Sunday, August 31, 2003

Judge Roy Moore, The Ten Commandments, And The Current State Of Our Nation

(Twenty-Second Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on August 31, 2003 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Deuteronomy 4: 1-2, 6-8; James 1: 17-27; Mark 7: 1-23.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-second Sunday 2003]

I e-mailed several friends the other day, asking them to sign an on-line petition in support of Judge Roy Moore, the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.

Now I’m sure many of you already know the story, but for the few who might not: In the year 2000, right after he was elected chief justice, Judge Moore had a two-ton granite monument placed in the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial building—which immediately caused people in the ACLU and other such groups to experience cardiac arrest! Why? Because the Ten Commandments were on it! Oh, how terrible! What a crime! God forbid we should have a monument on display in a courthouse of the United States of America which says on it, “Do not kill,” “Do not steal” and “Do not bear false witness”!!!

Maybe they’d be happy if it said, “Please kill, rob, and perjure yourselves as much as possible!”

Well, all too predictably, on August 5, a federal judge ordered Judge Moore to remove the monument within 15 days. Thank God he refused! But, unfortunately, that didn’t stop them from taking it out of the rotunda last Wednesday.

As I said a few moments ago, I e-mailed several friends earlier in the week asking them to support Judge Moore by signing an on-line petition, which was prepared by the American Family Association. Well, one of the women to whom I sent this e-mail proceeded to send it out to several of her friends. One of these friends (who, I later found out, is a professor at URI) wrote the following back to her—and to me:

“I would hope that the American Family Association would have more respect for the Bill of Rights and for the fact that religion has always been corrupted when it has received the kind of state support that is endorsed in this petition. I wouldn't want to live in Roy Moore's kind of America. Have a nice day. [Signed] Al.”

Once my blood pressure returned to normal, I wrote this back to Al:


I have a few questions for you:

Should they also remove two of the beautiful paintings which currently hang in the rotunda of the Capitol building in Washington D.C.? One of those paintings is entitled “The Baptism of Pocahontas" (Baptism, of course, is a Christian sacrament!); the other is “The Embarkation of the Pilgrims," in which Elder William Brewster is pictured holding the Bible!

Also, should they remove some of the 23 relief portraits which now hang above the gallery doors in the chambers of the United States’ House of Representatives? After all, some of these noted lawgivers were religious people (like Moses, and Pope Innocent III).

And how about the Lincoln Memorial? We should probably tear that down because Lincoln's second inaugural address is carved into its walls—and in that speech he makes several references to God and God's judgment!

Now I could have gone on with Al, but I didn’t need to.

Our founding fathers believed that religion had a very important role to play in the public life of this nation (and yes, they believed in the Ten Commandments!)—that’s why those paintings are in the capitol rotunda, and those relief portraits are in the House chambers, and why Lincoln had no problem making references to God and God’s moral law in his speeches!

The problem is there are now too many people in this country who believe something very different. They want, in effect, to create an atheistic, amoral America—a country where religion (especially Christianity) is marginalized, and where religious people are, for all practical purposes, censored! And too many Christians are just sitting back and allowing it to happen!

How providential it is that we have these 3 Scripture readings today. In the first, from Deuteronomy 4, Moses tells the people of Israel to faithfully observe God’s commandments. (And that includes the Ten Commandments!) He promises that their obedience will bring them many blessings, and will even make them a light to other nations. He says, “Observe [these commands] carefully, for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations, who will hear of all these statutes and say, ‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’”

America, please take note of these words of Moses! One of the reasons that people in other countries—especially Muslim countries—hate the United States today is because of the immorality that our country tolerates and then tries to export (through pornography, contraception, abortion, and the like). People in these nations look at us, and, instead of commending us for our obedience and intelligence, they say, “These Americans are infidels. They are corrupt and depraved, and so they must be destroyed—before they corrupt us.”

If America would only take heed of these words of Moses and become a faithful nation obedient to the Lord’s commandments, our relations with the Muslim world would greatly improve. I’m absolutely convinced of that.

But, unfortunately, we have too many men and women in positions of authority right now who are just like the Pharisees. Once again, in today’s Gospel text from Mark 7, Jesus gives these religious leaders a piece of his mind—a very large piece of his mind! And why did Jesus do it? Because they were rationalizing away God’s commandments! Jesus says to them, “You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” You see, instead of using their intelligence to encourage others to obey the Lord, these Pharisees did their best to come up with clever ways for people to disobey God with a “clear conscience.”

Sounds a lot like some liberal Catholic priests and some liberal Catholic politicians I know of!

St. James says to us today: “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.” When it becomes a crime to display the Ten Commandments in a public building, then it’s clear to me that not enough Americans are interested in “doing the word” (that is to say, in being obedient to the moral law of God). Judge Roy Moore wants that to change, and so do I! For the sake of our nation’s future, I hope—and I pray!—that you do as well.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

A Teenager’s Lesson On Receiving The Holy Eucharist

(Twentieth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on August 17, 2003 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read John 6: 51-58.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twentieth Sunday 2003]

If we believe the words of Jesus in this Gospel text we just heard from John 6—words that indicate his Real Presence in the Eucharist—then we won’t be surprised by the content of the following letter, which was written by a teenager who attended one of the Steubenville Youth Conferences a few years ago:

“Something awesome happened to me at my Steubenville weekend. Like many other people, it happened during Eucharistic adoration because that’s when I was thinking the hardest about Jesus. When the priest came with the monstrance to where I was sitting, I was taken by God. I started praying while a million thoughts raced through my mind. The best thing was that I had gone to reconciliation just before adoration, so I felt truly pure.

I waited for God to take all that I was, and he did. I felt so different after I surrendered to him. It was the best feeling in the world. I opened my heart, and he came right in. I never want him to leave. I also have been telling people that I made a new best friend. It was Jesus. He took over everything, and I really talk to him. He is my best friend forever.”

This was the experience of a young person who was simply in the presence of Jesus during a period of Eucharistic adoration. Just think how many more graces are available to him—and to the rest of us—whenever we actually receive the Lord’s Body and Blood at Mass!

And yet, we don’t always have such a conscious, direct awareness of the Lord’s presence in the Eucharist, do we?—even when we receive him in the Blessed Sacrament.

And that’s a real concern for some people. As one teenager said to me after Saturday night adoration at Steubenville East this year: “This is so great!—but why don’t I have these feelings back home when I pray or go to church?”

Well, the first answer to that question is that God doesn’t give us “special feelings” all the time because he wants us to walk by faith and not by our emotions. Following your emotions is a dangerous way to go through life.

Secondly, the graces we receive from the Eucharist are not usually evident to our senses—thus we shouldn’t expect to have marvelous feelings every time we receive. Remember when Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments? The Bible says that his face was radiant after having communed with God on that mountain. But the amazing thing is: he had no awareness of it! He was a “human light bulb,” but he didn’t realize it.

Just as Moses wasn’t aware of all the graces he had received from communing with the Lord, so we aren’t fully aware of all the graces which come to us when we receive the Lord in the Holy Eucharist.

What matters most is that we are open to these graces, and allow them to bear good fruit in our lives. That’s much more important than how we “feel.” And here we can learn an important lesson from this transformed teenager. His life was different after simply being in the Lord’s presence during adoration, but this transformation he experienced wasn’t a coincidence. It happened, I would say, for 3 reasons which are clearly evident in his letter:

  1. His mind was focused on Jesus. He said that he’s convinced he had this experience of the Lord’s presence in the Blessed Sacrament because “that’s when I was thinking the hardest about Jesus.”
  2. His heart was filled with expectant faith. He believed Jesus was there, and he was convinced Jesus was going to touch his life in some way that night.
  3. His soul was in the state of grace (at least from all external indications). As he put it, “The best thing was that I had gone to reconciliation just before adoration, so I felt truly pure.”

If our reception of the Holy Eucharist at Mass is not bearing much good fruit in our life at the present time, perhaps we can find the reason right here. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because our mind isn’t focused on Jesus, as this teenager’s was. He was thinking hard about the Lord at adoration. What are we thinking about when we come to Mass? There are lots of possibilities, aren’t there?

Or maybe it’s because we aren’t coming to the Liturgy with expectant faith. This teen expected to meet Jesus on Saturday night at Steubenville. Do we expect to meet Jesus in word—and especially in sacrament—whenever we attend Mass? Or do we simply come out of habit or obligation?

Or perhaps it’s because we’re not in the state of grace when we come to worship—which means we need to get to Confession. This young man believed that his openness was directly related to his repentance—and he was absolutely correct! If he had had serious, unrepented sin on his soul, I’m convinced that his experience at adoration that night would have been a lot different—and a lot less powerful!

This means that before every Mass it would be good for us to go through a little mind, heart, and soul “check.” Is my mind focused on Jesus? Is my heart filled with expectant faith, and is my soul in the state of grace?

If the answer is “yes” in each case, then we still may not have a big, emotional experience when we come to Communion that day, but, in all likelihood, the graces we receive from the Eucharist on that occasion will bear good fruit in our life—and that is far more important.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

The Holy Eucharist and Eternal Life

(Nineteenth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on August 10, 2003 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read John 6: 41-51.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Nineteenth Sunday 2003]

We know what Jesus said, but what exactly did he mean?

Here’s what he said: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

Jesus appears to be saying that whoever receives the Eucharist (even once) will definitely go to heaven—as if receiving Holy Communion guarantees a person’s eternal salvation.

Is that what he meant?

Well, to answer that question, we need to think of the natural food we eat every day, because there’s always a parallel between the natural and the spiritual. (God has designed the universe in this way: by means of the natural world he gives us insights into spiritual realities like the Eucharist.)

Consider, now, the natural food we eat at breakfast, lunch and dinner. For that food to nourish us in the way that it’s supposed to, certain conditions must be met. First of all, the quality of the food has got to be good: spoiled food can make you seriously ill. (Some of us, I’m sure, know this from our own experience! We’ve been in the emergency room at some point in the past because we ate something that we shouldn’t have.)

But that’s only half the story. Even if a plate of fresh, well-prepared, gourmet food is set before us at a given meal, it will still not have its proper physical effect in us if our personal health is bad.

This is also easy to illustrate: Most of us have had the very unpleasant experience of getting sick and then losing our desire to eat. All of a sudden, our appetite is gone. The foods we normally love become distasteful to us. And if we try to “force them down,” so to speak, our body may actually reject them. (I don’t think I need to go into greater detail on that point. You know exactly what I mean!)

So, on the natural level, if food is to nourish us, it must be good and our physical health must be good.

Well, not surprisingly, a parallel truth applies on the spiritual level. Simply put, if we are to receive spiritual nourishment from something, the spiritual food we are consuming must be good, and the health of our soul must be good.

And this is the key point, which will help us to make sense of what Jesus says in this text concerning the connection between the Eucharist and eternal life.

Now with respect to the Blessed Sacrament, there can be no question about the quality of this spiritual food: it’s the best—the very best—since it’s the Lord’s own Body and Blood.

But if our soul is not in good health—that is to say, if we have committed a mortal sin, and not brought it to Confession yet (a sin like missing Sunday Mass, or an act of sexual impurity)—then the Eucharist will not have the spiritual effect that it’s supposed to have in us! When we’re physically sick, our bodies can’t process good, natural food properly; and when we’re spiritually sick, our souls can’t “process” the Eucharist properly.

This is why St. Paul told the Corinthians to examine themselves before they came to Communion. He wanted them to receive strength, comfort, peace—and eternal life!—from the Body and Blood of the Lord. But he knew that that wouldn’t happen, if the Corinthians were in the state of mortal sin. They would commit a sacrilege instead.

So obviously there’s an implicit condition present in those words of Jesus we heard a few moments ago: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

The condition? To be in the state of grace! Eternal life comes by receiving the Eucharist, yes—but only when a person receives it worthily.

Personally, I can’t think of a better reason to go to Confession often!

Sunday, August 03, 2003

St. Paul: The Pagan Life Begins In the Mind!

(Eighteenth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on August 3, 2003 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Ephesians 4: 17-24.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Eighteenth Sunday 2003]

Our second reading today was taken from Ephesians, chapter 4. There St. Paul writes these very important words: “Brothers and sisters, I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do [in other words, as the pagans do], in the futility of their minds; darkened in understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance, because of their hardness of heart.”

As Fr. Francis Martin and others have rightly pointed out, St. Paul is telling us here that the pagan life actually begins in the mind: it begins, in other words, with how a person thinks—not with how a person acts. Of course, if a person does think like a pagan—that is, like an unbeliever—then he will certainly end up living like an unbeliever. (St. Paul also makes that clear in this chapter.)

Now I hope you realize what all this means, my brothers and sisters: it means that it’s possible for a baptized, professed Christian to be a pagan at heart. Oh yes, the person’s name may be in the baptismal register at the local parish rectory—he may even come to Mass every Sunday—but on the practical level he will be no different from those who do not know the Lord, because his thoughts will be guided and shaped by the world and not by the Word of God.

Let me give you a few concrete examples now of how a contemporary pagan (baptized or unbaptized) thinks, and how a true Christian thinks.

A pagan (baptized or unbaptized) says, “It’s my body, and I’ll do what I want with it.”

A true Christian says, “My body is a gift from God. As St. Paul tells me in 1 Corinthians 6, ‘You must know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is within. . . . So glorify God in your body.’ And that’s what I try to do.”

A pagan says, “It’s free speech.” (He usually says this to try to justify immorality or blasphemy in what he watches or listens to.)

A Christian says, “I will use my gift of freedom to do what’s right and to pursue what’s good. As St. Peter tells me in his first letter, ‘Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cloak for vice.’”

A pagan says, “Homosexuality is not immoral, and anyone who says that it is is a homophobe! Homosexuality is simply an alternative lifestyle.”

A Christian says, “Homosexual activity is contrary to the natural law and the teaching of Scripture. As it says in Leviticus 18, ‘You shall not lie with a man as with a woman; such a thing is an abomination.’ But even though I hate this sin, I love and respect the sinner as a person created in God’s image and likeness—although I will never support his sin in any way. I love and respect him too much to do that.”

A pagan—specifically a baptized one—says, “I am a Catholic, but I don’t accept all the official teachings of the Church.”

A Christian—specifically a Catholic Christian—says, “I am a Catholic, and I accept everything the Church authoritatively teaches as revealed by God. I accept these teachings, because the voice of the Church is the voice of Christ on earth, and Jesus Christ is the Truth! To reject the Church’s teaching is ultimately to reject Christ himself. And I always remember what Jesus said, ‘Whoever disowns me before men, I will disown before my Father in heaven.’” (Mt. 10: 33)

Now I could go on with many other examples, but I don’t think that’s necessary. Concerning the ones I just shared, let me ask you: Did you identify more with the pagan or with the Christian? Whose words would be more likely to come out of your mouth in casual conversation with family or friends?

Answering those questions, my brothers and sisters, will help you to determine where your thoughts are at right now—whether they’re with the Lord, or with the pagan world. And knowing where your thoughts are at, will help to determine where your soul is at—in other words, whether your soul is currently in the state of grace and “on the road” to eternal life.

Let us pray at this Mass that all our thoughts will get “with the Lord”—and remain with the Lord—so that we will live the faith we profess, and so that our souls will be saved on the Day of Judgment.