Sunday, October 19, 2014

Giving To God What Is God’s

(Twenty-ninth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on October 19, 2014 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I.  Read Matthew 22: 15-21.)

[For the audio version of this homily: Twenty-ninth Sunday 2014]

Bishop Tobin made headlines again a couple of weeks ago, when he publicly criticized a political candidate for governor in the state of Rhode Island—a candidate who on that day had proudly accepted the endorsement of Planned Parenthood (the nation’s largest abortion provider), and who had also announced her intention to try to repeal Rhode Island’s current law banning partial birth abortion (a procedure that even many pro-choicers admit is nothing short of infanticide).

Oh yes, and did I mention that this politician also claims to be Catholic?

All of this, of course, provoked the usual hysterical responses from those who, in one way or another, support the killing of babies in our country:

“The Bishop should mind his business.”

“Who is he to push his morality on the rest of us?”

“The Bishop should keep his nose out of politics.  Doesn’t he know about the separation of church and state?”

Now I wonder if these very same people are just as vocal in their criticism of guys like the Reverend Al Sharpton—who’s a commentator on a major news network in this country, and who also happens to be a Baptist minister!

I wonder how many of the Bishop’s critics have also sent letters to MSNBC recently, saying, “How can you allow a Baptist minister to do political commentary on your network?  Don’t you know about the separation of church and state?”

I’ll bet you not a single one of them has!  Because the truth of the matter is, my brothers and sisters, this critique only goes in one direction.  If you’re pro-life, and pro-traditional marriage, and a supporter of the Ten Commandments they say these things about you; if you’re of the opposite persuasion they say nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  And that’s especially true in the mainstream, liberal media.  You can make the most partisan political statements imaginable (which Sharpton does every day), and not a critical word is spoken.  Or written.

Hopefully you realize that all this public criticism is by design and has a very definite purpose.  Aside from being an attempt to violate the right to free speech of some American citizens, all of this public criticism is ultimately designed to intimidate!  It’s designed to try to intimidate into silence people like Bishop Tobin, and me, and all those who would take a public stand against the moral evils that are currently plaguing our society.

Haven’t they figured it out yet that it’s not going to work?

They must be slow learners!

But all of this is not really anything new, as we see in today’s gospel story from Matthew 22.  Here we have men whom I would describe as “some of the spiritual ancestors of the critics of Bishop Tobin”—the Pharisees and the Herodians—trying to find a way to accuse Jesus of either being disloyal to his religion (Judaism) or disobedient to the “state” (in this case, the Roman Empire).

The Pharisees were anti-Roman, while the Herodians to a great extent supported Rome, since the Romans kept them in power.  In many respects, the beliefs of these two groups were at opposite ends of the political and religious spectrums.  But they were united on one issue: their hatred of Jesus.

So they asked our Lord a question that they thought would trap him: “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”

Had Jesus said, “Yes, it is lawful,” the Pharisees would have accused him to his fellow Jews of being disloyal to his religion; had he said, “No, it is not lawful,” the Herodians would have denounced him to the Roman authorities.

Jesus, of course, didn’t take the bait.  Instead, he gave the perfect response (which shouldn’t surprise us in the least because Jesus was—and is—the divine Son of God!).  He asked to see a Roman coin; then he asked his questioners to identify the person whose image was on the coin.  When they responded by saying, “Caesar’s,” Jesus answered with his famous line, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but give to God what is God’s.”

Which immediately raises a very interesting question: What is “God’s”?  What is it, exactly, that belongs to the Lord?

Well, in the interest of time, let me give you the short list of the things that DON’T “belong to God”: sin; evil; death—and all the bad things that follow from those realities.

Like hell.

Which means that EVERYTHING ELSE IS THE LORD’S!  Everything that is genuinely good belongs to God; everything that is true belongs to God; everything that is rooted in love and that proceeds from love belongs to God.  It all belongs to God because it’s all the gift of his grace!

The problem with the Catholic candidate for governor that Bishop Tobin criticized the other day is that she doesn’t understand this (and perhaps she doesn’t care to understand it, as is the case with all-too-many Catholic politicians these days—on both sides of the aisle).

If you’re a human being—and especially if you’re Catholic—your politics “belong to God” (in the sense that you’re supposed to be guided by HIS DIVINE LAW in forming your political views!).

I hope you realize, my brothers and sisters, that the whole reason we had slavery in this country for so many years is because a lot of Christian, white Americans acted like their politics and their business practices DIDN’T belong to the Lord!  Consequently they disregarded his divine Law in dealing with people of a different skin color.

And they thought that was perfectly acceptable.

Well it wasn’t.

Actually this idea that everything which is good and true and loving “belongs to the Lord” is contained in the Lord’s Prayer, which was given to us by Jesus himself, and which is supposed to be the model for every other prayer we utter.

In that prayer, we say these very important words: “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

There’s no sin, or evil—or death—in heaven.  We all know that.  Well, if those are the only things that don’t “belong to God”—and those things are not to be found in God’s heavenly kingdom—that means that EVERYTHING in heaven belongs to the Lord!

And if the situation in heaven is supposed to be the model of the way things should be on earth (which is what we’re saying in that line of the Our Father!) then that means God’s will and his divine Law are supposed to be our reference points for EVERYTHING in this life!

The way we conduct ourselves in public; the way we conduct ourselves in private; the way we conduct ourselves in the bedroom; the way we do business; the way we raise children; the way we treat the sick; the way we treat the dying; the way we treat the elderly; the way we act at work; the way we act at school; the way we act with our friends; the way we treat our enemies; the way we speak; the way we form our opinions—and yes, the way we form our political viewpoints: it ALL belongs to the Lord!

Dear Lord, help US to believe that.  Dear Lord, help all candidates for public office in our country to believe that.  And, dear Lord, help us all to live our lives accordingly.  Amen.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Talk on the Occult

This evening Fr. Paul Desmarais, pastor of St. Mary's Church in Carolina, gave an excellent talk on the occult to our young people and their parents.

To listen to Fr Desmarais' talk, click on the following links:

The Occult Part 1

The Occult Part 2

Sunday, October 12, 2014

How Your Soul Is Like Your Cell Phone

(Twenty-eighth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on October 12, 2014 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I.  Read Philippians 4: 12-20.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-eighth Sunday 2014]

Do you realize that your soul is a lot like your cell phone?

That’s probably not a question you’ve pondered deeply in recent years—or ever!—which is one of the reasons I’m addressing it at this Mass.  My hope is that when you look at your cell phone in the future, you’ll think of your soul and your relationship with God.

I’m presuming here that you have a cell phone—or at least use one from time to time.  (Never in church, of course!  Did I really need to say that?  Yes, I probably did.)

First of all, it needs to be noted that there are many ways that your soul is NOT like your cell phone.  Your cell phone, for example, is a material object, while your soul is immaterial.

Your cell phone (even if it’s a really good one) will last only a few years; your soul, on the other hand, will last forever.

And you have the possibility of eventually upgrading your cell phone, if you don’t like the one you currently have.  That’s not the case with your soul.  Your soul is unique, and your soul is irreplaceable.  The one you have right now is the one you’ve had from the very beginning of your earthly life, and it’s the one you will continue to have unto eternity!

And yet there are many ways that your soul is like your cell phone.  But before I mention some of those, let me focus your attention on the verse of today’s second reading which prompted me to address this subject in my homily this morning.  It’s one of my favorite verses of the New Testament: Philippians 4: 13: “I can do all things in him [that is to say, in Christ] who strengthens me.”

That’s a very hopeful verse; that’s a very encouraging verse.  Here Paul applies it specifically to himself.  But the good news is that it also has an application to each and every one of us. 

Notice that Paul doesn’t say in this text that he’s had it easy since becoming a Christian.  Quite oppositely, he indicates that there have been times since his conversion when he’s been hungry and in need.

On some level, I think, we can all relate.

But he also makes it clear that he’s learned how to deal successfully with every situation he’s faced—good and bad.

And this ability to deal with trials and challenges and temptations he attributes to his relationship with Jesus Christ!

He says, “I can do all things IN CHRIST who strengthens me.”

Not “on my own”; not “by picking myself up by my bootstraps”; not “by sheer human willpower”—but by the inner power and strength that comes through faith in Jesus.

Which means that this verse of Scripture (“I can do all things in him who strengthens me”) will only apply to us as it applied to Paul IF we have a relationship with Jesus Christ that’s like the one St. Paul had!

And that brings us back to a consideration of our souls and our cell phones. 

A soul that’s alive in Christ—in other words, a soul that’s residing in a person who has the kind of relationship with Jesus that Paul had—is like a cell phone that’s functioning as it should.

Now think about what’s needed for a cell phone to function and operate properly.

First of all, it needs a live battery!  Without a live, fully-functioning battery there will be no phone calls, no emails, no text messages, no anything!

Well our soul is like our cell phone in the sense that if it’s going to make the spiritual connection with Jesus that it needs to make, it must be in the state of grace.

That is to say it can’t be in the state of mortal sin.  Mortal sin is for the soul what a dead battery is for a cell phone!

So I suppose you could say that the confessional is like the cell phone store, because in the confessional our soul receives sanctifying grace again—which is akin to getting a brand new battery for a “dead” cell phone.

And yet, it’s not enough to have a battery that works; we also need to have a battery that’s “charged”!
And we need to charge that battery every day!  Once a week isn’t gonna cut it—if we use our phone regularly (as most of us do).

If we want to find our strength in Christ—if we want to be able to do all things in him—then we need to “spiritually recharge” every day!

In this regard, Sunday Mass and the Eucharist—which are necessary foundations for our relationship with Jesus—are not sufficient.  We need to “plug into Christ” every single day in other ways: through Eucharistic Adoration or Scripture reading or the Rosary or some other devotion—or all of the above.

And how about daily Mass?  That’s a great way to begin your day with prayer—if your schedule permits it.

The bottom line is that there’s no excuse for not praying and “recharging” our soul every day in some fashion.

No excuse.  Even if we have a very, very busy schedule!

For example, one of the things I do when I’m in my car for more than 20 minutes is to pray the Rosary (I have the Scriptural Rosary on CD.  In the Scriptural Rosary a brief verse of the Bible is read before each Hail Mary—which can really help you to stay focused on the mystery you’re supposed to be meditating on).

The reason I mention this in this context is because I also have a cell phone charger plugged into the cigarette lighter of my car, and 99.9% of the time when I get into my car to go somewhere I plug in my cell phone to charge it up a bit. 

So, you see, if we’re really pressed for time and have an extremely busy schedule, there’s actually a way to “charge up” our soul AND our cell phone at the same time.

Where there’s a will, there’s always a way—to pray!

Now if you have a smartphone like I do, you also know that you also need to keep it “updated” for it to work efficiently.  And that’s precisely the way it is for our souls.  This is why growing in the knowledge of our Catholic Faith is so important.  This is why studying the Scriptures and the Catechism in some fashion is so essential.

We can’t live what we don’t know.

It’s also important to protect your cell phone.  I have a screen protector on mine to keep the face from being scratched, and I have a rubberized case to protect it when I drop it (which I have on a few occasions!).

Well, our souls also need to be “protected” if we want them to be as open to the grace of Christ as St. Paul’s was.  That means we have to try to “avoid the near occasions of sin” as much as we can.  Which isn’t easy in our modern world—especially with the internet and TV and all the other sources of temptation that are out there at the present time.

But neither is it impossible.  And if we fail, well, we can always go back to the “cell phone store” known as the confessional!
“I can do all things IN CHRIST who strengthens me.”

St. Paul could say that because his soul was like a well-functioning cell phone in all the ways I just mentioned: it had a “live battery” (i.e., it was in the state of grace); it got “re-charged” every day through prayer and the Eucharist; it got “updated” constantly as he pondered the Old Testament Scriptures (his letters show that clearly—the man knew his Bible!); and it was “protected” through discipline (as he said in First Corinthians 9: “What I do is discipline my own body and master it …”).

Today let us ask the Lord to make our souls more like St. Paul’s—so that we will be able to cope with every circumstance of our lives and “do all things” in Jesus Christ, who strengthens us!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

It’s Not About Where You Start, It’s About Where You Finish!

(Twenty-sixth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on September 28, 2014 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Ezekiel 18: 25-28; Matthew 21: 28-32.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-sixth Sunday 2014]

It’s not about where you start, it’s about where you finish.

That’s the message that I believe the Lord has for us today in these Scripture readings—and especially in this gospel passage from Matthew 21.

This is a spiritual truth, incidentally, that applies to many areas of life.

For example, why is it that sports movies like “Rocky” and “Rudy” and “Hoosiers” (the basketball film) are so appealing?  Why do people like them so much?

It’s because the main characters all “finish” in a better place than they “start”.

Which, by the way, is what I’m counting on my Green Bay Packers to do this year, because they certainly haven’t started very well!

But that’s another story.

In today’s gospel Jesus tells us a parable about two sons.  The first starts in disobedience, but he ends up finishing in obedience (“A man had two sons.  He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’  He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards changed his mind and went.”); the second son, on the other hand, starts off in obedience, but he ends up finishing in disobedience (“The man came to the other son and gave him the same order.  He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go.”).

Jesus told this story to the chief priests and elders of the people to warn them that even though they had started off in faithfulness to God by accepting the truth the Lord had revealed through Moses, they were in danger of eventually finishing in hell, because they were rejecting him—and because they had already rejected his predecessor, John the Baptist!  Whereas many tax collectors, prostitutes and other people who had started off in serious sin (at the beginning of John’s ministry) were now on their way to finishing in the Lord’s eternal and glorious kingdom!

It’s not about where you start, it’s about where you finish.

This is the same message we encounter in today’s first reading from Ezekiel 18, where the prophet says (and here I’m paraphrasing his words): “If a person who starts off living a virtuous life turns away from his virtue and sins seriously—and he remains in that spiritual condition—he will lose his soul.  But if that same person (or anyone else in the state of mortal sin) turns away from that sin—and finishes his life in the state of grace—he will be saved for all eternity!  He shall surely live, he shall not die.”

Now some of you may be thinking, “Thank you, Father Ray, but all of this is quite clear and quite obvious!”

To which I would respond, “Well, it might be clear and obvious to you, but it’s definitely NOT clear and obvious to a lot of other people!”

There are many in our world right now (and even many in the Church!) who believe that everyone (with the possible exception of a few bad guys like Hitler and Stalin) will finish in the kingdom, regardless of what sins they have on their souls when they finish their earthly lives.

According to Jesus, that’s a mistaken idea that can literally have eternal consequences.

But the denial of this truth about starting and finishing can also affect us in other ways.  For example, why do so many people take their own lives these days?  Why do so many despair?

It’s ultimately because they don’t believe they can finish in a better place (emotionally and spiritually) than they’re starting in at the present moment!

So everything appears hopeless—even though it isn’t.

Here’s a lie that’s straight out of the pit of hell: “You can’t possibly finish in a better place than you’re starting in right now.”

Satan whispers that lie into the ears of those who are on the verge of despair.  He whispers it into the ears of women who have had abortions; he whispers it into the ears of all those who have committed serious sins that they regret and are deeply ashamed of.

And the tragedy is that many of the men and women in these situations believe the devil!

That’s why some of them stay away from confession—and stop praying—and give up the practice of their Catholic faith. 

They think, “Well, what’s the use?  I am what I am; I’ve done what I’ve done—and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

I ask you, my brothers and sisters, what would have happened to Saul of Tarsus if he had thought that about himself after Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus and made him aware of his sins?

I know one thing for sure: he never would have become Saint Paul!

What would have happened to Augustine, the womanizer and playboy, if he had thought that about himself and his sinful situation?

I’m not exactly sure, but I can guarantee you that he never would have become Saint Augustine!

Like the first son in the story, Saul and Augustine understood that even though they had started in deep sin they could finish somewhere else—somewhere a lot better!

I mention all this today, my brothers and sisters, because, when you stop and think about it, at this precise moment we’re all starting the rest of our lives here on this earth.  As the old saying goes, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

And we’re all starting this journey from different places.  We each have our own set of fears and character flaws—and sins.  Some of us may be starting with mortal sins and some very deep regrets.

Well, unfortunately, we can’t control where we’re starting from—because we can’t change the past.

But by the grace of God we can control where we finish—even if we’re starting from a very bad place!

And the key to doing that is, believe it or not, the virtue of humility.

The last stanza of today’s responsorial psalm (psalm 25) reads: “Good and upright is the Lord; thus he shows sinners the way.  He guides the humble to justice, and teaches the humble his way.”

The first son in this parable finished well because he was humble.  THAT was the reason!

Here we have to read between the lines a little bit.

Why did he change his mind and go into the vineyard to work?

It’s because he was wrong and because he was humble enough to admit that to himself!

At some point after he left his dad, he obviously thought to himself, “You know what?—you were wrong to say what you said to your Father today!  You should go and do what he told you to do.”

That’s humility.

It takes humility to admit you’re wrong.  It takes humility to acknowledge that you’ve sinned.  It takes humility to go before a priest in a confessional and honestly admit to him the evil you’ve done and the good you haven’t done.

Humility is a very powerful virtue—one that we should pray for every day; because it’s the virtue that can take a person from the worst starting point imaginable, to the place where we all want to finish.

Which is great news, my brothers and sisters, because, when all is said and done, where we started from won’t matter at all.

But where we finish will matter—FOREVER!