Sunday, February 06, 2011

What It Takes to be a ‘Light’

(Fifth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on February 6, 2011 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Matthew 5: 13-16.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fifth Sunday of the Year 2011]

A woman in the parish sent me the following email the other day:

We were attending a football banquet in December. My son was off with his buddies, but my daughter was sitting with me and some fellow sports’ moms that I’m pretty friendly with.

We came back from getting our food, and the thought crossed my mind to say grace, but I was tentative because I could envision the eyes rolling and the snickering, etc. Well, my daughter sat down and she immediately made the Sign of the Cross and bowed her head in prayer. I felt so ashamed! I followed her example, and, since then, I never let ridicule stop me from thanking our most gracious and forgiving God.

What a fantastic witness my daughter is! I have a feeling God has some pretty great plans for her.

In today’s gospel text from Matthew 5, Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. . . . And your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”

That young girl was a light—a very bright light—to the “sports’ moms” (as well as to her own mom) at that local football banquet last December.

She wasn’t looking for attention; she wasn’t pushing her religion down anyone else’s throat; she wasn’t putting down the other people at the table for not doing what she did. She was simply acting like a good Catholic, like a true believer! She was simply doing what she believed God wanted her to do in that situation.

Was she conscious that she was the only one praying at that moment? Probably. Was she a little self-conscious as she bowed her head in silence? Perhaps.

But she prayed anyway! In spite of how she might have felt, she turned to God and thanked him for the food she was about to receive.

And that’s what it takes to be a true light! It takes a willingness to stand apart and do the right thing, regardless of how it makes you feel.

On that note, it’s been good to see several letters in the Westerly Sun in recent weeks defending traditional marriage and opposing so-called “gay marriage”. Some of these letters have been from parishioners, I’m happy to say. But at the same time what’s been extremely distressing (at least to me) is the larger number of letters defending gay marriage. Now the interesting thing is this: Same-sex marriage has been rejected in every state where the people have actually voted on the matter (and that includes in ultra-liberal California!). The only way they’ve been able to legalize it in certain states is with the help of activist judges who legislate from the bench, or by pushing it through the legislature and ignoring the will of the people.

This is why Governor Chafee opposes a statewide referendum on the issue: he knows that, in all likelihood, he and the pro-gay marriage forces would lose!

But my question is this: If the majority of people in the state of Rhode Island oppose the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples (something we can safely presume, since even the majority in California opposes it), then why haven’t there been more letters in the Sun defending traditional marriage?

Why have the majority of letters written in recent days been in support of so-called gay marriage?

Edmund Burke once said, “All that it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” Put in the terms of this homily, that saying could be rendered, “All that it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to hide their ‘lights’ under a bushel basket.”

I’m glad attorney Scott Spear wrote a letter to the Sun the other night in defense of himself and of the talk he gave on this issue at St. Clare’s a couple of weeks ago. I’m sure he was horrified at Sun’s coverage of the event, especially the picture they ran of him on their front page the following day.

Did you see it?

The Sun photographer took dozens of pictures of Mr. Spear during his talk. I know that for a fact because I was there and I watched her take them! But the one the editors chose to put on the front page the following day was one in which Mr. Spear looked extremely angry (some might even say, hateful!). Not only that, he also had his fist clenched in front of his face like he was ready to physically attack somebody. Now if you were there that evening you know that Scott Spear was gentle, kind and respectful; yet that picture made him look like the stereotypical, hate-filled “homophobe.”

Thankfully, his letter to the editors of the Sun showed more respect for them than they had shown for him. He focused exclusively on the issue itself, and the legal ramifications churches and schools and businesses and others will have to face if gay marriage is somehow legalized here. He wrote, “Marriage is a public institution referenced in multiple laws governing society. When Massachusetts changed the legal definition of marriage, 1,200 laws had to be altered. Make no mistake, when the definition of marriage changes, that change impacts everyone.”

He then noted some of what we will have to face in Rhode Island with the legalization of gay marriage, based on what’s already happened in other states. Here are just a few of the examples he gave:

• People in the wedding or hospitality business who oppose homosexual “marriage” will have to participate or risk losing their license to make a living. After all, you can’t refuse to serve someone who is black, and under the law you won’t be able to refuse to participate in a homosexual wedding either. This has already happened in New Mexico.

• Churches that own property which same-sex couples would like to use for their ceremonies will have to allow such use, against their religious beliefs, or lose their tax-exempt status. This has already happened in New Jersey.

• Professionals like doctors and lawyers and accountants who don’t want to perform services for homosexual couples claiming to be married will be sued or risk losing their license to practice their profession. This happened in California.

• Whenever public schools teach children about marriage, they will be forced to teach about homosexual “marriage.” There will be no leeway. This has happened in Massachusetts, California and elsewhere. Children as young as kindergarten will be exposed to this subject in the public schools.

There are many issues where we need to let our lights shine—but this is one of the most important! Calling our local senator and representatives and letting them know where we stand on the matter is one way to shine our light; writing letters to the editor is another; sharing our opinion respectfully in family gatherings or with friends and co-workers is still another.

Is it easy? No—but then again, Jesus never said it would be.

Recall what I said at the beginning about that young girl who prayed quietly at the football banquet. I said that even though she might have felt awkward and self-conscious, she still prayed and let her light shine. She was willing to stand apart and do the right thing, regardless of how it made her feel.

By the grace of the Eucharist we receive at this Mass, may God help us to follow her GREAT example!