Saturday, July 31, 2010

More Steubenville East Pictures!

Thanks for sending them, Ana!

(Click on images to enlarge.)

Deacon Steve says, "Be there next year!"

Sunday, July 25, 2010

If God Knows What We Need Before We Ask Him, Then Why Do We Have To Ask Him For Things?

(Seventeenth Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on July 25, 2010 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Genesis 18: 20-32; Luke 11: 1-13.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Seventeenth Sunday 2010]

Tom and Joanne, both 60 years of age, were celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary, when suddenly an angel from heaven appeared to them. The angel congratulated them and said, “God is so pleased with the two of you, that he’s given me permission to grant each of you one wish.”

Joanne said, “O that’s wonderful. I wish that Tom and I had tickets for a romantic cruise that would take us all the way around the world.”

The angel said, “So be it”—and he handed Joanne two first class cruise tickets.

“And what about you, Tom?”

Tom replied, “I wish that my wife was 30 years younger than I am.”

The angel said, “So be it”—and Tom immediately became 90-years-old!

You might call that “a prayer of petition gone bad!”

There’s an old saying (and there is a lot of truth in it): Be careful what you ask for!

But this does raise an interesting question: Why do we need to ask at all? We say that we believe in a God who knows everything. Well, if that’s true—if Almighty God knows everything that we need before we ask him (as Jesus says he does in Matthew 6:8)—then why do we have to ask at all? Why doesn’t the Lord just give us everything we need instantaneously and simplify the process?

Have you ever wondered about those things?

Probably most people have (at least most believers have) at some point in their lives.

This morning I share with you four reasons why: four reasons why God wants us to ask. Now please don’t misunderstand: these are not the only reasons there are. I’m sure that some of you could think of others, if you spent some quality time reflecting on the matter, as I did the other day. These are simply the ones that I would focus on, if someone came up to me and said, “Fr. Ray, why does God want me to pray prayers of petition, if he already knows all my needs?”

The first reason is this: Prayers of petition make us aware of our need for God. They make us aware of the fact that we are not self-sufficient: that we need God’s grace in every situation of our lives. The constant temptation we face in this life, of course, is to think just the opposite. (This is one reason, by the way, why most Catholics don’t come to Mass every Sunday. They don’t think they need it!) And I’m convinced that this temptation to think that we don’t need God would increase a hundredfold, if we received everything from the Lord without asking. The gifts would be from God, yes that’s true—but we probably wouldn’t recognize that fact.

So the bottom line is this: God doesn’t need to be told what we need, but we need to know that we need him—and asking helps us to have that knowledge, that awareness.

Reason number 2 why God wants us to ask: Asking helps us to grow in faith. Asking helps us to grow in our relationship with God. In today’s first reading, Abraham intercedes for the people of Sodom. He starts off by asking the Lord to spare the city if there are 50 innocent people living in it. God says he will. And that affirmative response from the Lord increases Abraham’s faith—so much so that he then asks, “Well, what if there are only 45 righteous people in the city? Would you be willing to spare it for their sakes?” God says yes again. This increases Abraham’s faith even more, leading him eventually to the point of asking God to spare Sodom if there are only 10 good people left in the place. Unfortunately, as we all know, there weren’t. Remember, this is the city from which we get the modern English word “sodomy”—but the point here is that Abraham’s trust and confidence in the Lord grew much stronger through his verbal exchange with God, through this experience of asking the Lord again and again and again.

Those of you who are parents: When your children need something (when they really NEED something) and they come to you and they ask and you give it to them—your relationship with them grows stronger, does it not? Their trust in you—their confidence in you—increases.

Well, the same is true of our relationship with God.

Which brings us to reason number 3 why God wants us to ask: Because our God is a Father, not a tyrant! A tyrant imposes things on others. God doesn’t impose things—even good things—on anybody! Like a loving Father, he simply offers them to us. He gives them to us if we want them—and if we ask for them. That’s why Jesus encourages us in today’s gospel to ask, to seek and to knock—and to do so persistently and perseveringly!

Finally, God wants us to ask him for things in prayer because we are his co-workers! This is an idea that St. Paul, St. John the apostle and Pope Benedict XVI would all understand very well. In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul calls himself God’s “co-worker”; and in his third letter St. John talks about us being “co-workers of the truth.” That last expression also happens to be the biblical phrase that Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) took as his episcopal motto.

We are called God’s co-workers because we are to have an active role in fulfilling the Lord’s plan of salvation for the human race. God could have made us robots in a mechanical universe and worked out everything by himself; but he chose to create us as free human beings in a moral universe—a universe where we would have to freely and consciously choose the good and embrace it. So if we believe that prayers of petition bring good things—blessings—into our lives and the lives of others (and we should), then those prayers are part and parcel of this partnership we have with God! When we pray, in other words, we are acting as his “co-workers” in bringing his help and saving grace into the world.

So there you have it, four reasons why God wants us to ask: to make us aware of our need for him; to help us grow in faith; because he’s a Father, not a tyrant; and because we are his co-workers in this world.

Dear Lord, may these four reasons be reason enough—reason enough for us to take prayer and its power seriously, each and every day of our lives. Amen.

Steubenville East 2010: The Word Became Flesh

Once again, we took a group of teenagers to the Steubenville East High School Youth Conference. As was the case last year, the retreat was held in the Ryan Center, which is located on the campus of the University of Rhode Island in Kingston.
Our teens were particularly AWESOME this year (I'm sure they won't argue that point!). The good seed of God's word, which was "scattered" upon them throughout the weekend, found a home in the fertile soil of their hearts (to use an image from my homily at the send off Mass on Friday).
My prayer--and the prayer of our excellent chaperones--is that these teens will allow those seeds of God's truth to grow within them for the rest of their lives--and unto eternity.
To understand the transforming power of Christ that these teens experience at Steubenville, read the following excerpt from an email that one of our young people sent to me at the conclusion of the retreat . . .

"STEUBENVILLE WAS AWESOME. Seriously, the best year yet. And probably ever will. Jackie (one of the speakers) was totally amazing and she's like my role model now and the band was SHWEET and adoration was even BETTER. Adoration was so powerful last night. It was the first time I cried during a Steubenville so far...I really couldnt help it when everyone was reaching out to Christ it was just so...Beautiful. And that's really the only word to describe it. I remember I just kept saying 'I never wanna leave, I never wanna leave' and I seriously did not want to leave. I wanted to just kneel there forever!!!!! One of the songs beforehand was 'Better is One Day,' and I just kept thinking to myself 'Better is one day in Your Courts than thousands elsewhere...Lord, I'd give a million just for this night' ... It was just truly incredible."

Now you know why we go to this incredible event every year!

Here are some pictures from the conference. (Click on images to enlarge.)

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Mom, Aunt Margaret, and the Mission of the 72 Disciples

My cousin, Michael Chellel
(To visit his web site, click here: Santa-to-the-Stars)

(Fourteenth Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on July 4, 2010 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Luke 10: 1-12, 17-20.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourteenth Sunday 2010]

I have a cousin named Michael Chellel.

Most people know him by his stage name, Brady White.

And if you lived in Hollywood, and worked in the movie or television industry, you’d probably also know him as “Santa-to-the-Stars”.

That’s because he plays Santa Claus at the Christmas parties of famous celebrities every year. And believe me, he really does look like Santa, which is why he’s in such demand. His beard is the perfect Santa beard. And it’s all natural—so don’t pull it!

I mention Michael today because of the religious conversion he had about 10 years ago, thanks (he would say) to the intercession of Padre Pio—now St. Pio. Padre Pio, as many of us know, was an Italian Franciscan Friar of the last century who had incredible spiritual gifts. Like St. John Vianney he could, they say, read souls; in other words, he could sometimes tell you your sins before you confessed them. How would you like to go to confession to him?!!! Count your blessings that you have Fr. Ray! He also had the stigmata: supernatural wounds on his body that corresponded to the wounds of Jesus on the cross. If you’ve ever seen pictures or videos of Padre Pio saying Mass, you will recall that his hands were always wrapped, and blood could be seen coming through the wrappings from his bleeding wounds.

This is something St. Francis of Assisi and some of the other great saints experienced in their lives, including, perhaps, St. Paul the apostle. In today’s second reading from Galatians 6, Paul says, “From now on, let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.”

That’s certainly a reference to the many sufferings St. Paul endured in his work as an apostle and evangelist, but some scholars also believe that it’s a reference to the fact that Paul received the supernatural gift of the stigmata toward the end of his life.

“For I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.”

My cousin Michael now spends about 7 months of the year in San Giovanni Rotondo—the town where St. Pio lived for so many years. Michael first went there in late 2002: he had been hearing a lot about Padre Pio’s upcoming canonization (which took place in June of ‘02), and was curious to see where St. Pio had lived and worked. But he also went because he felt like something—or someone—was drawing him to the place. He now believes that “someone” was St. Pio himself.

That first visit led to a deep transformation in his life.

During his annual 7 months in San Giovanni Rotondo, Michael helps the Franciscan Friars in any way he can, especially with the many English speaking pilgrims who visit the monastery every year. And so if you’re planning a trip there let me know, I’ll send a message to cousin Michael and he’ll give you a grand tour of the place—although probably not in his Santa Claus outfit!

A few months ago Michael sent me a brief paper he wrote about his conversion experience, and at one point in that paper he said this: “I could not understand why Padre Pio wanted me, because I was a sinner. I lived in Hollywood and New York; I lived in what one would call the “fast lane”—keeping company with Hollywood celebrities and the world’s social elite. Flying in private jets, riding in limousines, staying in four star hotels; my life was surrounded by glitz and glamour. I lived in a very material world and I thought I was happy there.

‘Do not get me wrong, I always believed in God, the saints and the Catholic Church. I prayed, attended mass weekly and went to confession. But something was missing. When I came to know Padre Pio, I came to know real faith and the meaning of love. Love for our brothers and sisters; learning that all of us are put here to serve and love one another. Through Padre Pio I found true happiness and joy in my life.”

Michael wrote there, “I could not understand why Padre Pio wanted me, because I was a sinner.”

Well join the club, Michael! Jesus said, “I have come to call, not the self-righteous, but sinners.” (Mt 9: 13)

Jesus did not say that everyone would be saved; but he did say that everyone could be saved!—including cousin Michael; including even the worst sinner who has ever lived on this earth.

This is a message that God expects us to share with others whenever we have the opportunity—and not only during this year of evangelization, but every year!

In today’s gospel reading we were told that Jesus sent out 72 other disciples at one point during his ministry. He sent them into all the towns he intended to visit, to prepare the people in those towns for his visitation. You could say that, in a certain sense, the role of these 72 disciples (who went out in pairs) was to lay the groundwork for conversions to Jesus, conversions that Jesus would bring about when he arrived in their communities.

And that’s, very often, what God wants us to do in this life: he wants us to lay the groundwork for conversions. Obviously not everyone we share Christ with will come to faith immediately. Sometimes all we can do—and all God expects us to do—is to plant some seeds and lay the foundation for a conversion that will come later on—in some instances MUCH later on!

Case in point: My cousin Michael!

I know he credits St. Pio with leading him to a deeper relationship with Jesus, but there were at least two good women in his past who had helped to prepare him for his encounter with the Lord and St. Pio. One of those women was his mother, and the other was mine!

Michael Chellel revered his mother, Margaret—even in his worldly days. And his mother was extremely religious. Aunt Margaret was a great woman of faith.

My mom’s influence on him was not as constant, but it was every bit as real. One little anecdote will serve to make the point:

I was probably 9 or 10-years-old. As I recall my mom and I were home alone, when all of a sudden two guys riding very loud motorcycles pulled into the driveway. They looked like something out of an advertisement for Hell’s Angels! It was, of course, my cousin Michael and a friend of his, who just happened to drop by for a visit.

My mom, true to form, welcomed them into the house, and the 3 of them sat around the dining room table and began to talk. Well, eventually the conversation turned to my mother’s favorite subject—Jesus—and the three of them talked about the Lord for a couple of hours. I remember thinking to myself, “This is very weird. Here are these two scary-looking biker dudes mesmerized by a lady talking to them about Jesus—a lady who their friends would probably call ‘really square’ (remember that term from the 1960s?).”

Now Michael didn’t change his life after that conversation. That change wouldn’t happen for more than 30 years. But I really believe that my mom planted some seeds in him that day—as his mother Margaret planted seeds in him on an almost daily basis through her words and prayers. Then, with the help of St. Pio and his intercession, those seeds finally began to grow and blossom, from 2002 until the present day.

When Jesus sent the 72 disciples out in pairs 2000 years ago, he literally sent them out two-by-two. Today he sometimes does it that way; but very often the people doing the evangelizing are separated by time and space—as was the case with my mom and Aunt Margaret. I don’t think they ever talked to Michael about the Lord at the very same time (if they did, it happened only on a few rare occasions). Most of the time they evangelized him individually. Each of them did what they could for Michael separately, but their combined efforts made a big difference! Their combined efforts resulted in a genuine religious conversion for someone they deeply loved.

God expects us to do the same thing for the people in our lives. Today let’s ask the Lord for the grace to fulfill our mission for others as effectively as mom and Aunt Margaret fulfilled theirs for my cousin Michael, Santa-to-the-Stars.