Sunday, October 26, 2008

If You Love Someone With ALL Your Heart, How Much Love Do You Have Left To Give To Others?

(Thirtieth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on October 26, 2008 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Matthew 22: 34-40.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirtieth Sunday 2008]

I begin this morning with a spiritual math question:

If you love someone with ALL your heart, how much love do you have left to give to others?

Some? A lot? None?

If you love someone with ALL your heart, how much love do you have left to give to others?

The answer is: It depends on who the “someone” is.

If the “someone” is God, then to figure out how much love you have left, you’ll need to MULTIPLY.

However, if the “someone” is anyone other than God, then to properly compute the amount of love remaining in you, you will be forced either to subtract or to divide.

Let me explain . . .

In today’s gospel passage from Matthew 22, Jesus proclaims the two fundamental commandments: the commandment to love God, and the commandment to love your neighbor.

But even though they are both commands to love, there’s a crucial difference between the two—a difference that’s often missed or ignored when people read these well-known verses of Scripture.

Notice that it says you are to love God with your whole heart; it does not say that you are to love your neighbor in that way. “Neighbor” here, incidentally, is a very broad term. It does not refer exclusively to the wonderful people who live next door to you (although it does include them!). The word “neighbor” in this text signifies all the human beings with whom you share your life—even your spouse and your children and the members of your extended family.

And yes, it even includes your enemies!

Thankfully, all it says is that you must love these human beings as you love yourself. Backing up for a moment, this means that, from a Christian perspective, it’s okay to love yourself! That may sound strange to some of us, but it’s true nonetheless. Too much self-love, of course, is not a good thing: they call that narcissism and pride; but too little self-love is equally bad! Contrary to popular belief, self-hatred is not a Christian virtue!

There’s obviously a balance that needs to be achieved here, which is something we should pray for: “Dear Lord, help me to love myself as you want me to love myself—not too much, but not too little either!”

This is key because if a person doesn’t love himself rightly, he won’t be able to love anyone else rightly! The proper love of self is the necessary pre-condition for the proper love of neighbor, according to Jesus Christ. Notice the wording of this verse: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

But what happens when you try to love your neighbor with your whole heart—which, according to Jesus, is the way you’re supposed to love God and God alone?

Let me answer that question with a story. I knew a woman many years ago, whose husband died very suddenly of a heart attack. She was a daily communicant at her home parish (which was in another part of the state). As a couple, she and her husband had been almost inseparable: they were blessed with 3 or 4 children as well as several grandchildren; they had a great marriage; they spent most of their free time together. And so you can imagine how I and many others felt when, 3 months after her husband died, this woman tried to take her own life! (Thankfully she failed!) I was a newly ordained priest at the time and I remember being stunned—absolutely stunned—especially since this woman was at Mass every single day! It didn’t make any sense to me—until I thought about it in light of the gospel passage we just heard.

It was then that I realized that this lovely lady had made the fatal mistake of loving her husband with her whole heart! And so, when he was gone, so was most of the love in her life—including, it seems, her love for God.

If you love someone with your whole heart—and that someone is anyone other than God—then to calculate how much love you have left to give others you have to subtract or divide.

This is why there are two commandments in this passage, and not one! You know, Jesus could have easily said, “You shall love the Lord your God—and your neighbor—with all your heart,” but he didn’t. That’s because Jesus understood human nature a lot better than we do. He knew that we need to love and to be loved, but he also knew that even the person on earth who loves us the most—and whom we love the most—will sometimes let us down and fail to be there for us. They might even stop loving us for a time, or refuse to forgive us for something we’ve done to them. That’s to be expected, because this person—as good as he or she might be—is only human.

Only God is divine—which means that only God can always be there for us with his mercy and strength and comfort!

But it even goes beyond that. I said earlier that if you try to love God with your whole heart, you will have to MULTIPLY in order to figure out how much love you’ll have left to give to others.

In other words, when you try to love God the most, he responds by multiplying the love within you (since he himself is love!). And that leaves you with more than enough love to show to others (including your enemies).

This is what we see in the lives of holy people, and especially in the lives of the great saints of the Church.

Because St. Maximilian Kolbe, for example, tried to love God with his whole heart, he had plenty of love left in him for others, including the prisoner that he died for in the concentration camp at Auschwitz during World War II.

Because Blessed Mother Teresa tried to love God with her whole heart, she had plenty of love left in her to share with the poorest and most destitute souls on planet earth.

Because Immaculee Ilibagiza (who spoke here on Friday night) tried to love God with her whole heart, she had enough love left in her after the Rwandan genocide of 1994 to forgive her enemies—including the people who had murdered her parents and two of her brothers!

“You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart; you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

May the Lord help us to be faithful to these two great commandments AS THEY ARE WRITTEN down for us in THE BIBLE—so that we will have all the love that we need for the Lord, for ourselves and for other people.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

How To ‘Give Caesar His Due’ On Election Day

Cyrus the Great

(Twenty-ninth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on October 19, 2008 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Isaiah 45: 1, 4-6; Matthew 22: 15-21.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-Ninth Sunday 2008]

“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s."

Based on a quick reading of the gospel story we just heard, you might think that this is simply a command to pay your taxes. But that’s too narrow an interpretation of the text. Yes, the passage does teach us that we should honor all legitimate civil authority and obey the tax laws and other laws of our nation (unless those laws command us to do something contrary to God’s eternal law); but giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s also includes other things—like participation in the political process. In fact, paragraph 2240 of the Catechism explicitly states: “Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country.”

All that having been said, today is a perfect day to reflect on how we, as Catholics, are supposed to ‘give Caesar his due’ by voting in this year’s national election.

What are the ideas and principles that should guide us in our choice of candidates?

That, I would say, is the key question we need to ponder.

To answer it clearly and somewhat concisely, I’ll share with you today a few insights that come from a guide booklet published by the apologetics’ group, Catholic Answers. You can find this little booklet in its entirety on their website, the address of which is very easy to remember:

In one of the opening sections of the guide, the following important statement is made: “To the greatest extent possible, Catholics must avoid voting for any candidate who intends to support programs or laws that are intrinsically evil. When all of the candidates endorse morally harmful policies, citizens must vote in a way that will limit the harm likely to be done.”

The document then goes on to list what it calls the “5 non-negotiable issues.” These issues concern actions that are intrinsically evil, and which should be opposed by every Catholic, both in and out of the voting booth. I’m sure they will not surprise most of you. Almost all of them involve direct attacks on innocent human life:



Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Human Cloning

Homosexual “Marriage”

The document reminds us that these should be the most important issues for Catholics in the upcoming election. Other issues—even if they be very important—are in a different category, because they do not involve actions which are morally evil in and of themselves.

Concerning these other important matters, the Catholic Answers’ guide says this: “Some issues allow for a diversity of opinion, and Catholics are permitted leeway in endorsing or opposing particular policies. This is the case with the questions of when to go to war and when to apply the death penalty. Though the Church urges caution regarding both of these issues, it acknowledges that the state has the right to employ them in some circumstances (Cf. CCC 2309, 2267). . . . [As Pope Benedict said, back in the days when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger:] ‘There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.’”

The guide goes on to say, “The same is true of many other issues that are the subject of political debate: the best way to help the poor, to manage the economy, to protect the environment, to handle immigration, and to provide education, health care, and retirement security. While the underlying principles (such as solidarity with the poor) are non-negotiable, the specific applications being debated politically admit of many options, and so are not ‘non-negotiable’ in the sense that this guide uses the term.”

Practically speaking, this means there is no official Catholic Church teaching on how to get out of the economic crisis we’re presently in, or on how to reduce our dependency on foreign oil, or on how to get rid of poverty in our country. In good conscience, Catholics can hold very different views on policies involving those and similar subjects.

Let me now repeat a key statement from the guide that I quoted a few moments ago: “To the greatest extent possible, Catholics must avoid voting for any candidate who intends to support programs or laws that are intrinsically evil.”

Sometimes, of course, you’ll have a situation in which both candidates are on the wrong side of some of those 5 “non-negotiables” mentioned earlier. Concerning that dilemma, the Catholic Answers’ guide says this: “In some political races, each candidate takes a wrong position on one or more issues involving non-negotiable moral principles. In such a case you may vote for the candidate who takes the fewest such positions or who seems least likely to advance immoral legislation, or you may choose to vote for no one.”

And lastly, remember that not every candidate who calls himself a Catholic is with the Church concerning the most important matters mentioned in this guide! In fact, sometimes non-believers actually support the things of God a lot better than believers do.

Think, for example, of Cyrus.

Cyrus was the civil leader mentioned in today’s first reading. He was the King of Persia, who ruled from 559-529 B.C. He was also a pagan, a Gentile, an unbeliever. And yet, he is called “God’s anointed” in this text we just heard from Isaiah 45!

Why? Because he allowed the people of Israel to return to their homeland and rebuild their sacred Temple after they had spent several decades in exile in Babylon.

He conquered the Babylonians, and then he let the Israelites go home.

Even though he was a pagan, Cyrus of Persia did something that was morally righteous, and that made him a better civil leader than many of the Israelite kings of the past had been! Thus the Hebrew Scriptures call him the “anointed” of the Lord.

May Almighty God help us to recognize the Cyruses of our generation—as well as the believers of our generation—who deserve our votes. And may he help us to ‘give Caesar his due’ by actually casting our ballots for these candidates this November—and in every election thereafter.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Divine Guest List

(Twenty-eighth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on October 12, 2008 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Matthew 22: 1-14.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-eighth Sunday 2008]

I was on the guest list—and I was thrilled!

And it was such a surprise; it was definitely not something that I had expected.

It began about 3 weeks ago. Fr. Tom Hoar from Ender’s Island called me on the phone and said, “Would you like to come to lunch on Friday, October 3rd?”

Without any hesitation, I said, “Of course!”

I responded quickly and enthusiastically, not only because I like to eat—which, of course, I do—but also because I realized that this was not going to be an ordinary Friday afternoon meal at Ender’s Island!

October 3rd was the day that Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin, and Justice Antonin Scalia of the United States Supreme Court were scheduled to receive awards from Fr. Tom and the people at St. Edmund’s. And since it’s not every day that I can sit down and have a meal with a good bishop AND a Catholic Justice of the United States Supreme Court, I jumped at the opportunity!

And then I prayed all week that no funeral would come in for late Friday morning!—because if one had come in, I would have been forced to cancel with Fr. Tom.

With respect to this special luncheon, I was on the guest list, but that did NOT mean I would actually be at the celebration (although, thankfully, I was!).

You see where I’m going with this, I’m sure.

In today’s gospel parable from Matthew 23, we hear about a number of people who were also on a guest list—the original guest list for the wedding of a certain king’s son.

But, amazingly, none of them actually attended the event!

It’s clear that Jesus used the wedding feast in this story as a metaphor for the kingdom of heaven. We know that because he says so explicitly at the very beginning. He introduces the parable with the words, “The kingdom of heaven is like . . .”

Now if you read the story carefully you see that there were 4 reasons why some of the invited guests didn’t attend. These are important, because they’re the very same reasons why some people might miss the eternal wedding feast of Jesus Christ our Savior.

The first group that’s mentioned initially refused to come. No further details are given. They were invited to the feast, but apparently they just didn’t want to go!

“But, Fr. Ray, who would actually be like this and say no to heaven? Who would consciously refuse the invitation to eternal life?”

Well, think about it. In heaven there is only goodness; there’s no vice or sin. But if you’ve lived the better part of your life steeped in vice and sin—holding grudges, thinking only of yourself, lying, lusting, stealing, etc.—and you’ve found enjoyment in those things, would you really want to go to a place where everybody is pure and honest and selfless and kind?

Probably not!

Yes, it is possible to choose hell for all eternity by choosing the “things of hell” in our earthly lives each day.

Of course, we have to be careful not to judge anyone in this regard. Even if we think we know someone extremely well, only God is qualified to judge whether that person will spend forever at the wedding feast or in “the other place”.

I had a teenage boy come up to me a few weeks ago and tell me that his grandfather had recently died. Then he said, “Fr. Ray, should I pray for him? He didn’t go to church; he wasn’t always the nicest person in the world—is there any hope for him?”

I said, “Of course there is! In fact, all the more you should pray for him. Pray that he died in the state of grace; pray that he opened his heart to God sometime before he left this life; pray that he’ll pass quickly through purgatory if he needs to go there; pray that you’ll see him again. The Church says that we’re supposed to have hope for everybody—even people we thought were hopeless.”

We’re then told that this first group of invitees ignored the king’s invitation when they received it a second time. One went to his farm, Scripture says, another to his business.

This is a warning against putting other things before God and our Catholic faith. In this regard, it never ceases to amaze me how quickly and easily some people put other things before the required worship of God at Sunday Mass. This is the time of year when I’m at CCD classes and in our school for confessions, and I hear it often from some of these young people: “We can’t go to Mass every Sunday because we’re too busy.”

Do you realize that’s the same excuse these invited guests used in this parable?—these guests who never got to the big feast!

But it even goes beyond that. If some Catholics were totally honest, they would be forced to admit that they put their politics before their faith, or their sinful pastimes before their faith, or their ungodly relationships before their faith.

It’s a very real temptation for all of us—at least from time to time: the temptation to ignore the invitation.

Another group didn’t get to the feast because they attacked and murdered the king’s messengers. These are the Bill Mahers and the Rosie O’Donnells and the many others out there who openly attack the Church and the Gospel she preaches. We need to pray for their conversions.

And speaking of conversions, perhaps the most tragic part of this parable comes at the end. Here we encounter a man who represents the last group that missed the feast. I say this is the most tragic part of the story because the man in question actually got through the front door! He was there—but he was not allowed to stay.

The key to understanding why is in the detail of the wedding garment. In this story, wearing a wedding garment is symbolic for being in the state of grace (that should be easy for us to understand, since we’re clothed in a white garment when we’re baptized, as a symbol of our being washed clean of sin).

It says that the king sent one last group of servants out into the streets to bring in “the bad and the good alike.” In a sense, that line is good news for everyone, because it means that even those who are evil—really evil—have the potential to be saved.

But it’s not automatic! To be saved in the end and enter the eternal wedding feast of the Savior, you must repent of your sins, be washed clean in the blood of Christ, and thus be clothed in a “wedding garment.”

So what was the problem with this guy in the parable? Simple. He hadn’t repented! He tried to bypass that necessary step in the process!

That’s why he didn’t have his garment on when he met the king—and that’s why he couldn’t stay!

This, of course, is why confession is such a gift, and why we should receive that sacrament on a regular basis.

I was on the guest list for the special luncheon at Ender’s Island the other day, and for that I’m extremely grateful to Fr. Tom. But I’m much more grateful for the fact that I am also on the guest list for the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb of God in heaven.

And you should be grateful too, since you are also on that “Divine Guest List”!

But let’s remember the last words of Jesus in this story: “Many are invited (that is to say, many are on the ‘guest list’), but few are chosen.”

May God help us to live our Catholic faith every day—and to repent of our sins whenever we need to—so that we will be among the chosen few.