Thursday, November 28, 2013
(Thanksgiving 2013: This homily was given on November 28, 2013 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read 1 Corinthians 1: 3-9; Luke 17: 11-19.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thanksgiving 2013]
Today’s second reading was taken from the very beginning of St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. When Jane read it a few moments ago, did you notice anything surprising about it? Here St. Paul mentions a number of things that he was grateful for (which, of course, makes it a very appropriate text for Thanksgiving Day).
Apparently, when it came to giving thanks, these were what you might call “Paul’s Priorities”. These were the kinds of things he was most grateful for.
Let me now read the text to you a second time (just in case your memory is as short as mine is and you forgot what Paul said). He wrote:
“I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in him you were enriched in every way, with all discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Notice anything surprising there?
What’s surprising—and significant—in that passage (at least I find it both surprising and significant) is that there’s no “stuff” mentioned!
Nothing material! He doesn’t mention money; he doesn’t mention possessions; nor does he mention physical health. He doesn’t even mention other people as such.
Whenever Paul rendered thanks to Almighty God, it’s very clear from this text that his “Thanksgiving priorities” were all spiritual!
Tell that to the greedy merchants who are so obsessed with money and “stuff” that they’re now trying to make Thanksgiving just another shopping day before Christmas! I hope no one here does any Christmas shopping today.
Do not feed into that mentality!
Now please do not misunderstand me here. I’m not saying that St. Paul was ungrateful for the loving relationships he had with his fellow apostles and the other people in his life; I’m not saying that he was ungrateful for his physical health and his material blessings.
In other places in his letters he makes it quite clear that he was thankful for EVERYTHING that the Lord had given him here on earth.
But he also had his priorities straight! He knew what was most important! He talks in this passage about the grace of forgiveness and salvation; he talks about knowing the truth of the Gospel and witnessing to it; he talks about spiritual gifts (the most important of which are faith, hope and charity); and he talks about the fact that God will always offer us the grace that we need to persevere in our relationship with Jesus so that we can get to heaven someday.
That’s what St. Paul was most grateful for in his own life, and in the lives of the Corinthian people.
And it’s what we should be most grateful for in our lives.
If you’re like me, you sometimes forget that—which is why I mention it in this homily.
Yes, we all have a lot to be grateful for in our earthly lives—but the sad reality is that much of it is only temporary. Our money eventually gets spent (too quickly for a lot of us these days!); our possessions “rust and corrode,” as Jesus indicates in the Sermon on the Mount; our health deteriorates over time (those of us with chronic illnesses certainly know that); and our loved ones pass away as the years go by.
However, as the very same St. Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 13, “Faith, hope and love” last! They last until the end.
And after “the end” they bring us into a life that will never end!
So they are what’s most important! They (faith, hope, love—and everything that proceeds from them) are what we should be the most grateful for—both on Thanksgiving Day and on every other day of the year.
I hope the healed leper in today’s gospel realized this and consequently said a second thank you to Jesus! We know he came back to our Lord to thank him once for his physical healing (which is, of course, exactly what he should have done). But after Jesus said to him, “Stand up and go, your faith has saved you,” this cured Samaritan should have said another thank you to our Lord, for imparting to him the grace of forgiveness and salvation.
And hopefully he was even more grateful for those spiritual gifts than he was for his physical cure from leprosy, since those spiritual gifts had the potential to bring him blessings that would far outlast the blessing of perfect physical health!
His physical health eventually ended and he died. We know that because no one has seen this healed leper walking around Westerly or anywhere else on planet earth for almost 2,000 years. But when this man did die (probably sometime in the mid-to-late first century), his gift of faith—if he had persevered in it—yielded a reward that is still going on as we speak.
And it will go on forever.
If you are leading your family in saying grace at Thanksgiving dinner later today, I ask you to try to remember this lesson and apply it to the prayer you say. Begin your prayer of thanks by expressing your gratitude to God for his saving grace: for the love and mercy he has shown us in sending us his Son. Thank the Lord for his faithfulness (like Paul did), and for his promise to help you persevere in faith when times get difficult. Then move on to thank him for the people he has put in your life—especially those you take for granted—and for the many blessings that have come into your life through those people.
And then, finally, feel free to thank God for your “stuff”—for all the material blessings that he’s showered upon you and upon your loved ones.
Oh yes, one last thing. At the very end of the prayer, don’t forget to do what I forgot to do one Thanksgiving: After saying this beautiful and meaningful prayer, don’t forget to ask the Lord to bless the food!
Sunday, November 17, 2013
(Thirty-third Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on November 18, 2013 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Luke 21: 5-19.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirty-third Sunday 2013]
There are, basically, two reasons for experiencing persecution in this life:
1.) We can be persecuted because of the evil we say or do; or 2.) We can be persecuted because of the good we say or do.
Today’s gospel reading deals with the latter reason. And it indicates that as the time approaches for the end of the world and the consummation of human history, the persecution of those who do and say what’s good (in other words, of those who truly love and serve the Lord) will increase.
That’s why Jesus makes it clear at the end of the passage that his followers need perseverance: “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
So today’s homily will be about how you can make sure that you are persecuted for the right reason, so that you will “secure your life” before God on the Day of Judgment.
Now I’ll do that by giving you some very practical suggestions. These are suggestions of things—good things—that you can do or say which are almost certain to get you persecuted (maybe even by members of your own family!).
So here they are:
Suggestion number 1: Go on vacation with Catholic members of your extended family, and tell them that you’re going to Mass and not to the beach on Sunday morning. Since all too many Catholics take a “vacation” from God and Mass when they’re on vacation from their work, that’s almost certain to elicit a few snide remarks.
Suggestion number 2: If you’re married, have more than two children. You’ll be accused of trying to overpopulate the world—which, of course, is exactly the opposite of what’s happening in most western, industrialized countries at the present time! But, since many people are ignorant of that fact, having three or more children will bring you at least some persecution.
Suggestion number 3: Publicly announce that you believe marriage is between one man and one woman, and that you don’t believe in so-called “gay marriage”. Then duck when the rocks get thrown at you! And make no mistake about it, they will be thrown—at least in the figurative sense. I speak from experience!
Suggestion number 4: Don’t live together with your fiancée before you get married, and then tell people you don’t believe that it’s right for a couple to live together before their wedding day. A variation of this is to make a chastity pledge to wait to have sex until you get married (as many of our teenagers do every year at the Steubenville East Youth Conference).
Suggestion number 5: Speaking of marriages, decline an invitation to attend a friend’s wedding, because your friend is Catholic and the marriage is outside the Church and therefore invalid. Even if you respectfully decline, and at the same time profess love and support for your friend, that action of saying no is almost certain to get you some big-time persecution.
And speaking of weddings, suggestion number 6 is the following: If you attend a wedding ceremony or a funeral liturgy at a Protestant church (like Christ Episcopal down the road), don’t go to communion—even if many of your Catholic friends and relatives do. That will get at least a few of them talking. As Catholics, of course, we can pray with Protestants in their churches, but we’re not supposed to receive during their services (just like they aren’t supposed to receive at ours), because we are not united enough with them in terms of what we believe. As St. Paul indicates in 1 Corinthians 10: 17, the Eucharist is supposed to be a sign of our unity in faith—a unity, unfortunately, that we do not have at the present time with our Protestant brothers and sisters.
Suggestion number 7 is for the students in the congregation (especially those in high school and college): When the subject of abortion comes up in one of your classes, publicly announce that you’re pro-life. (And, by the way, don’t assume you’ll be less persecuted by your teacher and your peers because you go to a so-called “Catholic school”! Unfortunately, not every Catholic school is like St. Pius X or the Franciscan University of Steubenville!)
Suggestion number 8 is for everyone: Tell your friends and acquaintances that you’re proud to be Catholic! Since, as one commentator has said, “Anti-Catholicism is the last respectable prejudice left in America,” such a positive endorsement of the Church will more than likely get at least a few negative responses.
Or how about this last one: Tell people that you’re seriously thinking about entering the priesthood or religious life (presuming you are), or tell people you know someone who is (if you do) and that you support them in their vocation. Then watch the sparks fly! And don’t be surprised if some of the biggest sparks come from “good, devout, churchgoing” members of your own family!
I’ve seen that happen many times over the years. The very people who should be the most supportive—aren’t!
I’ll end my homily now as I began it:
There are, basically, two reasons for experiencing persecution:
We can either be persecuted because of the evil we say or do, or we can be persecuted because of the good we say or do.
Let’s pray at this Mass that ALL the persecution we experience in this life will be because of the latter, keeping in mind that persecution for doing and saying good things has a reward—a reward from God himself.
And that reward lasts forever!
Sunday, November 10, 2013
(Thirty-second Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on November 10, 2013 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read 2 Maccabees 7.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirty-second Sunday 2013]
The other night at youth group I spoke with the teenagers about some of the spiritual lessons we can learn from the wonderful—and pleasantly surprising—2013 Boston Red Sox.
(Well, at least they were pleasantly surprising to some of us!)
Today I’ll share a few of these lessons with all of you, since they can also be found in this weekend’s first reading (in that text we just heard from the Second Book of Maccabees).
But first, a little historical background is necessary for that particular reading.
In the 4th century before Christ, Alexander the Great conquered the Holy Land—and a lot of other places in the known world. In fact, when his empire was at its largest point, it stretched all the way from Greece to modern day Pakistan. Then Alexander died. After his death, his generals divided up his empire. One of those generals was named Seleucus. He began what historians refer to as the Seleucid Empire.
Eventually the Seleucids took control of the area we now know as Palestine.
Eventually the Seleucids took control of the area we now know as Palestine.
Well, in 175 B.C. a descendant of Seleucus named Antiochus IV Epiphanes came to power. King Antiochus, unfortunately, was not what you would call “a nice guy.” In fact, he was just the opposite—especially when it came to his relationship with the Jews. In 168 B.C., for example, he invaded the holy city of Jerusalem, desecrated the Temple, and instituted laws that prevented the Jews from practicing their religion freely.
Those who violated those laws and who tried to remain faithful to their Judaism were immediately put to death—like the 7 brothers we heard about in today’s first reading. This, incidentally, is the “abridged, PG version” of the story. If you want all the gory details of the horrible things they did to these 7 boys—and their mother—you’ll have to open your Bibles later on and read all of 2 Maccabees 7.
Which brings us back to the Red Sox. As I explained to the teenagers the other night, God speaks to us in many ways, one of which is through the events of our lives—and sometimes that even includes events that involve our favorite sports teams.
We aren’t always attuned to those insights—but, as Christians, we should try to be.
For example, here are some of the spiritual lessons that we can learn from the current World Series Champions:
- You need to have the right goal in life—and you need to stay focused on that goal. It’s very clear that this group of Red Sox players had the goal of winning a championship from very early on in the season, and they stayed focused on that goal even when very few of us thought they could actually attain it. Which leads directly to the second lesson . . .
- Don’t let other people (even your friends) keep you from reaching the goal. Let’s be honest about it, back in April and May, if the Red Sox had listened to the majority of their fans and to most of the sportswriters in the local news media, they wouldn’t have won anything this year! Many fans and journalists were predicting that this team would have a hard time staying out of last place in their own division. As for the World Series, that wasn’t even on the radar screen! But . . .
- They persevered in pursuing their goal by working together, and by inspiring and supporting one another (which is yet another spiritual lesson we learn from this team!). This is one thing, incidentally, that made them very different from the 2012 Red Sox—a team that did finish in last place in the A.L. East! The 2012 Sox were a disunited group of individualists; the 2013 team was just that—a team: a team made up of guys who cared about more than their own personal stats and paychecks! As Dustin Pedroia and so many others have said, these players cared about each other both on and off the field, they cared about helping the team win, and they cared about helping the people of the city of Boston find some joy after the horrible terrorist attack that occurred there in April on Patriots’ Day.
- And through it all, the team had the right leader—the right EARTHLY leader (which is the final lesson from the Sox that I’ll mention in this homily). To say that John Farrell was the right guy to manage the Boston Red Sox in 2013 is like saying that the Pope is Catholic: it’s merely stating the obvious. In fact, I would say that, without his effective and inspiring leadership, this team—with all its talent—probably wouldn’t even have made the playoffs!
So how do all these lessons apply to the story we heard in today’s first reading from 2 Maccabees 7 and to our own lives?
Well, take the first lesson: You need to have the right goal in life—and you need to stay focused on that goal. The ultimate goal of this earthly life is not to win the World Series; the ultimate goal of this earthly life is to get to heaven. This mother and her 7 sons believed that, and they acted accordingly. Even though they didn’t understand it fully, they were convinced there would be an eternal reward for those who persevered in their faithfulness to God and his law. And so they persevered—all 8 of them—even in the face of suffering and martyrdom.
They made the right decision—the decision not to compromise their faith—because they remembered the goal. Quite oppositely, the reason so many people in the modern world make the wrong decisions in their lives is because they forget what the ultimate goal of life really is!
Or they treat a lesser goal (like getting a good job or making a lot of money) as if it were the ultimate goal of human existence.
That’s a big mistake.
Then there’s lesson 2 from the Red Sox: Don’t let other people (even your friends) keep you from reaching the goal. If you read all of 2 Maccabees 7, you see that King Antiochus desperately tried to get these 7 sons—especially the youngest one—to deny the Lord. Antiochus promised the youngest one that he would make him rich and happy and give him a high office in his kingdom, if he would simply deny his God by eating a little pork.
Pardon the pun, but the boy didn’t bite! None of the 7 sons did.
But many people today do—in their own way, and in their own circumstances. That is to say, they let other people—even their so-called friends—lead them into sin and, ultimately, away from the kingdom of heaven.
We call that, for lack of a better term, “peer pressure”—peer pressure of the NEGATIVE KIND!
These boys didn’t cave in to the pressure put on them by King Antiochus largely because of the encouraging words of their own mother. How many mothers would encourage their children to remain firm in their faith, knowing that if their children do remain firm they will suffer terribly?
Well, this mother did! Listen to her words to her youngest son: "Son, have pity on me, who carried you in my womb for nine months, nursed you for three years, brought you up, educated and supported you to your present age. I beg you, child, to look at the heavens and the earth and see all that is in them; then you will know that God did not make them out of existing things. In the same way humankind came into existence. Do not be afraid of this executioner, but be worthy of your brothers and accept death, so that in the time of mercy I may receive you again with your brothers.”
The 2013 Red Sox attained their goal because, as I said earlier in lesson 3, “they persevered in pursuing their goal by working together, and by inspiring and supporting one another.”
These 7 sons persevered and attained the ultimate goal of life in large part because of the inspiration and support and encouraging words of their faith-filled and incredibly strong mother.
Do we encourage the people around us—our family members, our friends, our co-workers—to obey God and the Church and to make the right decisions in life, or do we do the opposite?
That’s an important question to reflect on today.
I’ll conclude now with a reference to that final lesson I mentioned earlier. This mother, because of her faith and hope and love—and holiness—was the right “earthly leader” for her children. She led them even better—and in more important ways—than John Farrell led the 2013 Red Sox!
As Catholics, our earthly leader is supposed to be the man in Rome who’s been in the news so often lately, Pope Francis. We call the Holy Father, “the Vicar of Christ” because we believe that when he speaks officially on matters of faith and morals, he speaks with the authority of Jesus.
That means if we follow him, we are sure to win the ultimate prize: the prize won by that mother and her 7 sons; the prize that will last far, far longer than any—and every—World Series title.
May we all win that prize by living the lessons taught to us by this mother, and her 7 sons—and the 2013 Boston Red Sox!
Sunday, November 03, 2013
(Thirty-first Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on November 3, 2013 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Luke 19: 1-10.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirty-first Sunday 2013]
Zacchaeus was “a 12 Step guy.” You’ve probably never heard that before, but it’s true nonetheless.
Many of us (probably most of us) are familiar with the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. For the past several decades, these steps have helped many men and women (including, I’m sure, some people in this church right now) to deal, successfully, with their addiction to alcohol.
These 12 Steps have also been modified, in recent years, to help other people who have addictions unrelated to alcohol. And so we have in our country right now groups like Overeaters Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Smokers Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.
On a personal level, we may not be plagued by any of these addictive behaviors (and that’s great if it’s the case for us), but there is one addiction that all of us do have (whether we want to admit it or not)—and that’s our addiction to sin! You have it; I have it; Zacchaeus had it; every man and woman in human history has had it —with the exception of Jesus and our Blessed Mother.
And, as is the case with those who are addicted to alcohol or gambling or any of those other things I just mentioned, some people choose to deal with their addiction to sin, and some do not. And dealing with it is a lifelong process. (That’s the way it is with every addictive behavior.) You’ll notice that people in AA will not refer to themselves as “Recovered Alcoholics”; rather, they will call themselves, “Recovering Alcoholics”—indicating that the process of recovering and staying sober is ongoing.
Which is where the 12 Steps come into the picture. The 12 Steps provide the guidelines and principles that need to be followed by a person, if that individual wants to deal with and overcome the temptation to drink.
And they work!—as people in AA and other 12 Step groups will happily tell you.
But they also work on the spiritual level in helping us deal with our sins, which is what I want to focus on in my homily this morning. In fact, the 12 Steps are really very “Catholic”—in the sense that they quite naturally point us to many Catholic beliefs and Catholic practices.
The experience of Zacchaeus (even though he was not Catholic!) can help us to see that. So without further adieu let me now briefly review the 12 Steps with you as they relate to sin, using Zacchaeus as an example—because his recovery from sin 2,000 years ago can help us to see what we need to do to further our recovery from sin as practicing Catholics in 2013.
The first 3 steps of AA read as follows: 1) We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable; 2) We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity; and 3) We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.
We all have sins that we struggle with. It might be anger; it might be gossip; it might be lying; it might be a bad temper—it might be a number of different things. We cannot overcome these tendencies on our own, without God’s grace—and we need to recognize that fact (as an alcoholic needs to recognize the fact that he can’t overcome his drinking problem on his own).
But we also need to believe that a power greater than ourselves—namely, the power of God’s grace—can help us deal with our temptations and weaknesses; and we need to reach out to Jesus for that power every day (this is why daily prayer is so important), as Zacchaeus reached out to Jesus from that sycamore tree in Jericho.
In this regard, we know beyond any reasonable doubt that Zacchaeus needed a great deal of help with at least one capital sin in his life, and that was the sin of greed! Notice that two details are mentioned about him at the beginning of this story: we are told that he was a tax collector, and that he was wealthy. In other words, he was a Jew who worked for the Roman government, who made his living by ripping off his own people! Jewish tax collectors in first century Palestine were hated by their fellow Jews because, when they collected money for the Romans, they usually overcharged their people big time, and then pocketed the difference!
Yes, they were even worse than the IRS!
Which brings us to steps 4-7 of AA. Number 4) We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. We Catholics would call that “an examination of conscience”. Here we are reminded of the fact that if we want to deal successfully with our addiction to sin, we need to take a hard and honest look at our lives—and we need to do that often! Zacchaeus certainly did that on the day he met Jesus. It’s very clear from his conversation with our Lord that he had reflected on his life, and had come to the realization that he had been guilty of stealing and selfishness and materialism—all of which were rooted in greed!
And he verbalized that—which is step 5. Step 5 of AA is: We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. That, of course, is what we call “confession”! (Do you see how “Catholic” the 12 Steps are?) This means that to actively engage in the process of recovering from sin, we need to make sacramental confession a priority!
And we need to go to confession with a firm purpose of amendment! That is to say, we need to go with the intention of trying to avoid sin—and the occasion of sin—in the future. This idea is found in step 6 of the 12 Steps, which reads: We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
I think it’s pretty clear from the tone of this gospel story that Zacchaeus did not intend to go back to his old sinful practices and way of life. He wanted to change in a positive way, and he wanted that change to be permanent!
He had a firm purpose of amendment.
But he knew that he also needed to make reparation for the evil things he had done! In other words, he knew that he needed to make amends even after he had been forgiven by our Lord. Listen again to what he said to Jesus: “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor; and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.”
This is why a penance is given to us in confession: through prayers and/or good works, we are to make amends to those we’ve hurt by the evil we’ve done or by the good we have failed to do.
And, of course, if we don’t make reparation for our forgiven sins in this life, we will make reparation for them in the next—in that place we call “purgatory”.
This idea is present in the 9th step of AA, which says, Made direct amends to [the persons we had harmed] whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Now steps 7, 10 and 11 of the 12 Steps are very important because they make clear that all of this has got to be an ongoing process. I mentioned that a little earlier. Step 7 is: Humbly asked [God] to remove our shortcomings. Step 10 is: We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong we promptly admitted it. Step 11 is: We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry it out.
With respect to sin, this means that if we want to stay in recovery (i.e., in the state of grace) we need to examine our consciences often, and then repent and confess and make amends on a regular basis—not just once a year or so!
Remember, just as people in AA are recovering alcoholics, not recovered alcoholics, so too we are recovering sinners—who will only be fully “recovered” when (and if) we arrive at the pearly gates of heaven.
That brings us to the last of the 12 Steps: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
If you are an alcoholic, and you really believe in the effectiveness of the 12 Steps of AA, you will certainly do your best to reach out to other alcoholics, and bring them into the program. And by the same token, if you believe in the Catholic Church’s program for recovering from sin, you will do your best—your absolute best—to evangelize your family and friends and co-workers and others, so that they will become “recovering sinners” themselves. On that note, I’m sure that Zacchaeus did not keep the news of his conversion to himself! He probably told everybody he knew, as well as a lot of people he didn’t know!
Through his encounter with Jesus that day in Jericho, Zacchaeus had become a recovering sinner who was filled with peace and joy—and he wanted everyone else in the world to share the experience.
We should have that very same desire for all the people whom the Lord has placed in our lives. And we will, if we allow the 12 Steps to guide us each and every day in our personal recovery from sin.