and so many lies,

         Raymond proclaimed truth to all he met:

         to believers and unbelievers, to professors and priests,

         to bishops and nobles,

         and even to kings and popes.

But most of all, he was a man of faith in Christ and His power.

Isn’t this what we all need to do today?

To refocus on Christ, having the faith of St. Raymond

when all ships seem closed to us, and everything seems against us;
when the troubles of life seem to be like waves of the sea,

threatening to drown us in their wake.

We need to have the faith of our Blessed St. Raymond

         who once cast his cape and stepped out in faith on the waters,

         confident that the grace of Christ was all he needed to sail home.

He is a great saint for us—a great patron for our parish.

Turn to him as an example and as an advocate and intercessor

to teach us to love and serve Jesus Christ, placing nothing before Him;

to love and be guided by His blessed mother;

to love our neighbor and our enemies;

to have faith and unwavering hope in Christ and the power of His merciful love;

to have the courage in Christ to proclaim truth, justice, and mercy,

         and to call even kings and popes to account for their errors and sins;

to strive for true freedom, especially from the chains of sin;

and to offer the love of Christ to all.

At all stages of life and in all occupations.

In riches and in poverty.

In power and in oppression.

Praised be Jesus Christ…

St. Raymond of Peñafort, pray for us.