Thursday, September 21, 2006

Deal With It—Or It Will Deal With You!

Wilfred, Emily, Paula, and Wilfred, Jr. at the end of the evening.

(Twenty-fifth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on September 24, 2006 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Wisdom 2:12, 17-20; James 3:16-4:3; Mark 9:30-37.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-fifth Sunday 2006]

Deal with it—or it will deal with you!

This truth was illustrated in a powerful way in an old Twilight Zone episode called, “The Masks.” It’s the story of a wealthy old man named Jason Foster, who’s sick and very close to death. On the night he knows he’ll die he calls in his 4 heirs: Wilfred, Emily, Paula and Wilfred, Jr.

When they first arrive on the scene, they pretend to be sad and upset that Jason’s about to leave them. They do their best to put on a good act. But Jason isn’t fooled, and he tells them so. He says that he knows how they really feel deep down inside: they can’t wait for him to “kick the bucket”, so to speak, so that they can take his money and property and divide it among themselves.

Then he tells them that they will soon have their wish fulfilled. His estate will indeed be theirs within a very short period of time—but only on one condition: they must all wear masks over their faces and not take them off until midnight that evening.

But these aren’t ordinary Halloween masks: Jason has had them specially made for his 4 relatives. Each has been designed to match some aspect the character of the relative who would put it on. The first, for example, has the expression of a selfish miser; the second has the expression of a coward; the third has the face of a vain person; and the fourth the look of a sadist. (As you might imagine, these were very UGLY masks!)

Many hours go by; the 4 heirs complain about the masks as they become more and more uncomfortable to wear. But they do manage to keep them on, until, at last, the clock strikes midnight.

At that moment, Jason dies; he passes away in their presence. And they rejoice! Now at long last they’ll have what they want. But not so fast! In a typical “Twilight Zone twist”, they end up paying a very big “price” for their inheritance. When they take off their masks, they suddenly discover that their faces have been disfigured—permanently disfigured. Each of them has taken on the ugly, grotesque image of the mask they had been wearing.

Deal with it—or it will deal with you.

In this Twilight Zone episode, Rod Serling was trying to help us understand that whatever is inside of a person—good or bad—will eventually come out, and be revealed to others. If our heart is filled with faith, hope, and charity, for example, that fact will eventually become clear to those we live with and work with and interact with every day. And they will be greatly blessed in the process—through our loving words and actions!

If, on the other hand, we have unresolved anger, or unforgiveness, or some other negative attitude inside of us—like the 4 heirs in this story did—that fact will also become evident to those around us at some point in time. And they will not be blessed in the process! Quite oppositely, they’ll be forced to cope with our uncharitable actions and our uncharitable words!

And so we have to deal with it! Whenever necessary, we have to deal with the negative attitude or emotion—or temptation—that we find in our heart, or it will deal with us by leading us into sin.

Deal with it—or it will deal with you.

Providentially, all 3 of our Scripture readings today make this point for us, although in slightly different ways.

In our first reading we hear a prophetic text from the Book of Wisdom, chapter 2: a text that was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, about a hundred years after it was written. It was fulfilled, of course, during Holy Week. The passage speaks of an innocent man who was persecuted and eventually killed by his enemies.


Because they were filled with anger and envy and they didn’t deal with it! They’re quoted as saying, “Let us beset the just one because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training.”

They failed to deal with their envy and anger, and so it “dealt with them”—by leading them to kill an innocent human being. As they say toward the end of the text, “Let us condemn him to a shameful death.”

This passage, sad to say, could easily have been written about modern-day terrorists. Terrorists are filled with rage and very often they’re also filled with envy—and they don’t deal with any of it. Nor do they care to! So it deals with them—and the rest of the world suffers the consequences.

St. James said it perfectly, did he not, in this passage from chapters 3 and 4 of his letter? He writes, “Beloved: Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. . . . Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members?”

His implicit message there is simple: Deal with it; deal with whatever disordered passion is making war within your members—or it will most certainly deal with you!

(This, incidentally, is one reason why it’s a good idea to go to Confession regularly—even if you don’t have any mortal sins on your soul!)

And this disordered passion that St. James speaks about can be something as common—and as subtle—as pride! In today’s Gospel text from Mark 9 Jesus confronts his 12 apostles about an argument they had been having among themselves on their journey to Capernaum. He says to them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” (He already knew, of course; he just said that to test their response!) It turns out they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest—“Numero Uno”—the “Big Cheese” of the apostolic group!

That was the substance of their quarrel. But the argument didn’t just “happen”! It had a root cause: pride! Each of these men had sinful pride within him, and each of these men failed to deal with it through repentance. Consequently pride “dealt with them”—by leading them into a verbal battle-royal that could have permanently destroyed the relationship they had with one another.

If you need any further proof that dealing with our disordered passions is extremely important, all you need to do is think of the recent actions of some Muslims who were deeply upset at what Pope Benedict said at the University of Regensburg on September 12. These extremists burned the pope in effigy, shot a Catholic nun, and firebombed 7 churches in the West Bank (to mention but a few of their evil activities). But this really shouldn’t surprise us. This is what we should expect from those who refuse to deal with their anger in a constructive way.

And they want us to call their religion “the religion of peace”? Be clear about it: actions like theirs do not lead to peace.

So if you’re feeling some unjustified anger in your heart right now, please deal with it! (Ask the Lord for that grace when you receive him today in the Eucharist.) Or know that it will deal with you.

By the same token, if you’re experiencing some other “disordered passion” now or in the future: the temptation to be lustful, or envious, or gluttonous, or greedy, or slothful, or prideful—make a resolution today to deal with it as soon as you recognize it. Or understand that it will deal with you.

This is the simple and clear warning that God gives us today through his holy word.

He gives it to us because he loves us and wants us to be happy.

May he also give us the grace to take it seriously.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Pope Benedict: A Man Of Faith AND Reason!

(The following is the text of a letter which I sent to several local newspapers.)

Pope Benedict XVI’s recent remarks to scientists at the University of Regensburg (where he was a professor and vice rector from 1969-1971), have been taken out of context and used to inflame already tense relations between Muslims and Christians around the world.

First of all, I would encourage everyone to read the Holy Father’s remarks in toto. They are available at, in the archives for September 12.

Interestingly, the pope in his address was far more critical of certain historical trends in Christianity than he was of similar trends in Islam. Regarding the latter, he quoted from a late 14th century conversation that took place between an erudite Byzantine emperor (Manuel II Paleologus), and an educated Persian of the Muslim faith. In his discussion, the emperor was trying to make the point that forced conversions to any religion are contrary to right reason and hence to the very nature of God himself. This was the context of the quote that has caused all the uproar in recent days. As the pope rightly noted, in making his appeal for mutual respect, the emperor was certainly aware of the statement found in the Koran (Sura 2:256): “Let there be no compulsion in Religion.”

The Holy Father’s main message is that reason and faith must work together and be joined together if there is to be a genuine dialogue between the various cultures of the world that will result in lasting peace.

Many Muslims and Christians would wholeheartedly agree.

This foundational point has been lost in all the media “hype” surrounding the pope’s address. And that’s tragic, because we have all experienced firsthand the evils that can result when faith and reason are taken to be mutually exclusive categories.

It is not “reasonable,” for example, to blow up innocent men and women in a city square. Nor is it “reasonable” to set off a bomb in an abortion clinic in order to kill everyone inside. But if faith is severed from reason, then such horrific actions can easily be justified by declaring: “It’s God’s will.” On the other hand, if reason is severed from faith, atrocities of a similar nature can be rationalized by appealing to “expert opinion”.

Faith disconnected from all rationality leads to horrific events like the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Reason disconnected from any reference to God and his moral law leads to atrocities like those experienced in the death camps of Auschwitz and the gulags of the old Soviet Union.

The Holy Father has invited everyone to a fruitful dialogue which is rooted in faith and reason—a true “dialogue of cultures” that will result in a better world for us all. It’s my personal prayer that we will all have the good sense to accept it.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Three Lessons I’ve Learned From Fr. Francis J. Giudice

(This homily was given on September 17, 2006, at Immaculate Conception Church, Westerly, R.I., at a Mass celebrating Fr. Francis J. Giudice’s 50th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. Read James 2: 14-18; Mark 8: 27-35.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fr. Giudice's 50th]

The celebrant of this Mass told me that I have 9 minutes to say what I have to say.

You think after all these years he’d know me better than that!

However, since this is his special day I will do my best to accommodate him—but I’m not making any promises!

When I prayed about what I would say to all of you this afternoon, I soon realized that it’s impossible to adequately summarize 50 years of service to the Lord in one single homily—even if that homily were 99 minutes long!

So I decided to take a different approach. I decided that I would try to capture the essentials of Fr. Giudice’s priestly ministry by sharing with you 3 lessons that he has taught me in the years that I’ve known him. That, incidentally, covers most of his priesthood, since I first met Father at Holy Angels Church in Barrington when I was only 5 years old. If you care to know how long ago that was, you’ll have to do the math yourself. I’ll only tell you that next year I will hit the big “five-o”!

But I have to do something else first, lest you end up with the wrong impression of Fr. Ray Suriani. Before I tell you the 3 very important lessons I have learned from the Reverend Francis J. Giudice, I feel compelled to share with you 3 lessons which I have NOT learned from this man. You’ll understand why I’m doing this in a few seconds.

Lesson number 1 that I definitely did not learn from Fr. Frank Giudice: How to drive a car!

Three years ago Father’s nephew, Richard Giudice, was so proud that he had helped his uncle secure a great deal on a beautiful, brand new, jet black Toyota. Two months later I was counseling Richard so that he wouldn’t have a nervous breakdown: “Fr. Ray, have you seen what he’s done to that car?!!!” Since that time I have given a special name to Fr. Giudice’s little vehicle. I call it, affectionately, “the Demolition Derby-mobile”, because that’s exactly where it looks like it’s been!

Another lesson that I am happy to say I did not learn from this man: How to clean my room!

Before Father retired as rector of the Cathedral, he invited me to his quarters to see if I wanted any of his books. He didn’t want to take all of them with him when he retired. When I walked in I looked around and I remember thinking to myself, “So this is what Hiroshima looked like after the bomb!”

Which brings me to the 3rd lesson that I did not learn from Father Francis J. Giudice: How to operate the St. Pius X Rectory alarm system at 44 Elm St!

If any of you own a police scanner, and hear that the alarm is going off at St. Pius Rectory early some morning don’t be too concerned. We’re probably not being robbed. Odds are Fr. Giudice has just walked out the front door without turning the alarm off! He didn’t turn it off, because he didn’t hear it! Once the police come (after getting my secretary and maintenance man and half the town of Westerly out of bed!) everything will be okay!

Well, enough of that. On now to the important part: the 3 lessons that Fr. Giudice has taught me in the years I’ve been blessed to know him. Providentially, those lessons are reflected in today’s Scripture readings from the Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Lesson #1: He’s worth it. Jesus Christ, the Messiah, is worth it: he’s worth investing your life in!

By the grace of Almighty God, Simon Peter at Caesarea Philippi realized that Jesus was the one that he and all of Israel had been waiting for. And so he said to our Lord, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” His understanding of Jesus’ messiahship, of course, wasn’t perfect—and for that he got rebuked by our Lord a few moments later. But in spite of his imperfect understanding—and in spite of his later sins—Peter continued to believe that Jesus was the one! He continued to believe that Jesus was the Messiah who was worth investing your life in. And he was right.

Fr. Giudice has taught me that same lesson from the very earliest days of his priesthood. As most of you know, I was his altar boy at Holy Angels in Barrington in the early to mid 1960s. Believe it or not, back then I looked up to him—literally as well as figuratively speaking. And there was a good reason for that: he was a happy priest—a visibly happy priest—who clearly loved what he was doing. Even as a small child I picked that up. He understood the importance of his ministry; he found deep personal fulfillment in bringing Jesus Christ to people in word and sacrament. Even as a little boy I could tell that Fr. Giudice was someone who really believed in the very depths of his heart that Jesus Christ was worth investing your life in.

And 20 years later, after I was ordained a priest myself, I found out that he was right—just like Simon Peter was right.

The second lesson Fr. Giudice taught me is the very same one that St. James taught the world in the second chapter of his biblical letter—part of which we heard in our second reading this afternoon: Faith without works is dead.

Anyone who knows Fr. Giudice, knows how much he cares for the poor and those in need. His faith is clearly evident in the many loving, charitable works he does on their behalf. It’s not a coincidence that he was the first Vicar for Community Affairs here in our diocese, working even with state agencies to improve living conditions and give educational opportunities to the needy in Rhode Island.

But his love is not provincial; as most of us know it extends far beyond the borders of our state to one of the poorest countries on earth, Haiti. Through an organization he established, Providence-Haiti Outreach, Father Giudice has worked to provide health care, education, food, shelter, and religious instruction to the poorest of the poor in that tiny nation. It’s a cause that’s near and dear to his heart. And he doesn’t just ask other people to support it financially (although he’s really good at doing that!): he also does it himself. For example, when we give him a check for all the Masses and services he provides for us at St. Pius (which is what you normally do when a guest priest helps you in your parish), that check is never made out to him: it’s always made out to “Providence-Haiti Outreach.”

That’s why it came as no surprise to me when—in the same spirit of charity—he decided to coordinate an “Elm St. School Reunion” earlier this year to help raise money for St. Pius X School; and when he stepped forward a few weeks ago and agreed to be a member of our capital campaign committee to raise money to pay for our new school addition. The desire to help those in need is something that’s deeply ingrained in the heart of Fr. Francis J. Giudice. St. James said, “Faith without works is dead”; in the heart of Fr. Giudice, faith in Jesus Christ—which gives birth to good works—is very much alive.

The third lesson I learned from Fr. Giudice concerns the cross. In today’s Gospel Jesus told us, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Everyone has crosses—they’re part of the human experience in a world tainted by original sin. But for the disciple of Jesus Christ, the cross is never the final chapter of the story—as the cross was not the final chapter in the story of Jesus. Every cross leads to a resurrection. Speaking of himself, Jesus said in today’s Gospel, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.”

The resurrection of the body is a future reality for us; it will only happen at the end of time. But if we trust in the Lord and are obedient to him right now—in the midst of our present earthly sufferings—we will have little “resurrection experiences” even in this life. Like Fr. Giudice had in Barrington when I first met him over 4 decades ago.

In case you don’t know the story, he had been sent away after ordination by the bishop to do graduate studies in hospital administration at St. Louis University. Naturally, when he had finished his degree, he thought he’d be given a big administrative post in one of our diocesan hospitals—St. Joe’s or Fatima. And he was excited about that; it’s what he’d been preparing to do. Unfortunately, however, he made the mistake of running into Bishop McVinney on a day when the bishop needed to find a curate for a small, Italian parish in Barrington: a parish community that had no money, bad buildings and terrible morale.

It was the last place on earth he wanted to be assigned! But he obeyed, took up his cross, and made the best of it. When he got there he soon realized that the people needed something to bring them together as a community and give them a sense of self-worth, so he proposed the idea of building a brand new church. In doing that he almost gave the old pastor, Fr. Iannetta, a heart attack! Fr. Iannetta didn’t think it could be done; almost nobody thought it could be done—the parish had a terrible track record of financial giving at the time—but it was built and paid for within a few short years.

And Fr. Giudice not only helped to erect a new church in Barrington; even more importantly he helped to “resurrect” the faith of the people there, sowing the seeds of 4 priestly vocations in the process: Yours Truly; Fr. James Ruggieri; Fr. Angelo Carusi; and Fr. John Codega.

For Fr. Giudice, the cross was not the end of his story in Barrington. I and the 3 other priests who’ve been ordained from Holy Angels since 1985 are living proof of that.

When I prayed about how to close my homily today, a favorite passage of mine from the book of the prophet Jeremiah immediately came to mind. I think it applies in a special way to Fr. Giudice because, even now—at an age when most people are doing very little or nothing at all—he’s still out there plugging away, doing the Lord’s work with youthful enthusiasm.

The prophet writes:

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord.

He is like a tree planted beside the waters, that stretches out its roots to the stream:

It fears not the heat when it comes, its leaves stay green;

In the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit.”

God, our loving Father, we thank you today for the abundance of good fruit that Fr. Francis J. Giudice has produced for you and for your kingdom during the last 5 decades of his life, in his moments of joy and in his moments of drought and distress. Through the intercession of Mary, the Mother of all priests, may he continue to put his trust and his hope in you, so that he will continue to bear good fruit among us for many years to come. This we ask through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

What Does It Take To Open Your Eyes And Clear Your Ears?

Blessed Mother Teresa

(Twenty-third Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on September 10, 2006, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Isaiah 35: 4-7; Mark 7: 31-37.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-third Sunday 2006]

What does it take to open your eyes and clear your ears?

A couple of weeks ago, on a Wednesday morning at about 10 a.m., I came into church and found a young woman sitting by herself in one of the pews. That, of course, is not unusual: people make visits to our church throughout the day, especially on Tuesdays when we have adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. But the woman’s appearance was definitely unusual in that she was upset—extremely upset. One look at her and you could tell that she had been crying for quite some time.

So I asked her what was wrong. She explained that her dad had just died a few days earlier, and that she was having a very difficult time coping with his death.

She also admitted that she hadn’t been inside a Catholic church in decades, even though she had been baptized and brought up as a member of the Church.

And she said that she felt tremendous guilt sitting there, because she had neglected God for so many years and was now coming to him only because she had a big problem in her life that she couldn’t deal with on her own.

I looked around and I said, “Well, some people who’ve been away tell me that the roof would cave in on them if they ever entered a church again. But I can see that the walls haven’t cracked and the roof hasn’t caved in since you’ve been here, so I think you’ll be okay.”

She smiled.

Not long afterward, I’m happy to say, she made a very good Confession and had her sins forgiven, renewing her commitment to Christ and his Church in the process.

And when she left, she had a peaceful look in her eyes and at least a hint of a smile on her face—in the midst of the sadness she still felt at the death of her dad.

What does it take to open your eyes and clear your ears?

For this young woman, it took the death of someone close to her to get her to “open her eyes” to the importance of God—and the Church—and the sacraments. It took a personal tragedy to “open her ears” to the truth about her own sin—and to the truth about God’s mercy and forgiveness.

And that’s okay! We simply thank God that she allowed it to happen. As we all know, it could have been otherwise. She could have chosen to keep her eyes and ears closed, in spite of the invitation and counsel I gave her that morning.

Our first reading today was from Isaiah, chapter 35. There the prophet talks about God opening the eyes of his people and healing their deafness. But the text indicates that this will happen only after they’ve experienced a period of trial and distress. For the people of God in the Old Testament, that’s often what it took: they had to suffer greatly before they finally opened their eyes to reality such that they could receive the Lord’s blessings. Isaiah wrote, “Thus says the Lord: Say to those whose hearts are frightened [keep in mind that they were frightened because of the persecution they had been experiencing]: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared . . . “

Today’s Gospel story from Mark 7—the healing of the deaf man—provides us with a similar lesson. Here we have a person who came to Jesus one day and had his ears “opened”—but only after an extended period of suffering. Now you might ask, “How do we know that it was an extended period of suffering? How do we know that this man had been deaf for a long time?” The answer is: From the simple fact that he also had a speech impediment! People who’ve been deaf for many years—or deaf from birth—often have difficulty speaking properly, because they can’t hear the words they’re saying. And if they’ve been deaf from birth, they have no idea what proper pronunciation sounds like, because they’ve never heard anyone say anything! In all likelihood, that’s the way it had been for this man in Mark 7. But in the midst of this personal suffering he went to Jesus in faith; and because he did that his ears were cleared and his impediment cured.

What does it take to open your eyes and clear your ears?

That’s a question for all of us to ponder this morning, because even if we come here to Mass each and every week, we may have our eyes and ears closed right now to some aspect of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s a very real possibility. In other words, in some way we might be a “Cafeteria Catholic”—accepting Church teaching, for example, when it comes to issues of social justice (like helping the poor), but closing our eyes and ears to the truth the Church proclaims to us on matters of personal morality (such as abortion, artificial contraception, and sex outside of marriage).

Or we could have the reverse problem: happily accepting the personal morality of the Church, but neglecting her call to work for economic and social justice.

What will it take to open your eyes and clear your ears with respect to those parts of the Gospel that you find difficult to accept?

And what will it take to keep your eyes open and your ears clear?

On this particular weekend—when we pause once again to remember the terrible events of September 11, 2001—that last question is also very important!

I think we’d all agree that it was both wonderful and inspiring to see thousands of people flocking into churches around this nation on 9/11 and in the days and weeks that immediately followed.

But I ask you this morning: Where have most of those people gone?

As planes were being flown into the Pentagon and into the World Trade Center by evil men, “eyes” and “ears” all over the United States—and throughout the world—were suddenly “opened” and “cleared”. Priorities were put in order (people realized, for example, that their families were more important than making an extra buck at work; they realized that human beings were more important than things). Men and women understood their need for God and the strength that only he can provide.

And I’m sure for some, the change has lasted. Praise God! They had conversions in the midst of this national tragedy, and they’ve remained on the right road ever since.

But apparently for others the horror of these events was NOT enough to do the job! Yes, they allowed their eyes and their ears to open for a time. But eventually they closed them again.

And for proof of that, all you need to do is take attendance in churches this weekend, and compare that to attendance in those same churches in late September of 2001.

I’ve focused in this homily on how tragedies and difficult circumstances can open our spiritual eyes and ears to the truth of the Gospel message—because that’s the way it often happens.

But the good news is it doesn’t have to come to that!

In fact, for many of the great saints of the Church, it didn’t take anything close to a disaster to make them open! All it took (believe it or not) was a request!

If, for example, you had said to Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta during her earthly life, “Mother, what does it take to open your eyes and clear your ears, so that you take the Gospel seriously?” she would have replied, “All it takes is a requesta request from Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. In the Scriptures—and through his Church—Jesus asks me to open my ears and listen. He asks me to take his Gospel seriously. He asks me to open my eyes to the fullness of his truth: to believe, to love, to forgive, to obey, to reach out to the poorest of the poor. He asks me to be pure in body and soul and to strive for holiness every day of my lifeand so I do! It’s as simple as that. I don’t need any other reason. I don’t need to have a suffering come my way. I don’t need any further motivation.”

Someday, by the grace of God, may all of us be able to say the same thing about ourselves—and mean it.