Friday, May 26, 2006

It’s Your Choice: You Can Be ‘Consecrated In Truth’ Or ‘Desecrated In Lies’

Is yours a place of 'desecration'?

(Seventh Sunday of Easter (B): This homily was given on May 28, 2006 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Acts 1:15-26; John 17: 11-19.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Seventh Sunday of Easter 2006]

A teenager from Westerly High wrote this on his blog a couple of weeks ago:

Yesterday, at school, I was sitting in my Health II class as a guest speaker was talking about different laws regarding sexual behavior. As he reviewed the three levels of sexual assault, he alerted the class to the fact that fornication is indeed illegal, and although an offender probably wouldn't get locked up for it, there would be consequences if his or her actions were brought to court. The room became dead silent, and a heartbeat after he had made this statement, a young woman raised her hand and asked, "I don't understand. I thought that the Catholic Church was the only religion that forbade sex before marriage. How can the government impose morals on us like that?" The speaker was equally confused at the question, "Uh... It's the law. It's there to protect you. Morality has nothing to do with it." This was followed by a string of disagreements from the rest of the class, and we literally could not progress with the conversation because everyone would keep coming back to this.

I have it on good authority that two devils from hell were listening in on this discussion when it took place the other day. And as they listened intently they also laughed—like hell (if you’ll pardon the expression).

One said to the other:

Can you believe how stupid these humans are? Our father, Satan, told us we’d have great success in clouding their thoughts and poisoning their minds, but he didn’t tell us it would be this easy! And what a job we’ve done with this young high school student! We should be so proud (and, of course, we are!). She’s listened to all the lies and propaganda we’ve thrown at her in her music, and through the mass media, and she’s bought the whole package—hook, line and sinker! So much so that she now actually thinks that our enemy’s Church is against sex. Isn’t that amazing? She doesn’t realize that our enemy was the one who invented sex in the first place! He’s the one that said to the first man and woman, “Be fruitful and multiply.”

She also thinks that our enemy’s Church is anti-American and anti-freedom. That’s awesome, because it ultimately will cause her to leave her faith in church and keep it out of her everyday life as an American citizen.

And as if all this wasn’t good enough, she’s even come to believe the lie which says that law and morality are mutually exclusive categories! How great is that?!!! She’s been so deluded by us that she can’t see the obvious truth that every good law—good, that is, from our enemy’s perspective—is rooted in a moral principle!

But perhaps our greatest victory today was with this guest speaker who came to talk to her class. After all, he was the adult who should have set them straight! But out of fear—out of a desire to be ‘politically correct’—he only made matters worse! In talking about the law, he merely reinforced the teenager’s error when he said, “Morality has nothing to do with it.”

That was music to our ears, was it not?

Our father in the eternal flames will be so pleased with us for what we’ve done in this little Rhode Island town today. Perhaps he will give us a big de-motion for our efforts!

Let’s hope so!

“Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed, saying: ‘Father . . . I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.’”

We heard those words in today’s Gospel text from John 17.

This incident at Westerly High provides a vivid illustration of WHY Jesus prayed that prayer to his heavenly Father on the night before he died: He knew how prevalent the lies would be! He knew that the lies which can undermine faith and destroy virtue—and ultimately lead people to hell—are literally all around us! As we all know, the kind of interaction that took place in that classroom the other day on Ward Avenue also takes place on a daily basis in many other locations.

In his prayer in John 17, Jesus indicates that if we want to be kept from the evil one (in other words, if we want to be protected from his lies and evil promptings), we must be consecrated in the truth of the Gospel. In other words, we must know the truth, and believe the truth, and live the truth—by the grace of our Baptism. And that makes perfect sense, does it not? If we know and believe and live the Gospel message, we will be holy. And that holiness will keep us out of hell and get us into heaven when we leave this life!

But how do we know the truth? How do we know that what we’re hearing is the Gospel message in its fullness?

The simple answer is that we know the truth of the Gospel through the power of the Holy Spirit, and with the assistance of the magisterium of the Church. The magisterium is the teaching authority that JESUS established in his spiritual family. It consists of the pope and the bishops in union with him. When they teach as a body either in a council document or in some other official proclamation concerning faith and morals, they teach with the authority of Jesus Christ himself (which means that we’d better take what they say seriously!).

In this regard, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that today’s first reading was about the choosing of Matthias. That, I would say, was definitely arranged by the Holy Spirit. Matthias was the man who was chosen by God to replace Judas Iscariot as one of the 12 apostles, after Judas had committed suicide.

At one point in this scene St. Peter stands up and quotes a line from the book of Psalms (“May another take his office”), indicating that an office—that is to say, an official position in the Church’s magisterium—was vacant, and it needed to be filled as soon as possible, so that the truth in its fullness could be proclaimed as God wanted it proclaimed.

When Jesus indicates in John 17 that a person needs to be consecrated in truth in order to be protected from the evil one, he talking about the truth that would soon be taught by St. Matthias, and St. Peter, and the other 10 apostles—and by their modern-day successors, the bishops!

We find their teaching summarized, incidentally, in that book known as The Catechism of the Catholic Church. How often do you consult that most important reference book of Catholic teaching? Do you ever consult it?

The thought occurred to me as I was preparing this homily: Wouldn’t it be great if Catholics were as excited about reading the Catechism as many of them are about reading The DaVinci Code?

In The DaVinci Code they read lie after lie and they can’t get enough of it; in the Catechism they get the pure, unadulterated truth, and they want nothing to do with it.

How tragic—and how revealing!

When I read that story on that teenager’s blog the other day, I realized that all of us, young and not-so-young, face a very simple but challenging choice throughout our lives: We can choose either to be consecrated in truth by following the Church’s magisterium, or we can choose to be desecrated in lies by listening to the world.

Consecrated in truth or desecrated in lies.

Jesus wants us to choose the first—he prayed for that on the night before he died. The two little devils from hell and their diabolical father want us to choose the second.

By the grace of God may we all choose “consecration” and not “desecration”—today and every day.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The ‘Love’ That Red Sox Fans Had For Johnny Damon, Compared To The Love That Jesus Christ Has For Us

Johnny Damon, in the days when he was "loved" by Red Sox fans.

(Sixth Sunday of Easter (B): This homily was given on May 21, 2006 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read 1 John 4: 7-10; John 15: 9-17.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Sixth Sunday of Easter 2006]

On the evening of May 1, 2006, the signs said it all: “Traitor”; “Judas”; “$ellout” (with a money sign replacing the “S”); “Johnny Demon”.

For die-hard Red Sox fans, no further explanation is necessary. They know I’m referring to center fielder Johnny Damon’s return to Fenway Park, as a member of the arch-enemy New York Yankees.

To put it mildly, the ex-Red Sox player did not get a very warm reception in Beantown. As Damon later said during a newspaper interview, “It was vicious, pretty vicious.”

Oh, what a difference 19 months make!

Back then, in October of 2004, you would have been hard pressed to find a Red Sox fan anywhere who didn’t say that he or she “loved” Johnny Damon! Everyone loved his attitude in the clubhouse; everyone loved the intensity with which he played; and, of course, many female fans also loved him for his hair and looks.

But all that changed on December 21, 2005, when he signed a four-year, 52 million dollar contract with the Yankees. Before the ink had even dried on the paper, Mr. Damon had become persona non grata, numero uno! He had become a combination of Benedict Arnold and Judas Iscariot to nearly every Red Sox fan—even though most of them would have done the very same thing if they had been in his shoes.

And I will admit it—I also jumped on the anti-Johnny bandwagon. Just ask Tom Alfiero, who works out with me most afternoons at the gym. I gave him an earful on the subject many times this past winter.

Which leads to a very interesting question: What kind of love was it? What kind of love did Red Sox fans actually have for Johnny Damon?

Probably the same kind of love that New York Yankee fans have for him right now!—which is definitely not the type of love that Jesus and St. John are talking about in today’s Scripture readings!

The love that fans have for their sports heroes is normally a “worldly” kind of love. That is to say, it’s conditional and without much substance. It’s the kind of love that says, “I want what’s good for you, as long as you give me what I want. If you make me happy and respond to my needs, then I want what’s best for you. If you don’t make me happy and respond to my needs, then I’ve got no use for you. Get out of my sight.”

Worldly love causes us to treat other human beings as objects: if they’re useful to us, we respond to them in a positive way; if they aren’t useful to us or displease us in some fashion, we reject them.

It’s as simple—and as cold-hearted—as that.

Like it or not, this is how most Red Sox fans “loved” Johnny Damon.

Now you might say, “But what’s the big deal, Fr. Ray? It’s only sports. It’s just a game. No one really takes it seriously.”

Perhaps. But here’s the deeper problem: This kind of love is not only found in the world of sports!

It’s also present in families and marriages and friendships—and in countless other interpersonal relationships.

And this is very easy to demonstrate. . . .

Let me ask you this simple question: Have you ever felt “used”? Have you ever come to the sad and perhaps shocking realization that somebody who said they really cared about you was just using you for their own selfish purposes: for their sexual pleasure; to get your money; to climb the corporate ladder; to get a special favor?

It happens all the time.

This is one reason why it’s so important that we know Jesus Christ and have a personal relationship with him.

We need a relationship with Jesus, because we all need a love in our lives that will never fail (even when we do!); we need a love in our lives that is constant and perfect—even when we’re not perfect.

Some people try to find this kind of love exclusively in other human beings: in their boyfriend or girlfriend; in their spouse; in their child; or in someone else close to them.

But that’s a big mistake, because all these other people are imperfect! They’re sinners. And so from time to time even the best of them will fail us, and love us with a worldly type of love.

Can you imagine if Johnny Damon had made the fatal error of basing his happiness and self-worth on the worldly love he received from Red Sox fans during his years in Boston?

If he had made that mistake, he might have had a nervous breakdown on the evening of May 1 when he came to bat for the first time!

In today’s Gospel text from John 15 Jesus says, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.” The Father’s love for Jesus, his only-begotten Son was—and isconstant and perfect. It doesn’t change with the weather or with the passage of time.

Jesus says to each and every one of us, “I love you like that—and I always will. No one else on earth—not your spouse, or your father, or your mother or your best friend—loves you in that same way.”

And the one sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is the permanent and ever-effective sign of his perfect love for us. As he said in that same Gospel passage, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

St. John says pretty much the same thing in today’s second reading when he writes, “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an expiation for our sins.”

Deacon Fran gave a beautiful homily last weekend in which he spoke about the patient and merciful and self-sacrificial love of his mother, Antoinette. A couple of times during the talk he was moved to tears.

That’s because he saw a reflection of this type of love in her. Her love was like Christ’s in many ways. But as great as it was, it was only an imperfect reflection of the Lord’s perfect, unconditional, unchanging love.

And incidentally, the only reason Antoinette Valliere was able to do what she did—the only reason she was able to reflect the love of Christ to Fran and his brothers—is because her life was centered on the Lord. She knew Jesus, and had a living, personal relationship with him.

It wasn’t because she had “good luck” or “good genes”!

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, help me to know you; and help me to know and understand—and experience—your perfect love.

That’s a prayer we should all say at this Mass—and every day.

And so should Johnny Damon—especially if he ever gets traded by the Yankees and then has to go back to New York to face the fans at Yankee Stadium!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Jesus: He Was Not Like Anyone Else!

Audrey Tautou and Tom Hanks in the soon-to-be-released movie, The DaVinci Code.

(Fourth Sunday of Easter (B): This homily was given on May 7, 2006 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Acts 4: 8-12; 1 John 3: 1-2; John 10: 11-18.)

[For the audio version of this homily click here: Fourth Sunday of Easter 2006]

Jesus was not like everyone else.

In fact, Jesus was not like anyone else!

He was absolutely, positively unique: a divine person with both a divine and a human nature.

If this is what you believe—if you accept this fundamental truth of the faith and say Amen to it—then you are a Christian (at least on this particular point of theology!). In essence, you believe and profess exactly what St. Peter, St. Paul and all the great Fathers of the Church believed and professed centuries ago.

If, on the other hand, you don’t accept this basic truth about our Lord, you will probably end up doing what many people have done during the last 2,000 years: you will fabricate for yourself a Jesus who is just like everyone else! That is to say, you will create for yourself a false Christ who thinks and who acts just like an ordinary human person. He will sin; he will have base desires affected by concupiscence, like we all do; he will even get married and have children (because we all know that only weirdoes remain celibate throughout their lives!).

In a word, you will create a Jesus much like the one Dan Brown has created for the world in his novel, The DaVinci Code.

What amuses me about his book—and about the upcoming movie that’s based on it—is that so many gullible people (especially in the media) are acting as if Brown’s assertions are “brand new discoveries” about Jesus and Mary Magdalene and the Catholic Church.

Not quite.

Brown gets most of his so-called “historical information” from other authors who have a very definite agenda: that agenda being the destruction of the Catholic Church and true Christianity, and the promotion of Gnosticism, radical feminism and pagan goddess worship.

Interestingly enough, Brown actually cites some of these authors—like Elaine Pagels and Margaret Starbird—within the text of his novel.

At least he’s honest about his sources—even if he isn’t honest about much else.

Like Pagels and Starbird, Dan Brown desperately wants to undermine the true faith—and the Church that teaches it with the authority of the divine Jesus Christ. That’s his goal. To attain it, he attempts to discredit Jesus: the real Jesus—the Jesus of the New Testament—the Jesus that we and other Christians have believed in for over 2,000 years.

His most ridiculous and most harmful assertion, incidentally, is not that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and fathered children by her (as bad as that might be). Rather, his most ridiculous and vicious lie is that in 325 A.D. the Church “made” Jesus into something he was not.

According to Brown, in the year 325 the bishops at the Council of Nicaea, after being pressured by the Roman Emperor Constantine, decided to declare Jesus “God”—even though everyone else at the time knew that Jesus was an ordinary human person who was just like everybody else.

So I guess St. Thomas was wrong when he said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20: 28)

I guess St. John was wrong when he said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

I guess St. Paul was wrong when he said, “In [Christ] the fullness of deity resides in bodily form.” (Colossians 2:9)

And I guess even Jesus was wrong when he said, “The Father and I are one.” (John 10: 30)

Sorry, Dan, but these passages of the Bible were written long before 325 A.D., and all of them clearly affirm Jesus’ divinity. Like it or not, he was—and he is—God: the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity who took on human flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary!

Dan Brown’s problem is that he doesn’t know his history—or perhaps he just doesn’t care to know his history. The Council of Nicaea, for example, did not conjure up the idea that Jesus was divine. It did nothing of the sort. Rather, the Council of Nicaea DEFENDED the truth that Jesus was divine against the heretic Arius and his followers who were publicly proclaiming that Jesus was not equal to the heavenly Father! For Arius, Jesus was a created being, and not the only begotten Son of God.

Notice how all of our Scripture readings today affirm the uniqueness of Jesus. Dan Brown would definitely not be pleased! For example, in our first reading from Acts 4 St. Peter says, “There is no salvation through anyone else [but Jesus], nor is there any other name given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”

Jesus saves us. But the only reason he is able to save us is because he’s divine! This is the truth that stands behind Peter’s words in this passage. Sorry once again, Dan, but no human person could save the entire world from sin and eternal death, because no human person could do anything which has infinite value! But since Jesus was a divine person, his actions did have infinite value! Thus his one sacrifice on the cross could—and did!—pay the price for every sin that would be committed in human history: from the sin of our first parents, to the final sin that will be committed just before the end of the world.

In our second reading from 1 John 3, the apostle says that “the reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him [that is to say, Jesus].” Only by the grace of God did men and women recognize Jesus for who he really was—the divine Son of God. Worldly people like Herod, Pilate and most of the scribes and Pharisees did not. To them, he was just like everyone else.

And then we have this beautiful Gospel text from John 10 where Jesus calls himself “the good shepherd”. In one of his writings Pope Benedict XVI has noted that it was fairly typical for kings back in the first century to refer to themselves as “shepherds”. But they usually did it with a tone of cynicism! In their minds they were the powerful shepherds, while the people they ruled were just lowly, mindless sheep that they could abuse and even kill if they wanted to.

And so, once again, in this passage from John 10, the uniqueness of Jesus is affirmed. You see, by calling himself “the good shepherd,” Jesus was saying, “Be clear about it, I am not like those earthly rulers who treat you like disposable objects; I am not like the kings of this world. I’m different! I don’t abuse and kill my subjects: I die for them! The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. That’s who I am—and that’s what I do.”

Many people, sadly, will go to see The DaVinci Code when it opens in theaters in a few days, and they will be tricked into believing in a false Jesus who will do absolutely nothing for them—aside from making them complacent in their sin.

Quite frankly, you can have that Jesus. I want nothing to do with him! Give me the real one—the unique one—the one spoken about in these 3 Scripture readings; the one in whose name I can be saved; the one who has the power to rescue me from the eternal consequences of my sins; the one who loves me with an eternal love, and who died for me like a good shepherd.

That’s the only Jesus I want, because it’s the Jesus I need!

So do you.

And so does Mr. Dan Brown.

By the grace of God, may he someday realize that.

Friday, May 05, 2006

A Special Anniversary Celebration

On Friday, May 5, a special celebration took place at the Westerly Nursing Home.
During our monthly First Friday Mass, Al and Lena Trebisacci renewed their wedding vows.
It was their 60th wedding anniversary!
Lena is now a permanent resident of the nursing home. Al, known affectionately as "Farmer," opened St. Pius X Church every morning for many years. His act of faithful service allowed the priests of the parish to have a few extra minutes of sleep each day.
Praise God!
Here are some pictures from the Mass and from the reception which followed.
A special thank you goes out to the members of our Legion of Mary, who helped to co-ordinate the event.
(Remember to click on images to enlarge.)