Sunday, July 27, 2014

How Much Do You Treasure ‘The Treasure’?

"The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field ..."

(Seventeenth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on July 27, 2014 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Matthew 13: 44-52.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Seventeenth Sunday 2014]

How much do you treasure “The Treasure”?

Jesus says to us in today’s gospel, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

Here, of course, we need to make a very important distinction.  The distinction is between the value of a treasure, and the value a particular person puts on that treasure.

Those are two very different things.

A treasure might be very valuable in and of itself—that is to say, it might be worth a great deal (objectively speaking)—however that treasure might not be worth very much to you on a personal level.  For example, if you had 2 $100 Red Sox tickets with you today and you said to me, “Fr. Ray, would you like to buy them?” I might say yes—IF this were the summer of 2013; since in the summer of 2013 Red Sox tickets, in my mind, were actually worth something.

But, as we all know, this is the summer of 2014, and this summer, in my humble opinion at least, Red Sox tickets aren’t worth the value of the paper they’re printed on!

I say that with great sadness in my heart as a Red Sox fan.

Now some of you might disagree with my assessment of the value of Red Sox tickets in 2014, and that’s fine.  In fact, that kind of disagreement is to be expected, because, as I indicated a few moments ago, there can be (and very often is) a big difference between the objective value of a treasure, and the value that you and I, as individuals, put on that treasure.

And so it is with the kingdom of God.  In its fullness, the kingdom of God will be present only in heaven.  But, as Pope Benedict says in one of his books, the kingdom of God is already present to some extent whenever and wherever Jesus Christ is enthroned as Lord.  Or, to put it another way, the kingdom of God is present whenever and wherever Jesus Christ rules!

So, to the extent that Jesus is ruling our thoughts, words and actions—to the extent, in other words, that we place a high value on “The Treasure” that is Jesus Christ and his Gospel—to that extent the kingdom of God is already present “in us” (as Jesus himself indicated in Luke 17: 21).

But some people, sad to say, won’t like it when the kingdom manifests itself in this way!  And this is something we need to be prepared for.  If we really treasure “The Treasure” by taking our Catholic faith seriously and trying to live it, we will face opposition.

And sometimes the opposition will come from other Christians who should treasure “The Treasure” as much as we do—but who don’t!

This came home to me in a powerful way a couple of weeks ago when a woman I know sent me the following email about her recent experience at work.  Now before I read it to you let me say that this woman is one of the kindest people I know.  She is quiet and respectful and what most people would call “a very good person.”

But here’s what she said in her letter:

Fr. Ray,

I had my yearly evaluation at work this week. … At the end there is always a question where the supervisor has to identify a weakness that the employee will have to improve on before the next year’s evaluation.  Fair enough … we all have weaknesses.

[Well] I was blindsided by what my boss identified as my areas of weakness.  He told me that my “Catholic values and high morals” were my weaknesses.  He said many of my values are “opposed” with those of other employees.


[Her boss, by the way, is Catholic and active in his parish!]

I pressed the issue with him and ended up having three meetings with him and our Assistant Program Director to get these off the “weakness” category, because I wasn’t going to sign it with those listed as weaknesses.  Their points, to be honest, were really off the mark and I pointed out their errors to them.  However, they stuck to their opinions and disagreed with me.

They eventually conceded and took them off the weakness list, but it seems that I am going to be under observation and I should ”take care” not to proselytize (which I don’t do anyway.  Just being a Catholic these days is suspect, isn’t it?)

You know in Scripture how it says they will “drag you into court”?  Well, that is what it felt like.  I had to defend myself and my basic rights in the workplace.  I am not an “in your face Catholic” at work, and I am very accepting of everyone else at work—including their beliefs or lack of any beliefs at all.  However my beliefs, values and morals are routinely stepped on without me saying anything in response (most of the time—sometimes there is no choice but to respond).

At the end my boss said, “Well, it’s not that your Catholic values and high morals are necessarily bad things, it’s just that they are opposed to many of the values here. …”

I remember a time in any workplace when it used to be a good thing to have “high morals.”

For the record, I think this woman handled the situation very well.  There are definitely times when God calls us to turn the other cheek when we’ve been offended, but there are other times when his will for us does include some legitimate self-defense (we learn that from the example of Jesus himself in the gospels, as I mentioned in a homily I gave several months ago).

This, I would say, was one of those situations that called for the latter—for some legitimate, verbal self-defense—and I give this woman credit for doing it very respectfully.

I’m not sure that I would have been so nice.


And then I’d have to go to confession for losing my temper!

How much do you treasure “The Treasure”?

As much as this woman does?

Do you treasure it enough to be willing to suffer an unjust evaluation at work like she did?  Or to lose out on a promotion at work that you rightly deserve?

Do you treasure it enough to stand up for what’s right in school when almost all of your classmates are voicing their support for what’s wrong?

Do you treasure it enough to be willing to lose a few friends, or to endure some opposition from members of your own family?

Do you treasure it enough to be willing to be called names (names that you don’t deserve to be called: “bigot”; “homophobe”; “narrow-minded”; “anti-woman”; “anti-American”)?

Hear, once again, the words of Jesus: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

Before I close I think it’s important to note that there have been many Christians in recent decades who have lived this message of Jesus in its ULTIMATE SENSE!  They have “sold all that they’ve had” in the sense that they have literally given up their physical lives for the Lord and his Gospel.  You know, many people think that the majority of Christian martyrs died way back in the first century at the hands of Roman emperors like Nero.  But that’s not true!  The truth is that there were more martyrs for Jesus Christ in the 20th century than there were in the previous 19 centuries of Christian history COMBINED!!!

These martyrs treasured “The Treasure” with their whole heart—and they lived their lives accordingly.

May Almighty God help each and every one of us to do the same.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Steubenville East 2014

We've been doing this for over 20 years, but it never gets old. 

It's both a joy and a privilege to be present at a Steubenville summer youth conference, and to watch the Holy Spirit transform the lives of more than 3,000 teenagers right before your eyes!

If you don't believe me, check out these videos of some of the talks and events at this year's Steubenville East Conference, which was held this past weekend at the Ryan Center, on the campus of the University of Rhode Island: Click here for videos.

Here are some pictures from the conference (click on images to enlarge):

Sunday, July 06, 2014

The Stupidity Of Some Really Smart People

(Fourteenth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on July 6, 2014 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Matthew 11: 25-30.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourteenth Sunday 2014]

“The stupidity of some really smart people.”

Because I post my homilies on my blog every week, I have to come up with a short title for each of them.

Well, believe it or not, that was the most accurate title I could come up with for today’s homily, given its subject matter.

I hope you’re not offended by the language, especially if you’re somebody who’s considered to be “smart” by your peers.

I could have entitled it, “The intellectually-challenged condition of some really smart people”—but that just didn’t have the same “ring”—or the same zing!—to it.

But please notice—the designation applies only to some smart people.  Not everyone with a high IQ is included here. 

In today’s gospel reading from Matthew 11 Jesus says, “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones.”

Now contrary to what some people think, Jesus was NOT advocating ignorance here and telling us to be childish in our relationship with him.  Rather, he was telling us that if we want to be considered his faithful disciples we need to be childlike—which is quite different!

To be childlike before God means to be humble; it means that you know that, when all is said and done, you are totally dependent on your Father (i.e., your HEAVENLY FATHER).   To be childlike before God means that you’re in touch with—and willing to admit—your own imperfections.  It means that you know you don’t have all the answers.  But it also means that you’re TEACHABLE (in other words, that you’re open to being taught the right answers by your heavenly Father through his chosen instruments here on earth).

Now the good news is that there are many very smart people in our world today who DO embody this kind of childlikeness in their lives.  Some of them, I believe, are members of this parish.  These intelligent, devout men and women have many spiritual ancestors: people like St. Paul; St. Thomas Aquinas (who was arguably the greatest theologian of all time); St. Teresa of Avila; St. Edith Stein (who was a brilliant philosopher); St. John Paul II—and on and on the list goes.

But there many others out there who think that they know more than God (and certainly more than the Church!)—and this leads them, unfortunately, to advocate and support certain foundational ideas that, quite frankly, are really stupid!

Let me give you a list of them.  (This, by the way, is only a partial list—to give an exhaustive one would require hours.)  I entitle it, “Some of the most noteworthy stupid ideas of some really smart people in 2014.”

Because some people will do the wrong thing, we have to give everyone the tools and the help they need to do the wrong thing.

That’s the stupid idea that stands behind, among other things, the “safe-sex education” that many of your children and grandchildren receive in school (yes, even here in wonderful Westerly!).  But not at St. Pius X School!  We teach our young people the truth in an age-appropriate way.

Yet another reason to send your children there!

Because some people will do the wrong thing, we have to legalize the wrong thing so that people can do the wrong thing “safely.”  

This is the stupid idea that drives the smart people who want to legalize things like recreational drugs and prostitution—as it drove some smart (and evil) people 40 years ago in their efforts to legalize abortion.

Human life begins whenever we say it begins.  

The science of genetics has proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that a new and separate human life is present at the moment of conception—and up until a few years ago all the medical literature reflected that truth.  But then certain smart people wanted to be able to say that the birth control pill can never, ever function as an abortifacient (which it CAN in certain circumstances!); and so, without any scientific evidence whatsoever, they simply changed the definition of pregnancy!  Now we’re told that pregnancy begins at implantation and not at conception.  Thus, during the time between conception and implantation (according to these smart men and women), you can do whatever you want to do to that new human life in the womb!

How convenient!  How clever!  

And how stupid.

Directly killing an innocent human being can be an act of compassion and love.  

A lot of smart people are acting on this stupid idea these days by removing food and hydration from terminally ill patients long before their bodies have begun “shut down.”  This is one reason why you should all make plans to be here on Tuesday, October 14, when Fr. Tad Pacholczyk will be with us to talk about “end of life issues.”  

(The announcement is in the bulletin.)

For the sake of your sick and elderly loved ones you need to be here for that presentation.

A choice can be considered good without any reference whatsoever to the “object” of the choice.  

Many of our brilliant politicians who proudly call themselves “pro-choice” believe that idea—which is, without question, one of the stupidest ideas of all!

Even most five-year-olds know that one of the ways that you evaluate a particular choice is by looking at its “object”: It’s a good choice if the “object” of the choice is good; it’s a bad choice if the “object” of the choice is bad.

Perhaps we should seriously consider electing some kindergarteners to Congress later this year!  They’d probably do a better job than the people who are there right now.

They certainly couldn’t do much worse!

Marriage is whatever you say it is—unless you say that it’s exclusively between one man and one woman.  In that case, marriage is NOT what you say it is!  

Now it would be nice if you could reason with a smart person who embraced this particular stupid idea by saying to that person, “But marriage has never involved two people of the same gender.  Since the beginning of human history marriage has always involved a man and a woman, because only a man and a woman have the natural potential to beget children.”  

But that type of reasoning won’t work with them, because another stupid idea that these smart people believe (and this is the last one I’ll mention today) is that they are smarter than everyone else who’s come before them!

So it doesn’t matter what intelligent men and women have believed in the past.  It doesn’t matter what the ancient philosophers and moralists and civil leaders thought—it doesn’t even matter what people in the last century thought and did.

These smart people of 2014 say, “We are the truly enlightened ones.  We know better than all the men and women of the past put together, so we can disregard everything that they’ve said—if we choose to.”

“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones.”

Let me conclude now on a slightly more positive note.  We need to remember that the same Jesus who said these words to us this morning also said, “Seek, and you shall find.”  This means that there’s always hope—even for very, very smart people who believe very, very stupid ideas.  If they begin to seek the truth sincerely and humbly, they can ALWAYS find it.

Like St. Augustine did.  Augustine, as many of us know, was a brilliant young intellectual of the 4th century who embraced some incredibly dumb ideas—mostly because he wanted to justify his immoral lifestyle.

And in the process he drove his saintly mother crazy!


And when he changed, his stupid ideas left him, never to return.

Let us pray at this Mass that God will give us many more “St. Augustines” in our world today.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Why The Church Is Better Than Facebook

(Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul 2008: This homily was given on June 29, 2014 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read 2 Timothy 4: 6-8, 17-18; Matthew 16: 13-19.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Peter and Paul 2014]

The title of my homily today is, “Why the Church is better than Facebook.”

Let me begin by making it clear that I have nothing, per se, against Facebook and people who are on it.  I’m not on Facebook, personally, mostly because of time constraints.  I have enough to keep me occupied, technologically speaking, with my blog and email and text messaging.

Any more than that would result in what you might call “technological overdose,” which I definitely don’t need.

That having been said, why do I say that the Church is better than Facebook?

Well it’s because of an article someone sent me the other day by a man named John Horvat II.  The article was entitled, “Unfriending Facebook.”

When I read the title, the first thought that occurred to me was, “This must be about Facebook users who’ve dropped the service for various reasons.”

But I was wrong.

The article was actually about Facebook employees who have left the company because of the way it’s run.  And the irony is that “the way it’s run” is precisely what attracted many of them to the company in the first place!

You see, Facebook is an organization that, as Horvatt puts it, “breaks all the rules, smashes traditional hierarchies and lets its employees exercise their creativity without all the restrictions of times past.”

The rules and policies, in other words (like set hours and clear job descriptions), that guide most employees in most places of employment do not apply, for the most part, to the men and women who work at Facebook.

Now you would think that this would be something they all loved, but in many cases it’s precisely what has driven them away from the company.

In addressing the question of what former Facebook employees complain about, Mr. Horvatt writes the following:

Curiously, [they complain mostly about] those “fun” things that are heralded as cutting edge in the new postmodern workplace: the lack of organization, focus and rules.

Working for Facebook can be exhausting since this is not your normal 9-to-5 job that plays by the old rules. Everything goes. Employees can be subjected to long 12-14 hour workdays under stressful conditions. Engineers complained of being on call 24/7 for weeks at a time to keep service up and running. Employees are absorbed by the fast pace and intensity of their work.

The no-walls free-flow atmosphere that is supposed to foster creativity is also stressful to workers who complain of a complete lack of privacy whatsoever at the social media giant.

“At most companies, you put up a wall between a work personality and a personal one, which ends up with a professional workspace,” wrote one former employee. “This wall does not exist at Facebook which can lead to some uncomfortable situations.”

Yet another popular complaint was the laid-back attitude that left everything undefined and unfocused. Employees sensed a lack of infrastructure to provide guidance or support. There are constant guessing games where workers are expected to intuit what is happening in their departments and what is expected of them. The result is a “lack of professionalism” and “stability” where instructions are not clear and organization is lacking, which leads, in turn to stressful situations.

This leads Mr. Horvatt to draw the following conclusions:

These and other complaints underscore the importance of human relationships and leadership in the workplace. It is not surprising that, despite high wages, perks and the prestige of being part of an over-hyped company, there are those who opt out of working in a pressure cooker. People are not made to live in an atmosphere where a reckless spirit of unrestraint and instant gratification dominates. They need guidance, infrastructure and leadership to give them support. As a result, frenetic intemperance takes its toll upon the psyche causing burnout and disillusionment.

Facebook needs to face the fact that life is not a Facebook page consisting of superficial posts of fun and games. Until the social media giant learns this important lesson, it can expect to see itself increasingly “unliked” and “unfriended” by its disillusioned employees.

So why is the Church better than Facebook?

Well, ironically enough, the Church is better precisely for the reason that some people complain about her!  To use the terms found in this article, it’s because the Church has a clear organization—and a clear focus—and defined rules (which we call “commandments”).  It’s because the Church gives us guidance and support.  It’s because the Church preaches against unrestraint and instant gratification, and because the Church clearly teaches us what God expects of us, and what we need to do to get on—and to stay on—the road to heaven!

So often those outside the Church—and sometimes even certain people INSIDE the Church—criticize her for these very things.  But, as the experience of many former Facebook employees makes clear, we need guidelines and rules and structures in order to be happy and to reach our full potential as human beings!

This is why Jesus gave us a hierarchical Church and instituted the papacy.  Jesus created us; he knows how we operate and he knows what we need.  Jesus called himself “the Truth” in John 14, and in John 8 he promised that his truth—his teaching—would set his followers “free”: free from sin; free from Satan; free from eternal death; free from fear and hopelessness.

But Jesus was not na├»ve!  He knew that his truth needed a guardian: a chief guardian who would work in conjunction with other guardians to preserve and teach and defend his truth from the time he ascended into heaven until the end of the world.

Without such an authority Jesus knew his people would very quickly and very easily fall into error and become divided from one another (which is precisely what has happened, historically, in Protestantism).

And so, one day during his ministry—when he was with his apostles at Caesarea Philippi—Jesus singled out one man to be that first guardian—that first spiritual father—for his future spiritual family: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”

Now some of our non-Catholic brothers and sisters will object to this idea and say, “No, no—Jesus wasn’t establishing the papacy here.  He wasn’t establishing an office.  Yes, he was making Peter the head of the apostles, but Peter’s authority ended when he died.  There’s no provision for his authority to be passed on to anyone else.”

Oh yes there is!  Here’s where “the keys” come into the picture.  Jesus said to Peter, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

The symbolism of “the keys” goes back to the 22nd chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah.  There a man named Shebna (who was something like the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Judah at the time) is removed from office and replaced by a man named Eliakim. 

And to indicate the change in power God says these words:  “I will place the key of the House of David on [Eliakim’s] shoulder; what he opens, no one will shut, what he shuts, no one will open.”

The “key” there in that verse symbolizes dynastic authority—that is to say, the authority of an office: an authority that was meant to be passed on from one person to another.

Jesus, therefore, gave Peter “the keys” to make it clear to him (and to all of us) that he was establishing something PERMANENT: an office that would continue to exist long, long after Peter died.

And it has—Pope Francis being the 265th man after St. Peter to occupy the office of spiritual father (i.e., pope) in the Lord’s spiritual family, the Church.

Some people (especially in the secular media) are waiting for Pope Francis to change the teaching of the Church on certain matters of faith and morals.

We all know what those issues are; no need to list them here.

Well, they’ll be waiting for a long time, because it isn’t going to happen!

Yes, he may change certain disciplines and policies in the Church; he may change certain aspects of the bureaucratic structure of the Church; he may focus on certain aspects of Church teaching that previous popes haven’t emphasized as much.

True enough.  But he will NOT change the defined teachings of the Catechism—because he can’t!  He can only guard and protect and teach those things.

That’s all he has the power to do!

Notice that St. Paul says in today’s second reading, “I have kept THE FAITH.”  It wasn’t his own opinions that he was faithful to; it wasn’t his own version of Christianity that he followed.  He kept THE FAITH—THE ONE TRUE FAITH, of which St. Peter was the chief guardian.

You see, unlike the officials at Facebook, the Church doesn’t leave her people without direction and guidance and the help and assistance they need.

That’s why we have a Pope; and that’s one of the biggest reasons why the Church is—and always will be—better than Facebook.