Category Archives: Sermons

Laetare Sunday 2023

Sermon for Laetare Sunday
Preached by The Reverend Richard G. Cipolla,
Pastor Emeritus, Saint Mary’s Church, Norwalk
at the traditional Latin Mass at St. Stanislaus Church, New Haven, 19 March 2023­­­­­­­­­­­­­_______________________________________________________________

From the Introit: “Laetare Jerusalem.”  Rejoice, O Jerusalem… and from today’s Gradual Psalm: “I rejoiced when I heard them say, let us go into the house of the Lord”.  And from the Epistle: “For freedom Christ has set us free.”

In the American psyche there is a strong relationship between freedom and joy.  The whole American enterprise, both mythical and historical, has been a celebration of freedom, usually understood in the Enlightenment sense: the freedom of the individual from all coercion, whether that coercion be from the State or from organized religion.  It is the freedom to be who you want to be without interference from outside sources.  We call ourselves “the Land of the free and Home of the brave.”  These basic individual freedoms are enshrined in the United States Constitution.  And these freedoms and freedom itself are inextricably linked in the minds of Americans with democracy.  Two World Wars were fought–in our understanding– to make the world safe for democracy.  And we have seen in the post-World War II period in our history, with its own wars in foreign lands, however imperfectly conceived and fought this wars have been, there has been this sense of duty to see to it that democracy spread thought the whole world, and this, always in the name of freedom.  And it is expected that the freedoms enjoyed in a democracy will fulfill the people and make them happy, for the ultimate fulfillment of the individual is to be free.

But we have seen in recent history that even in those places where democracy has been established after decades of dictatorships or some other form of tyranny, there has not been an outpouring of peace and joy based on new freedoms.  In so many cases there is chaos with warring factions trying to destroy each other, and all in the name of freedom.  To point this out is not to deny the value of democracy as a form of government.  It is rather to call attention to a deep forgetting by Catholics about what true freedom is and its relationship to joy and happiness.  What Catholics have forgotten is that the secular understanding of freedom is provisional, is relative and can never by a source of true joy.  The only source of true joy is that freedom won for the whole world by the Cross of Jesus Christ.

“Rejoice, O, Jerusalem”, sings the Introit.  What is Jerusalem in this phrase?  It is not the city in the Middle East which despite being holy to three religions, is a place of constant strife and warfare, both religious and secular.  The city Jerusalem is certainly the place where Christ entered in triumph—not like a Roman triumph—on Palm Sunday and then was crucified on Good Friday some two thousand years ago.  Jerusalem is the place where the Son of God, the Incarnate Word, walked and taught.  As such it provides a grounding for the reality of the Incarnation in history and as such, remains important to every Catholic.  But it has little to do today with the faith that is the Catholic faith.  It is neither an object of our love nor a cause of our joy.

Rejoice, O Jerusalem!  What this phrase means in today’s Mass is the new Jerusalem, the heavenly city, that place where the saint defines what Christian freedom really means and where joy finds its place and expression in the worship of the Lamb who sits on the throne with his wounds glowing like gems. I hesitate to call this place heaven, because that word, even so often in the Church, now carries silly religious images, a place according to preachers at many Catholic funerals to which all Catholics go.  How many fatuous homilies have we heard by priests and bishops telling the family of the deceased that Joe or Mary are right now in heaven.  No—what this Jerusalem means cannot be expressed in words. To even call it a place is misleading, for it is not in time and space but in eternity and hence is beyond our imagination. Those passages in the book of Revelation paint a picture of the New Jerusalem in terms of gold and precious gems, in terms of clouds of incense, in terms of choirs singing praise to the Lamb upon his throne.  It is there that there is perfect freedom, for here there is freedom from sin and death, and it is here that there is freedom for life, for life eternal.  Here is that perfect freedom that is the service of God for eternity: “whose service is perfect freedom”. Here there is unspeakable joy, the joy of those whose personal fulfillment lies not in what they amassed for themselves, nor in how they feel about themselves, nor in their successful relations with other people, but rather and solely in their fulfillment in God, who alone can and does fill that voice that haunts throughout our lives here on earth.

And yet, Jerusalem here also refers to the anticipation of the New Jerusalem that is the Church.  “Gaudete cum Laetitia: rejoice with happiness, you who were in sadness, that you may exult and that you may drink fully from her breasts for your

Consolation”.  The Church as our mother. And this not some abstract church but the Catholic Church, the Church that we know from Rome to our own parish church.  How downtrodden and forgotten is the reality and image of the Church as our mother because of the scandals of immoral and unfaithful clergy!  How marred is the image of the Church as our mother by the vapid self-centered worship that plagues all too many of our parish churches!  How sad is the image of the German bishops who in the name of synodality—the buzz word of the decade—to advance claims about marriage and human sexuality that contradict our Lord’s own words in Scripture, questioning the very existence of the priesthood, denying the reality and binding force of the Tradition of the Church that consists of Scripture and the teaching of the Church through 20 centuries in an effort to be in step with a godless world? How un-Christ-like is the image of the Church that has forgotten the mission to evangelize the whole world!

And yet it is the Church that gives us birth to new life in baptism, that offers up the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the living and the dead, that feeds us with the body of Christ in the Eucharist, nourishes us by word and sacrament, who cleans our soiled baptismal garments by Confession, who speeds us on our way to eternal life when we die.  This is a call today on this Sunday for the Church to rejoice, to rejoice in the knowledge that the ultimate freedom has been bought for us by Christ’s Cross, a freedom that cannot be taken away, a freedom that does not depend on a type of government, a freedom grounded in God, and the only source of joy.

And yet, is it not true that we are tempted to despair, not only because of the state of the world today but also because of the state of the Church?  But this temptation comes only because we have forgotten something important.  We are tempted to cynicism and despair because we act and think as if we are of this world.  We have forgotten—and this is a real sin—that we are IN the world without being OF the world, that our goal is beyond this world, that the ultimate meaning of our life and the lives of those we love and the life of the whole word lies outside this world, not in a romantic and deluded sense, but in the sense founded on the fact that God became man and part of this world and died because of and for this world and rose from the dead and ascended into heaven and there waits for us: “that we too may thither ascend”, as the old Collect for the Feast of the Ascension so wonderfully said.

But can we see in some small way, however fleeting, a hint of this joyous freedom that will be ours in faith?  Can we see some intimations of the reality of heaven within the Church?  The answer is Yes.  It is in the Liturgy, especially in the celebration of Holy Mass, that is where we may experience that real joy in freedom that is found only in heaven.  For here, in the Mass of the Tradition of the Church, by means of sight, smell, music, words, silence, archaic language, gestures, all of which binds us to the Tradition of the Church and forces us to deny our own wants and desires, that Sacrifice in which the perfect freedom of God is made present, and when we give ourselves over to what is happening in the Mass here in this time and space for us, we realize what it means to be free, and we catch a glimpse of that joy which will be ours with Mary and all the saints in heaven.

Sermon preached for Pentecost XV

Image: St. Gregory Society Mass at St. Stanislaus Church, New Haven CT (2009)

By Fr. Richard Cipolla

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings. (2 Timothy: 3-4)

I have always loved this phrase “itching ears” in this passage from the Second Epistle to Timothy. These are those who hearing sound doctrine try to scratch what they are hearing because it interferes with what they want to hear, “to suit their own likings.” That the Catholic Church is in a time of crisis no one can deny. It is not the first time that the Church has been in crisis. Church history, which is not popular in a time of cancel culture, provides a good number of examples of crises that faced the Church. The age of the Church Fathers in the first seven centuries was a critical time for the Church, for the Church had to counter doctrines that would have contradicted the truth about the person of Jesus Christ and the nature of the Holy Spirit. The early Middle Ages had to confront false doctrine concerning the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The Protestant Reformation was one of the greatest of the crises the Church has had to face. And in the twentieth century Pope St Pius X had to confront the heresy of Modernism. That heresy, because it takes so many forms, is still with us today.

There are several elements in the crisis within the Church today. Many deal with the question of development of doctrine and how the Church should meet the challenges of a culture that is either uninterested in any form of religion or that is actively hostile to the teaching of the Catholic Church. But I believe that the deepest crisis facing the Church today is how the Church worships. Lex orandi, lex credendi. How the Church prays is the foundation of what the Church believes.

This Mass today that we celebrate in this church is the Traditional Roman Mass, which was and still is at the very heart of the Tradition of the Catholic Church. And this Mass today is made possible by the group known as the St. Gregory Society. founded in 1985 to promote the local celebration of the Traditional Latin Liturgy according to the Tridentine Missal in response to the Papal indult of October 3, 1984. Many of us here are indebted to the Society for having the courage and faith to begin the restoration of the Traditional Roman Mass to its rightful place in the Church after the imposition of the Novus Ordo Mass on the Church by Pope St Paul VI in the name of the Second Vatican Council. Without the St. Gregory Society you would not be here today. Without the St. Gregory Society I would not be here today. The most important day in my almost 38 years as a Catholic priest was the first time I celebrated Solemn Mass in Sacred Heart church in this city, a parish which no longer exists. It was at that Mass that I discovered the beauty and reverence of Catholic worship. It was at the Mass that I experienced for the first time in my priesthood the very heart of the Tradition of the Catholic Church. And I have never looked back.

The greatest crisis facing the Church today is the crisis of worship. Pope Benedict understood this deeply and tried to address the crisis in his Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum. That act resulted in the discovery of the Traditional Mass by many Catholics, both lay and priests. Those of us who know the young priests and seminarians know of their interest in and love for the Traditional Mass. This, for those in the hierarchy who are committed to the Novus Ordo Mass – as what is called in Traditionis Custodes(irony of all irony) the ONLY form of the Roman Mass—this is a problem. And this latest Motu Proprio from Pope Francis, severely limiting the freedom to celebrate the Traditional Mass, is the answer of those who are blind to the disastrous situation where regular Mass attendance is below 20% in most of this country, and far below that in Europe. They claim that those returning to the Traditional Mass are denying the validity of the Second Vatican Council that asked for liturgical reform and renewal. Unfortunately, there are those who champion the Traditional Mass and who say nonsensical and blanket denunciations of Vatican II. That must stop, my friends. The Second Vatican Council is like all Councils. Most of what was said at Lateran II has been forgotten. What needed to be said has been remembered and has become a part of the development of doctrine. Our job is neither to be nostalgic about the past nor is it to condemn Councils. Our job is to allow more and more Catholics to discover the beauty and depth of the Traditional Mass, and to do so with a smile.

As more and more scholarship is applied to the Novus Ordo form of Mass, it is becoming more and more evident that there is indeed a discontinuity between the Traditional Roman Mass and the Novus Ordo Mass. One scholar opines that only 36% of the 1962 Missal was preserved intact in the Roman Missal of 1970. If I decided to do a new edition of David Copperfield and eliminated 60% of what Charles Dickens wrote and added chapters of my own making, would it be honest or possible to still call it David Copperfield? But let us be clear: there is no question of the validity of the Mass of Paul VI. And there should be no question of the rightful place of the Traditional Mass now and in the future.

This is why the St. Gregory Society is so very important today. It not only must continue doing what it has always done. But it must also realize that these are different times. We must no longer be content to have Masses on Sunday afternoon in a parish church that will allow us to celebrate this Mass. We must work for a permanent home in which the Mass can be celebrated in all of its beauty and truth. We must maintain a high standard in all that pertains to the Mass, including the music of Catholic Tradition, the training of servers, and yes even the priests who celebrate the Mass. This is not a time for negativity, not a time for looking back, not a time for discouragement. This is a time for joyful evangelization, with the emphasis on joy. This is a time to get Yale students, many of whom have been totally secularized, to come and see and to experience something that they will never be exposed to at a university that has turned its back on its Christian origins. This is a time to invite family and friends to this Mass, a time to do whatever we can not merely to make this Mass survive but primarily to help to make Catholics once again understand who and what are at the heart of Catholic Traditional: the person of Jesus Christ and the beauty and truth of the Sacrifice of the Cross.

Attend to the Lord

For My flesh is meat indeed: and My blood is drink indeed.
(Jn 6:56)

There is no question for the moment to expatiate on lengthy explanations, nor on sermons, but rather to praise and give thanks. Focus your attention on the Lord Who has visited you. You have in you at the present time the Master of all masters. Listen to Him. Listen carefully to what He is going to tell you in the innermost depths of your being, in a mysterious, yet very effective way. He will not talk to your soul through outer words, but He will stamp directly onto your heart the teaching that you need. Only, be very careful to keep inner silence, whet the hearing of your heart, incline your ear towards His mouth, and listen. (Theophan the Recluse, hermit of Vycha in the 19th century)

 Abbot Jean Pateau
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
from a Sermon for Corpus Christi 2016

 Noli me tangere

Don't touch me“Why are you troubled, and there are doubts in your heart? Look at my hands and my feet, feel me and see”, says the Lord (Lk 24, 38f)

St. Augustine preached, “Was He perhaps already ascended to the Father when He said: ‘Touch me and see’? He let His disciples touch Him, indeed, not only touch but feel, to provide a foundation for faith in the reality of His flesh, in the reality of His body. The well-foundedness of the reality had to be made obvious also through human touch. Thus He let Himself be touched by the disciples”.

Will you touch the Lord, and more, will you allow the Lord to touch you?

Sermon: The Good Shepherd

Sermon on The Good Shepherd (John 10:11-16)
given by Fr. Dennis Kolinski, SJC
St. Stanislaus Church in New Haven, CT
The Second Sunday after Easter, 14 April 2013

The readings, which we hear every Sunday during Mass come from a different time and different culture, but they, nonetheless, tell us about things, which are still current. Perhaps, the context is different, but human nature has not changed. Listening to the Holy Scriptures we should see not only prophets and apostles, Jews and Greeks but also ourselves. Sometimes we see the connection right away but sometimes it isn’t as readily apparent. But the words of Scripture are words, which should always speak directly to us.

For instance, in today’s gospel from St. John Christ calls Himself the Good Shepherd and us His sheep. “I am the Good Shepherd; a good shepherd is ready to lay down his life for his sheep. … I am the Good Shepherd; I know my own and my own know me. … they will heed my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.”1 And in his first epistle St. Peter, the head shepherd of the Church after Christ’s Ascension into heaven, continued the same analogy that his Master used, writing, “For you were once like straying sheep, but now you have turned back to the Shepherd who watches over your souls.”2

Christ spoke about us this way because we are really very similar to sheep, which are very helpless animals. They need a sheepherder to constantly lead them to water and to pasture. Sometimes they wander far away from the flock and get lost. They can’t defend themselves. They can’t quite seem to make it on their own and are reliant on the shepherd for so many aspects of their existence. This doesn’t present a very flattering picture of how we are, but nonetheless, when we rely only on ourselves we are really very similar to sheep—helpless in many everyday matters and sometimes just plain stupid in some of the things that we do. We are constantly getting lost in the matters of this world and our earthly shepherds, who are acting in the name of the Supreme Shepherd, lead us back on the right road time and time again—just like sheep.

Christ remains the One True Shepherd of our souls, as both St. John and St. Peter wrote, but He knew that we would still need visible shepherds on this earth and that’s why He appointed other shepherds to act in His name, to take His place here on earth after He ascended to His Father in heaven. He left behind priests and bishops, who are called “pastors” from the Latin word for “shepherd.” And above all, He entrusted His sheep in a special way to the pope as His chief shepherd on earth.

There are those, however, who find themselves being led, not by the Good Shepherd and His appointed co-workers, but as St. John writes, by a “hired man,” who allows the wolf to ravage the flock and scatter the sheep, “for the hired man is not their shepherd and they are not his sheep.”3 The hired man is a false shepherd and the wolf that ravages the flock is the Devil.

We unfortunately have many false shepherds today and many of the sheep are being scattered. These false shepherds often imitate the voice of the True Shepherd and this is what makes them so dangerous. They fool the sheep into thinking that they are safe with them, but they actually lead them outside of the sheepfold, where they are left unprotected from attacks by the wolf. How many Catholics have been led astray by faulty or watered-down teachings? Many of them have believed their shepherds in good faith, just like sheep, not realizing that they have been led out of the fold.

And how many traditional Catholics have also been led astray because of those, who look like a true shepherd, or sound like a true shepherd, or act like a true shepherd, but are really only false shepherds, who are acting, not on the authority of the One True Shepherd, but only on their own authority? Beware! Just because it look right doesn’t mean that you are safe from false shepherds, who have also led many of Christ’s sheep astray under the pretext of tradition and orthodoxy.

Those, who have been seduced by false shepherds, find themselves outside of the sheepfold, no longer protected by the walls of the enclosure, which help guard against the attacks of the wolf. We have only one true shepherd here on earth that legitimately acts in the name of the Good Shepherd and that is Peter. And where Peter is, there is the Church. Whoever is not solidly with Peter is only a false shepherd, who “has no concern for the sheep.”4And if you aren’t solidly with Peter, then you’re acting like a Protestant, who is merely a sheep shepherding himself.

There will always be those, who don’t want to listen to the True Shepherd and lose their way. Modern man doesn’t like to think that he needs someone else’s guidance, much less someone to lead him. Modern man thinks that he is intelligent enough to decide for himself what is right. He doesn’t want to be shepherded and feels that he can lead himself. Wandering about thinking that he can shepherd himself and make his own decisions he may run into someone, who suits his own needs, thinking that this is a true shepherd. But before he knows it, he has wandered so far away from the flock that he can’t find his way back. This is precisely why Christ called us sheep and that’s why He said that we need a shepherd.

If we don’t find ourselves firmly within the sheepfold of the Church under its chief shepherd, our enemy, whose name is Satan, will sneak in and steal our souls. Because if we aren’t listening to the voice of the one, whom Christ left here to tend His flock in His place, then we are not listening to Christ. We must always be sure that we are the sheep, who listen to the Good Shepherd and follow Him, for if we aren’t we will we find out only too late that we have become the goats, who were separated from the sheep because they listened to the voice of another shepherd.

Christ called us His sheep and said that He is the Good Shepherd, who is ready to lay down His life for His sheep. He said, “I know my own and my own know me.”5 His sheep recognize His voice and follow Him. “For you were once like straying sheep, but now you have turned back to the Shepherd who watches over your souls.”6 Let us always make sure that we remain within His flock. Let us always make sure that it is His voice that we are following, for then “there will be one flock and one shepherd.”7

1 John 10:11-16.
2 1 Peter 2:25.
3 John 10:12.
4 John 10:13.
5 John 10:14.
6 1 Peter 2:25.
7 John 10:16.