Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sharing the Truth: An Act of Love or Bigotry?

(Seventh Sunday of Easter (B): This homily was given on May 17, 2015 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read John 17: 11-19.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here:Seventh Sunday of Easter 2015]

If we really believe that Catholic Christianity teaches the fullness of God’s revealed truth about human life and salvation—in other words, if we are truly “consecrated in truth” as Jesus says in this gospel his followers will be—then the most loving thing we can do for another human being is to witness to that truth and share it with them, respecting them as a person whether they accept the truth or reject it.

This means that if we fail to witness to the truth of the gospel and fail to share it with others, we are actually failing to love!  We are failing to love our neighbor in the way that Jesus wants us to.

I hope this makes sense to you.  If it does, praise God!  But please beware of something: beware of the fact that many people in our modern world see things in precisely the opposite way!

For them, being “consecrated in truth” and witnessing to it is not an act of love; rather it’s an act of hatred and bigotry and intolerance (among other things).

Case in point: what’s gone on recently in Washington, D.C., at the Catholic University of America.  Have you heard about this? A law professor from nearby George Washington University has filed a complaint with the Office of Human Rights contending that the presence of crosses in all the classrooms of Catholic University constitutes a human rights violation that prevents Muslim students from praying.

Fr. Ray, you’re kidding.

No, I’m not!

In his rant—which I am told goes on for 60 pages—this professor accuses Catholic University of acting “probably with malice” against Muslim students by putting this “offensive” Catholic imagery all over the school.

Of course, no Muslim student at Catholic University has ever complained about any of this—but apparently that doesn’t matter, since a spokesperson for the human rights office said they are investigating the professor’s complaint, and the inquiry could take up to six months!

So here we have a Catholic school that could be forced by the federal government to remove Catholic symbols from all of its buildings.  I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds a lot like the kind of thing that took place in Germany in the late 1930s and in Russia after 1917!

Do you see why we pray so often at Mass for religious freedom in our country?

When I read this story the other day online, I remembered an incident I had spoken about in a homily I gave way back in 1998.  This incident took place at another Catholic school, Boston College, which at the time had removed crosses from their classrooms.  (They’ve since been restored, I’m happy to say).

Dr. Peter Kreeft, who taught philosophy at BC at the time, spoke about this incident in a talk I once heard him give.  He said that in the early 1990s he was teaching an evening class on world religions which had 24 students in it: 22 of them were Catholic, 1 was Jewish and 1 was a Muslim.  The class was 3 hours long, with a 20 minute break in the middle of it.  Well, one evening during the break, Dr. Kreeft was speaking with the Jew, the Muslim, and several of the Catholic students.  The Muslim happened to notice the faint outline of a cross on the front wall of the room, and so he said to Dr. Kreeft, “Was there ever a cross on that wall?”  One of the Catholic students immediately spoke up and said, “Oh yes, there used to be crucifixes in all the classrooms years ago, but we took them down.”  (He said it rather proudly.)  The Jew said, “You took them down?  Why?”  The Catholic student said, “Because we wanted to be ecumenical.”  The Jew said, “Who are you kidding?  You took them down because the government wouldn’t give you any money if you were a sectarian school.  Well, I hope you got more than thirty pieces of silver from the government this time!”

The Muslim then chimed in and said, “I don’t understand this word ‘ecumenical’; could someone define it for me, please?”  Another Catholic student answered him: “Ecumenical means that we love everybody equally, and we don’t want anyone to feel offended.”  The Muslim responded, “I see.  Well, I must tell you that I am offended—greatly offended!  You’re telling me that you took down your crucifixes not to insult people like me, a Muslim, and my friend here, the Jew.  Well, imagine for a minute that you came to my country and enrolled in a Muslim university—knowing that it was a Muslim school—and when you came into the classroom you saw quotations from the Koran on the walls.  Would you be offended?”  The Catholic students replied, “No, not at all.”  The Muslim said, “And why wouldn’t you be offended?  It’s because you’re not bigots, right?  Only a bigot would be offended at that.  And by the same token, only a bigot would be offended by a Catholic symbol in a Catholic school.  So you see, by taking down that crucifix, in effect, you’re calling me a bigot!  I am highly insulted.”  The Jew said, “So am I!”

The Muslim continued.  He said to the Catholic students, “Do you really believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?”  They said, “Yes.”  The Muslim said, “I don’t think you believe that at all.  As a Muslim, of course, I don’t.  The Koran says that’s a blasphemy.  But we do have a very high regard for Jesus.  We believe he’s one of the greatest prophets of all time.  He performed miracles; he was virgin-born; and, next to Mohammed, he’s probably the greatest man who ever lived.  Therefore, if we had pictures of him (which we don’t; but if we did) we would NEVER take them down—not even if government soldiers came into the room and threatened us!  We would be very happy to position our bodies in front of his pictures and die for his honor.  And now, you have taken him down voluntarily!  I think that makes us better Christians than you are!”

Someone needs to tell that story to that George Washington University law professor—and to the people at the federal Office of Human Rights. 

I’ll end my homily now in the way I began it, by saying that if we really believe that Catholic Christianity teaches the fullness of God’s revealed truth about human life and salvation—in other words, if we are truly “consecrated in truth” as Jesus says in this gospel his followers will be—then the most loving thing we can do for another human being is to witness to that truth and share it with them, respecting them as a person whether they accept the truth or whether they reject it—like some university professors do, who should know better.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Logic of ‘Gay Marriage’

(Sixth Sunday of Easter (B): This homily was given on May 10, 2015 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read 1 John 4: 7-10; John 15: 9-17.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Sixth Sunday of Easter 2015

On this Mother’s Day, here are some words to describe mothers:

  • ·         Expendable
  • ·         Unnecessary
  • ·         Replaceable
  • ·         Optional
  • ·         Dispensable
  • ·         Nonessential
  • ·         Unimportant

Aren’t those beautiful words?  Don’t you moms feel appreciated and edified as you hear your vocation described in those terms?  Don’t you feel loved?  Don’t you feel really special?

Now I, personally, would never describe mothers with any of those words, but according to many of the polls I’m in the minority right now because I believe in traditional marriage.  In fact, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll taken just a few days ago, only 37% of Americans share my belief.  Those being polled were presented with the following statement and question: “The U.S. Supreme Court could decide that gays have a constitutional right to marry, which would have the effect of legalizing gay marriage throughout the country.  Would you favor or oppose the Supreme Court taking this action?”

Those in favor: 58%; those opposed: 37%.

Now I’m sure that most (if not all) of the people in that 58% would be angry and insulted if they heard me say that they see mothers as expendable and unnecessary and dispensable and unimportant, etcetera—but isn’t that precisely what they believe?  All things being equal, if “Adam and Steve” can raise a child just as effectively as “Adam and Eve”, then obviously Eve is expendable!

As well as unnecessary, replaceable, optional, dispensable, nonessential, unimportant—and a host of other similar things!

That, my brothers and sisters, is the logic of so-called “gay marriage”—and almost nobody has the guts to talk about it, especially in the mainstream media!

But it makes perfect sense, does it not?  If two men can do the job at least as well as a man and a woman can, then—aside from serving as a 9 month incubator for the child—the mother has no necessary or unique role to play in the child’s life! 

None whatsoever.                             

Of course, common sense and the experience of most of the human race tell us that’s not true—and interestingly enough so do a growing number of adults who were raised by two people of the same gender, and who now realize that they missed something very important and very special in their childhoods.

One of those people is a young mother named Heather Barwick.  Listen to this excerpt from an article she recently wrote (the article is actually addressed to same-sex parents like hers):

Growing up, and even into my 20s, I supported and advocated for gay marriage. It’s only with some time and distance from my childhood that I’m able to reflect on my experiences and recognize the long-term consequences that same-sex parenting had on me. And it’s only now, as I watch my children loving and being loved by their father each day, that I can see the beauty and wisdom in traditional marriage and parenting.

Same-sex marriage and parenting withholds either a mother or father from a child while telling him or her that it doesn’t matter. That it’s all the same. But it’s not. A lot of us, a lot of your kids, are hurting. My father’s absence created a huge hole in me, and I ached every day for a dad. I loved my mom’s partner, but another mom could never have replaced the father I lost. …

Gay marriage doesn’t just redefine marriage, but also parenting. It promotes and normalizes a family structure that necessarily denies us something precious and foundational. It denies us something we need and long for, while at the same time tells us that we don’t need what we naturally crave. That we will be okay. But we’re not. We’re hurting.

Kids of divorced parents are allowed to say, “Hey, mom and dad, I love you, but the divorce crushed me and has been so hard. It shattered my trust and made me feel like it was my fault. It is so hard living in two different houses.” Kids of adoption are allowed to say, “Hey, adoptive parents, I love you. But this is really hard for me. I suffer because my relationship with my first parents was broken. I’m confused and I miss them even though I’ve never met them.”

But children of same-sex parents haven’t been given the same voice. [And] it’s not just me. There are so many of us. Many of us are too scared to speak up and tell you about our hurt and pain, because for whatever reason it feels like you’re not listening. That you don’t want to hear. If we say we are hurting because we were raised by same-sex parents, we are either ignored or labeled a hater.

Well, join the club, Heather.  Say anything against gay marriage these days and—regardless of who you are—you’re immediately called a bigot, a homophobe, a hater (and a host of other bad things).

And that’s sad, my brothers and sisters, because it immediately eliminates dialogue—the kind of constructive dialogue that should be taking place about what’s best for children.  Not what’s best for the adults involved; not what the adults want; not what makes the adults “feel good”—but rather what’s in the best interest of the children of our society.

Jesus makes it clear in today’s gospel: at the heart of real love (and that includes real parental love) is self-sacrifice: “Greater love than this no one has, than to lay down his life for his friends.”   And, of course, it was Jesus himself who witnessed to this truth perfectly by going to the cross to save us from sin and Satan and eternal death.  As St. John reminds us in today’s second reading: “In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.  In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.”

This kind of self-sacrificial love, unfortunately, is almost always ignored by the promoters of gay marriage.  And that’s a tragedy.  Instead they talk about “rights” (the rights of adults) and “laws” and “personal fulfillment”.

And yes, they do talk about “love,” but by that they usually mean “romantic feelings”.

What they don’t talk about is sacrificing their own wills and desires so that children will be able to grow up in the healthiest environment possible.

That’s probably because they know what that environment is!  Deep down inside they know that, all things being equal, the optimal situation for a child to grow and develop is in a home with a loving mother and a loving father: a loving mother and father who are bound to one another in a permanent, lifelong commitment of marriage.

Which means that, in reality, mothers are the exact opposite of all those things I mentioned at the beginning of my homily.  They are not expendable; they are most necessary; they are irreplaceable, non-optional, indispensable and essential.  In other words, they are very, very, very important!

And, just for the record, so are dads.

[For further reading on this important subject, follow this link:]

Sunday, May 03, 2015

A Lesson from Pope John Paul II: Culture Drives History

(Fifth Sunday of Easter (B): This homily was given on May 3, 2015 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Acts 9: 26-31; 1 John 3: 18-24; John 15: 1-8.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fifth Sunday of Easter 2015]

Today I want to share with you an idea of Pope John Paul II that I’ve never spoken about in a homily before (and that’s saying something because over the years I’ve spoken about our former Holy Father a lot!).

Culture drives history.

That’s the idea: Culture drives history.  In other words, if you want to understand a certain group of people and help them to have a better future, then first and foremost, you need to understand their culture—because it’s their culture that drives and shapes their history.

And what exactly is a “culture”?  Well, according to George Weigel (who wrote the definitive biography of John Paul II) a culture is “what men and women honour, cherish and worship; what societies deem to be true and good and noble; the expression they give to those convictions in language, literature and the arts; what individuals are willing to stake their lives on.”

Now if you’ve understood everything I just said you are probably thinking to yourself, “But Fr. Ray, that’s wrong!  That’s not what we’ve been taught.  We’ve been taught that politics and economics are much more important than literature and the arts and other such things.  We’ve been taught that politics and economics are what drive human history—that’s why we have so many television channels that focus almost exclusively on those two subjects 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year!”

Well, all I can say is that Pope John Paul II knew better.  And he demonstrated that in 1979, when he made his very first pastoral visit to his native country of Poland, which at the time was being ruled by atheistic Communists.  During those nine days most people expected the Holy Father to directly attack the Polish government for its evil, oppressive policies—but that’s not what he did!  In fact, he didn’t mention politics or economics once.  Not once! 

What he did was to talk to the Polish people about their glorious (and sometimes difficult) history, and their rich culture, and in the process he ignited a “revolution of conscience” that’s influenced Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe for the last 3 decades.

His message to his people was: “Remember who you are!  You’re not who they [the Communists] say you are!  Know your history—know your culture—know the importance of your religious faith within that culture—and you’ll stay strong in the midst of your present situation.”

And they did stay strong.  In fact, they grew even stronger as they came to understand how important it was for them to work to preserve and defend their culture.

Culture drives history.

If you still doubt that this is true, my brothers and sisters, then I ask you to do one thing: think of all that happened during this past week in Baltimore, Maryland.  Think of the “history” of that city during the last 7 to 10 days—with the violence and the lawlessness and the looting; all of which took place—ostensibly—in response to the death of Freddie Gray—although I’d be willing to bet that some of the young people who took part in those horrible acts couldn’t tell you who Freddie Gray was!  They just did what the rest of the mob was doing.

What drove that history?  What drove the very recent history of the city of Baltimore?

A sick culture, that’s what!  A very sick culture, sad to say.  A culture where some young people have no parental supervision—and, in some cases, no parents around at all!  A culture where many people don’t even know what a family is!  A culture in which the Ten Commandments don’t matter!  A culture in which basic morality can’t be taught in the public schools that most of the perpetrators of this violence are forced to attend!  A culture which—ever since the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973—has conveyed to young people the idea that if they have a problem with somebody else it’s okay to use violence to correct the problem!

You see, culture can drive history in one of two directions.  Poland’s culture in 1979 drove that nation in a positive direction; our culture right now is driving us, for the most part, in the opposite direction.

Although there are always signs of hope!—like that African-American mother who was caught on film grabbing hold of her son and literally dragging him away from one of the riots.  Did you see that on TV or the internet?  The video went viral!

That mom searched out her son and asserted her authority as a parent!  Now you can debate the appropriateness of some of the language she used and some of the other particulars of what she did—but that 16 year-old-boy definitely knows that he has a mother who cares about him; and through this event he learned a very important lesson about right and wrong.

Too bad more Baltimore parents weren’t equally proactive.  The history of that city in the last week would have been a lot different.

Now you might be thinking, “Well, thank you, Fr. Ray, this is all very nice—but what does this have to do with today’s Scripture readings?”

The answer is: Quite a bit.

In the gospel Jesus says to us, “I am the vine, you are the branches.  Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.  Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither.”

Those words apply to individuals, first and foremost.  But they also apply, in a certain way, to cultures.  There was a time, for example, when there was at least some connection between the culture of this nation and “the vine”—at least in the sense that most of our laws were rooted in the Ten Commandments.

But that connection is being severed more and more each day, and the consequences are all around us—not just in Baltimore.

And when you try to remind people of our country’s Judeo-Christian cultural roots and why we need to get back to those roots, a lot of those people—a growing number of them, in fact—are responding to us in a negative way, like the Hellenists responded to Saul in today’s first reading—although not to the extent of trying to kill us.

At least not yet.

Which is why today’s second reading is also important for us to hear this morning.  There St. John actually tells us how to renew our culture and to change it for the better.  He says there that we need to do three things: “Believe … love … and keep the commandments.”

Believe in Jesus Christ (and stay grounded in that faith, like John Paul II did); love others—even your enemies—in deed and in truth (like John Paul II loved others—including the Communists who were ruling Poland so oppressively in 1979); and keep the commandments in your own life (like John Paul II did in his.  And we know for a fact that he kept the commandments in his own life because he’s now known to the world as Saint John Paul II!).

Believe; love; keep the commandments.

Let me close now with some bad news and some good news.

The bad news is that none of us can change our entire culture for the better on our own.

We don’t have that power.

But we do have the power to change ourselves and to have a positive influence on the “sub-culture” to which we belong.

Our sub-culture includes, first and foremost, our family—but it also includes our friends, and coworkers and all those with whom we associate in our daily lives.

The good news is that if enough people in the United States of America in 2015 begin to believe and love and keep the commandments in their own sub-cultures then the entire culture will change for the better.

And that will drive the history of our nation in the right direction again—because culture always drives history.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Which Jesus is Your Shepherd?

(Fourth Sunday of Easter (B): This homily was given on April 26, 2015 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Acts 4: 8-12; 1 John 3: 1-2; John 10: 11-18.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourth Sunday of Easter 2015]

Every Christian will say, “Jesus is my shepherd.”

And that’s good; every Christian should say that!

But that assertion still leaves one very important question unanswered: WHICH JESUS is the person talking about?  Of all the Jesuses that are out there—of all the Jesuses that they could possibly be following in this life—which one ARE they actually following?  Which Jesus is truly their personal shepherd?

Now you might be thinking to yourself, “But Fr. Ray I thought there was only one Jesus—the one who called himself “the Good Shepherd” in the gospel text we just heard from John, chapter 10.”

Well, yes, that’s true.  There is only one Jesus who is, in fact, the Good Shepherd.  There is, in other words, only one REAL Jesus.

But there are a lot of other Jesuses out there that people follow these days—false Jesuses; counterfeit Jesuses—and the sad reality is that many of them have a larger following than the real one does!

I’ll give you some examples.

First we have what I would call the ‘feel good Jesus’.  The only thing this Jesus does is give people a warm and fuzzy feeling on the inside.  He doesn’t challenge them; he doesn’t criticize them; he doesn’t ask them to change in any way.  He’s like a drug they take when they want to feel good about themselves and about the way they’re currently living.  I suppose another way to describe this Jesus is the ‘happy pill Jesus’.

And then we have the ‘non-judgmental Jesus’ (who might be classified as the ‘first cousin’ of the feel good Jesus!).  This is the Jesus that the mainstream media actually accused Pope Francis of following after he made that statement, “Who am I to judge?” in an interview he gave early on in his pontificate.

Of course, they took his statement completely out of context!

The Holy Father was speaking specifically in that interview about priests who may experience same sex attraction in their lives, but who are striving to be chaste.  And in that context he said—and here’s the complete sentence: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

He was not condoning sin there!  He was basically saying exactly what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, and what John Paul II and Benedict XVI and every other modern pope has said: that it’s no sin to experience same sex attraction! 

The sin comes in certain activities of a sexual nature which are associated with the attraction. 

Of course, the fact of the matter is that heterosexual men and women can also commit serious sins of a sexual nature in their lives.

That fact is often left out of the discussion—especially when the discussion takes place in the mainstream media.

By the way, I should add that if most of the people in the mainstream media would approve of the Jesus you are currently following as your shepherd, you can be certain that you’re following the wrong one.

The real Good Shepherd didn’t condemn people, but he did convict people of their sin—often—as the scribes and Pharisees would certainly attest!  Our Lord judged their actions and convicted them of their sins lots of times! 

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites …!”

Remember when he said that to them?

And speaking of condemning other people, there are actually some Christians who follow a false Jesus who, sad to say, is most accurately described as the ‘hateful Jesus’.  Ever hear of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas?  This church has made national news a number of times over the years because its members often picket public events holding up signs and banners that say things like, “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “God hates gay people” (although their signs usually refer to gay people with a much more vulgar term—which I won’t mention). 

Yet another false Jesus.

And then there’s what I would call the ‘irrelevant Jesus’.  This is the Jesus who has nothing to say about current moral or social issues.  He lives in the church building, comes out for an hour on Sunday morning (or Saturday night) to be with his people; then he gets locked up and is silent for the rest of the week.

This is the false Jesus who is followed by all those Catholic politicians who are fond of saying, “I am a Catholic, but …” It’s also the Jesus who is followed by those people who criticize their priests for speaking from the pulpit about abortion or physician-assisted suicide or some other contemporary issue, and who thus accuse them of being too “political”.

Lest we forget, the real Jesus—the real Good Shepherd—talked about moral issues all the time!  He even talked about the moral obligation to pay your taxes (which hopefully everyone here did as of the 15th of this month!—unless, of course, you got an extension).

And finally, there’s the very popular ‘modern-love Jesus’ who is shepherding lots and lots of people in the Western world right now.  This is the false Jesus who teaches people to use others for pleasure, and that everything is acceptable as long as it happens between two consenting adults.  I don’t know whether or not Hugh Hefner claims to be a Christian, but if he did make that claim then I would say this is definitely the false Jesus he follows, the false Jesus who functions as his personal shepherd.

The real Jesus Christ—the real, genuine Good Shepherd—is the one that the Church has preached and that true Catholics have followed for 2,000 years.  Yes, it’s true, he sometimes he does give us a warm and fuzzy feeling on the inside (and that’s always nice when it happens!), but at other times he makes us feel uncomfortable by challenging us to be better disciples.  The real Good Shepherd won’t condemn us during our earthly life—just like he didn’t condemn the woman in John 8 who’d been caught in adultery.  But he WILL convict us of our sins, just like he convicted her of her sin!  Remember his parting words to her were, “Nor do I condemn you.  You may go, but from now on avoid this sin.”

The real Good Shepherd never hates—soldiers, gays or anyone else!  He’s ALWAYS relevant; and he teaches us about true love, not the modern-Hugh Hefner version of it.  And he expresses the essence of that love in today’s gospel passage when he says, “I will lay down my life for my sheep.”  Or, as he said later in John, chapter 15: “Greater love no one has, than to lay down his life for his friends.”

Let me close now by stating what should be obvious: It’s very easy to follow one of those counterfeit good shepherds that I just spoke about in this homily; it’s very hard to follow the real one!

But it’s worth making the effort to do so—it’s worth ALL the effort!—because, as St. Peter reminds us in today’s first reading, only the REAL GOOD SHEPHERD can save us.