Sunday, November 10, 2019

Do You Want To Know The Truth, Or Do You Simply Want To Win Arguments?



(Thirty-second Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on November 10, 2019 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Ray Suriani. Read 2 Maccabees 7:1-14; Psalm 17:1-15; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-35; Luke 20:27-38.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirty-second Sunday 2019]


Were they trying to discover the truth, or were they simply trying to win an argument?

That question emerges when you know the background of today’s Gospel story from Luke 20.

So here’s the background:

At the time of Jesus, the Pharisees and the Sadducees (two groups or sects within Judaism) disagreed about a number of important issues: how many books there were in the Bible, the immortality of the soul, the existence of angels, and the resurrection of the dead, to name but a few. 

Regarding the resurrection, the Pharisees said Yea while the Sadducees said Nay.  The Pharisees accepted the idea that people would rise in some manner after they physically died—they considered it to be a fundamental teaching of the Jewish faith—while the Sadducees rejected the notion completely.

And so one day a group of Sadducees decided to approach Jesus to see where he stood on the matter.  They began by quoting something Moses had said in the Book of Deuteronomy (a book that both they and the Pharisees accepted as part of Scripture): “If someone’s brother dies leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother.”

Then they set up a very interesting case-study.  It concerned a woman who married a man and his six brothers without ever having any children.  They obviously thought this extreme example would discredit the Pharisees by making it clear that the resurrection was a ridiculous teaching.

When they were finished, they said to Jesus, “At the resurrection whose wife will [this] woman be, since all seven brothers married her?”

Jesus responded by making it clear that life after death is qualitatively different than life on this side of the grave.  On this side of the grave marriage is necessary to propagate the species (this, by the way, is one reason why marriage can only be between a man and a woman: “Adam and Eve” not “Adam and Steve”).  But after the resurrection people will not die anymore, hence marriage won’t be necessary any longer.  

Jesus ended by quoting Moses again (knowing how much the Sadducees loved and respected Moses).  He noted that in the Book of Exodus, Moses referred to God as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob,” the implication being that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were still alive somewhere.  But all three of those men had lived and died hundreds of years before Moses!  Hence, Jesus was saying that Moses must have believed in the resurrection also, if he believed that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were still among the living.

That’s where the story ends.  The next line of the text says that some of the scribes commended Jesus for his response (one of the few times they actually agreed with our Lord!); and then it says “they [i.e., the Sadducees] no longer dared to ask [Jesus] anything.”

This means that, in all likelihood, they were not convinced by what Jesus had said!  They did not change their minds on the matter; they continued to live in error.   Which leads me to wonder: When they came to Jesus that day, were they trying to discover the truth, or were they simply trying to win an argument?  Did they really want to understand the truth about the resurrection, or were they simply trying to score a victory against their arch-rivals, the Pharisees?

Because of the way the story ends, I think it’s clear that their minds were closed from the start.  That’s why the words of Jesus had little or no effect on them. 

I mention this today because I’m convinced that there are many people in our society right now who are just like the Sadducees in this story.  That is to say, they are much more concerned with winning arguments, than they are with knowing the truth.

And there is no better illustration of this than what we see going on right now in the world of politics and in the world of social media.  It’s horrible.  Almost every night on the evening news, the issue for the pundits is not, “What’s the truth and who’s telling it?”  The issue is, “Who had the most effective tweets today?  Which politician got the better of his or her opponents?  Who won the war of words in the last 24 hours?  President Trump?  Nancy Pelosi?  Adam Schiff?  Someone else?”

And then the battle extends to the rest of America on Facebook and Twitter and the other social media outlets.

Welcome to the U.S.A. in 2019!

Perhaps the problem is that too many contemporary Americans have confused these two realities: winning an argument, and telling the truth.  They presume that if a person is victorious in a debate or wins an argument, it’s a sign that what that person told us is true.

Not necessarily!

In fact, sometimes the person who tells the truth is the very same person who loses the argument decisively!  And there’s no better example of that than Jesus Christ himself!

In a certain sense you could say that Jesus “lost the argument” he had with his enemies during the course of his 3-year earthly ministry.  His enemies, of course, included these Sadducees, and also the Pharisees and scribes.  As we know from reading the Gospels, these men were almost always contradicting the things our Lord said.  And because Jesus lost this 3-year “argument” with the religious leaders of the Jews, public opinion turned against him.  The end result was Good Friday!  The end result was the crucifixion!

But the fact that Jesus was defeated by his enemies and was nailed to a cross did not mean he was a liar!

He still told the truth; in fact, he himself WAS the Truth!

In your life, do you want to know the truth—do you want to accept and embrace the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth—or do you simply want to win arguments?

From today’s Gospel, we know how the Sadducees would have answered that question.

How do you answer it?

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Would Jesus Feel Welcome in Your Home?



(Thirty-first Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on November 3, 2019 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Wisdom 11:22-12:2; Psalm 145:1-14; 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2; Luke 19:1-10.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirty-first Sunday 2019]


If a particular person invites himself into your home, you will probably either be very happy or very angry.  It all depends on the quality of your relationship with the person.  If you like him, you’ll be happy; if you don’t like him, you’ll be angry and annoyed.

But if Jesus Christ invites himself into your home, you should definitely feel happy, honored and thankful—like Zacchaeus did when Jesus called him down from the sycamore tree in Jericho and said to him, “Zacchaeus, today I must stay at your house.”

Of course, the real question is: Once Jesus entered your home and actually began to interact with you and with your family, how would HE feel?  Would he feel at home?  Would he feel welcome?  Would he feel like he belonged? 

That’s the issue I want to deal with today in my homily, because in point of fact Jesus Christ DOES invite himself into your home and mine each and every day!

I say that because the family is called the “domestic church” in the Catechism (CCC, 2204), and the Church as a whole is called “the Body of Christ” in Scripture.  This means that every Christian family—every “domestic church”—is a place where Jesus wants to dwell, as he dwells in the Church as a whole.

I think it’s safe to say that Jesus did feel welcome in Zacchaeus’ home on the day he visited him—and for a number of reasons.  First of all, he probably felt that way because he knew he was an important person to Zacchaeus.  Generally speaking, people feel welcome in your home when they know they’re important to you, when they know that they’re special in your eyes. 

Which leads to the obvious question: How important is Jesus Christ to you and to your family?  Where is Jesus Christ on your list of priorities?  I know many families, for example, for whom the worship of Jesus at Sunday Mass is very important—unless they’re on vacation, or unless they’re involved in a sporting activity, or unless it’s the week of grandma’s big birthday party.

I know families for whom the worship of Jesus at Sunday Mass is very important—but not on holy days (like the one we had this week, All Saints Day!).  Remember, Mass attendance on holy days is obligatory, not optional!

In all honesty, how important is Jesus to you and to the people you live with?  Is he welcome under your roof because he’s the most important person in each of your lives?

Jesus also felt welcome in the home of Zacchaeus because Zacchaeus talked to him!  Obviously if someone comes into your home and you don’t say a word to him while he’s there, he probably won’t stay very long.  He’ll get the message that you really don’t want him around, and he’ll leave.

How often do you and the members of your family speak to Jesus?  Do you do it at your family meals?  Do you do it at EVERY meal?  Do you pray at other times in your home TOGETHER AS A FAMILY?  I’m happy to say that I know of certain families in this parish who pray together every single night for 5 or 10 minutes.  They offer up personal intentions; they say a decade of the Rosary; they say a few other prayers.  It’s nothing fancy, but you can be absolutely certain that Jesus Christ feels very much at home when that type of activity is going on!

Jesus also felt welcome in Zacchaeus’ home because the man sincerely repented of his sins!  And as a typical Jewish tax collector of first century Palestine, Zacchaeus no doubt had lots and lots of sins to repent of!  Jesus felt welcome in and through Zacchaeus’ repentance because he had come into the world specifically to forgive sins and to save human beings from eternal death!  As he himself said at the very end of the story, “Today salvation has come to this house . . . for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

And notice that Zacchaeus expressed his sorrow by vowing to make amends for the many wrongs he had done.  He said, “Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.”  Zacchaeus knew that he needed to do penance to undo the damage—or at least some of the damage—that his sins had caused.

Jesus feels welcome whenever people sincerely repent—and whenever they make amends.  How often do the members of your family say, “I’m sorry” to one another—and mean it?  How often do they make amends to one another?  And how often do the members of your family say they’re sorry to Jesus directly in the sacrament of Reconciliation?  Parents, how often do you take your children to Confession—and how often do you yourselves go?

Hopefully when Jesus entered Zacchaeus’ house, he didn’t see or hear anything that upset him.  I say that because people feel welcome in a home only if they’re not scandalized or embarrassed by what they see and hear there.  Would Jesus feel welcome in your home if he heard the way the members of your family speak to one another?  Or would the language he heard upset him?  Would he feel at ease watching your favorite television programs with you, or listening to your favorite music with you (all the stuff, for example, that you’ve downloaded from iTunes)?  Speaking of downloading off the internet, would Jesus be happy sitting at your computer and viewing your “history of visited sites” on the web? 

And would he find his image prominently displayed in your home?  (I must tell you, I always feel very welcome in homes when I find my picture on the refrigerator door!  And I do from time to time!  It’s a nice feeling!)
Would Jesus find an image or two of his dear Mother and his dear friends, the saints?  Or would he find other, disturbing images on your walls and on your furniture that would scandalize or anger him?

“Lord Jesus, our homes are not perfect (you know that far better than we do!).  None of us lives in a family in which you find a perfect welcome all the time.  Sometimes we may put other things ahead of you; sometimes we may ignore you by not praying as we should; sometimes we may hurt other family members and not repent and make amends; sometimes we may fail to create a loving, holy atmosphere in our living space.  And so today we simply ask you for the grace to help us improve.  Help us to do whatever ‘remodeling’ is necessary to make our homes, our families—our domestic churches—more welcoming to you.  Because if we can create homes where you feel welcome, Lord Jesus, chances are everyone else who comes through our front door will feel welcome too.  Amen.”


Friday, November 01, 2019

Seven Benefits of Being a Saint



(All Saints’ Day 2019: This homily was given on November 1, 2019 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Revelation 7: 2-4, 9-14; 1 John 3: 1-3; Matthew 5: 1-12a.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: All Saints Day 2019]


In one of his books Fr. Stephen Rossetti wrote the following:

A survey was given to fifth-graders in which they were asked to rank in order the desirability of thirty-five careers.  They were given such choices as doctor, teacher, lawyer, and others.  They were asked to list in order which ones they most wanted to be.  One of the thirty-five vocations listed was saint.  Any idea where saint was listed by these boys and girls?  It was second to last, thirty-fourth!  The only less desirable position was garbage collector.  In the minds of many, being a saint is only slightly more desirable than being a garbage collector.  When asked why saint was listed so low, the children said that being a saint was a negative, unhappy life.  (From “The Joy of Priesthood,” page 210.)

This is obviously one reason why churches aren’t filled to the brim on All Saints’ Day!  Too many people think sanctity is boring!  They don’t see the concrete, practical benefits of striving to live a life of holiness. 

Apparently these men, women—and children—have forgotten that in the next life there will ultimately be only 2 groups of people: the saints and the damned!  So if they don’t want to be saints, what do they want to be?  What’s their ultimate goal?  If they’re consciously rejecting the path to heaven (because they think there’s no fun to be had on the way there!), then what path are they currently on?

The other day I decided to sit down and write out some of the many benefits of being a saint—just in case anyone here has the same perspective as the fifth graders who took that survey mentioned by Fr. Rossetti.  Perhaps this will give some of us a new outlook—a more positive outlook—on the life of holiness, and therefore inspire us to pursue holiness each and every day. 

Benefit #1 of being a saint: You need less “Excedrin”; that is to say, you avoid a lot of the headaches that people who commit serious sins are forced to deal with.  Because we live in a media culture that glorifies sin, many people think it’s cool to fight and get drunk and fornicate and cheat and lie.  After all, men and women who do these things are often portrayed in a positive light in movies and on television.  But when you look at the matter objectively—and honestly—what you see is that sins like these always come with a price tag!  And not only in the afterlife!  Even on this side of the grave, you pay a price!  These violations of God’s law destroy marriages and families and everything else we hold dear as human beings.  As Paul put it in Romans 6, “The wages of sin is death.”

Benefit #2 of being a saint: You have a goal in life!  And not just any goal!  You have the right goal, namely, heaven!  Consequently you’re not like so many people today who go through life with no sense of direction, meaning or purpose.

Benefit #3 of being a saint:  You have a sense of your dignity and worth as a human person (because you know that Almighty God, the Creator of the universe, was willing to die for you and for your sins on a cross!).  Hence, you don’t have the self-image problem that plagues many serious sinners. 

Benefit #4 of being a saint: You have the right set of priorities, which is so crucial for successful living.  You know what’s really important, and what isn’t.

Benefit #5 of being a saint: You can identify spiritual poison!  In other words, you can identify those realities—those ideas, those attitudes, those friendships, etc.—that will harm your relationship with God as well as your relationships with others.  And, of course, if you can identify these realities that are spiritually poisonous, you can take the necessary steps to avoid them.

Benefit #6 of being a saint:  You have the ability to keep your problems in perspective, because you understand that no trial will last forever, and you know that your God is so powerful that he can bring good even out of your worst suffering.  As St. Paul said, “For those who love God all things work together for good.”

And finally, benefit #7 of being a saint: You have heaven waiting for you when you die—a place of happiness and joy beyond your wildest imagining; a place where, as St. John tells us in today’s second reading, we “will see [God] as he is”!  Once again, the words of St. Paul: “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered into the mind of man what God has prepared for those who love him.”

So there they are: 7 clear, practical benefits of being a saint.  (Someone needs to tell those fifth graders who took that survey!)  And the good news is: this is not an exhaustive list!  There are lots and lots of other benefits that I could have mentioned.  These, believe it or not, were the ones I thought of in about two or three minutes as I was preparing this homily!

Today in the Church we honor all those men and women who have received their eternal reward because they believed that resisting sin and striving for holiness each and every day was worth the effort.  They understood the benefits. 

May God help us to believe what these saints believed and to live like these saints lived—because they were right!

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Prayer That Presumes Too Much; Prayer That Presumes Too Little

"Oh God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity ..."


(Thirtieth Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on October 27, 2019 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Sirach 35:12-18; Psalm 34:2-23; 2 Timothy 4:6-18; Luke 18:9-14.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirtieth Sunday 2019]


Prayer that presumes too much.

Prayer that presumes too little.

Both are common—and both are wrong!

The Pharisee in today’s Gospel parable from Luke 18 presumed too much when he said, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.”

For example, he presumed that because he did “religious things” he was thereby pleasing to the Lord.  That was a rash presumption on his part!  You can perform religious actions from the time you get up until the time you go to bed and still be in the state of mortal sin; you can fast and pay tithes—as this man did—for all the wrong reasons. 

And since he gave no indication in his prayer that he was aware of his own need for forgiveness, this Pharisee may have presumed that God would automatically forgive him of his sins, since he was such a great Pharisee and performed all these wonderful, holy actions! 

To presume that God will forgive us whether or not we repent and confess our sins is perhaps the most dangerous presumption of all.  And it’s one that’s clearly condemned in Scripture.  As Sirach 5:5 says, “Of forgiveness be not overconfident, adding sin upon sin.”

This Pharisee also presumed to know those who were with God and those who were against God.  He thought he could clearly distinguish one group from the other.  In his mind, of course, he was in the good group, and all those “greedy, dishonest and adulterous” folks—like the tax collector—were in the other.  If we presume that we can clearly distinguish who is with God and who isn’t—who is in the state of grace and who isn’t—we are presuming to know the “heart” of another person, and that is impossible!  Only God knows the heart, which is why Jesus tells us in Luke 6:37 not to “judge.”  Judging, by the way, in this sense has nothing to do with calling sin “sin”: that we should do; that we must do!  But we can never know with absolute certitude how culpable another person is for the sins they commit.  The tone of his prayer indicates that this Pharisee thought he knew the “culpability level” of other people—and that was a prideful presumption on his part; that was an act of “judging.”

Here’s a challenging question: Has this type of presumption been present in any of your prayers since September 11, 2001?  Have you presumed to know the “culpability level” of Osama bin Laden and his terrorist friends, some of whom unfortunately are still around today?  Hopefully not.  We know that what terrorists do is evil; we know that what they do is to be condemned in the strongest terms; and we know that IF they’re fully culpable for their terrorist activities they’re in grave danger of losing their immortal souls.  But that’s as far as we can go in terms of our knowledge—and our prayers should humbly reflect that fact.  If they don’t, then we are no better than the Pharisee of this parable.

The prayer of the Pharisee is a prayer that presumes too much, and it’s wrong.  But equally wrong is the prayer that presumes too little.

The person who prays but thinks, “God really doesn’t love me”; the person who prays but says to himself, “What I’ve done is so horrible that God couldn’t possibly forgive me”; the person who prays but doesn’t believe God can change him for the better or supply his needs; the person who prays but doesn’t believe that God can work miracles; the person who prays but doesn’t think that God can heal his marriage or family; the person who prays but doesn’t think that God can help him to forgive others—these are all people who are presuming too little when they pray!  Because the fact is, God does love us; he does forgive; he can change us and supply our needs; he does work miracles; he does heal relationships, and he does have the power to help us forgive (after all, God the Son even forgave his own murderers!). 

Which brings us to a man who did presume all these things when he prayed: the tax collector in today’s Gospel parable.  His prayer, though extremely short, says and implies a lot: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”  This man knew his unworthiness, but he also believed strongly in God’s love and mercy: that’s clear from the words of the prayer.  He knew God could forgive him; he was convinced that God wanted to forgive him; and he believed God would forgive him if he turned to the Lord with a repentant heart.  And God did!  As Jesus said, this man—who presumed what he should have presumed—“went home justified”, while the Pharisee—who had presumed too much—did not.

The example to be followed here, my brothers and sisters, should be obvious.

Oh Lord, help us to be like this tax collector—always—whenever we come to you in prayer.