Sunday, March 06, 2011

Learn a Lesson from the Way St. Pius X Church Was Built

(Ninth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on March 6, 2011 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Matthew 7: 21-27.)

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

A couple of years ago, I was talking to a man from the parish who had helped to build this church back in the mid-1950s. He was a teenager at the time, and he assisted the craftsmen—the stone masons—in their work. And he said what really struck him was how fussy, how particular the men in charge of the project were. They were Italian, and Catholic (members of the Cugini family, I am told), and they wanted only the very best granite to go into this structure. So they would look over every piece of stone that was brought in from the nearby quarries, and when they found any imperfection whatsoever in a particular piece they would tell the truck driver: “Take it back. Get it out of here.”

Well, that was over 50 years ago, and I must say, those men knew exactly what they were doing! We have a very solid structure here at St. Pius, thanks to those who built it. Oh sure, we have the normal maintenance issues that they have everywhere—last year, for example, as most of you know, we had to put on a new roof—but structurally this place is still in excellent condition. In fact, it’s in much better shape than a lot of churches that have been built in the last 10 or 15 years!

There is some truth in that old adage: “They don’t make things the way they used to!”

Well, the message of my homily today is: Learn a lesson from your church; specifically, learn a lesson from the way your church was built!

It was built with a solid foundation, and with excellent materials!

Which means it will probably be around for a good long time—even if a hurricane (of the 1938 variety) hits us at some point in the near future.

If Jesus had given his famous Sermon on the Mount in early twenty-first century Westerly, instead of in mid-first century Galilee, he could have used our church to make the very same point he made in today’s gospel. I’m talking about the final paragraph of the text, where he says, “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been solidly set on rock.”

He could have said, “He will be like those stone masons who built the great St. Pius X Church in Westerly. It has endured many storms for over 50 years; but in spite of all the terrible weather it’s had to deal with, it’s still in great shape!”

Jesus then goes on to say this: “Everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”

Notice that Jesus indicates that the very same “inclement weather” is faced by those who build their lives on his teachings and those who don’t. Suffering, in other words, comes to everybody. It does not discriminate between the greatest saint and the worst sinner.

Some good people get Parkinson’s Disease and some bad people get Parkinson’s Disease. (I won’t tell you which category I fit into; you’ll have to figure that out for yourselves!)

But there is a difference—a very big difference—in how the greatest saint and the worst sinner face the troublesome storms of their lives!

Obviously we should want to be in that group of people whose lives are composed of (to use the imagery of this gospel) a solid foundation, and a solid building on top of the foundation.

A good foundation AND a good building—that should be our goal. To have a good foundation means to know and to believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ, which are also the teachings of his Church! (That last point is one that’s often ignored or forgotten.) Jesus, remember, is the head while the Church is his body. You can’t have one without the other. And so having a good foundation to your life means saying yes in your heart to everything THE CHURCH authoritatively teaches in the Catechism in the name of Jesus Christ—even the tough teachings like the ones on forgiveness and sexual morality!

To have a good building, on the other hand, means to apply these teachings of Jesus and his Church to the circumstances you face in your life each and every day!

It’s possible, unfortunately, for a person to have a great “foundation” to his life, but a bad “building” at the very same time. Did you realize that? Such a person has the right foundation because in his heart he really believes everything the Church teaches; but, in spite of what he believes, he keeps falling into serious sin. Good foundation; bad building.

Others may have a bad foundation, but a nice building (at least on the outside—in the sense that they’re nice people with some good personal qualities). But, at the same time, they live by their own rules. So things might go well for them for a while—as long as the “weather” of life is good. But at some point—as Jesus indicates in this text—the weather will not be so good, and it’s then that these people will have big problems, because they’ve made the fatal mistake of building their lives on the “shifting sand” of lies and half-truths.

And, of course, it’s also possible to have both a bad foundation and a bad building. This is the situation of those men and women who don’t believe the truth, nor do they live it. Well, at least they’re consistent! That’s one positive thing you can say about them.

Those are the 4 possible conditions of the spiritual life: good foundation/bad building; bad foundation/good building; bad foundation/bad building; and good foundation/good building.

As we approach the beginning of Lent, I invite you to give your “building” (i.e., the building of your life) an inspection—an honest inspection. Every year, you know, the insurance man from our Diocese, Greg Carlson, comes to Westerly to give our church a long, thorough inspection, and every year he makes recommendations to us on what we can do to maintain it well and make it better. Thank God, as I indicated earlier, he’s never uncovered any major structural problems, and so his recommendations have always dealt with items of routine maintenance.

But having the inspection is very important! If we didn’t have it, we might miss a minor problem that could become a very big problem somewhere down the road.

St. Paul tells us that our bodies are like buildings—temples, to be exact. He says they are “temples of the Holy Spirit.” And so, just like this church, they need to be inspected from time to time.

So how is your “foundation” doing? Is it solid, or are there some cracks in it—some doubts, some questions, some issues of faith and life that are troubling you?

This Lent could be a time for you to deal with at least some of those cracks through daily Mass, or extra prayer and spiritual reading, or by coming to the parish mission.

And how’s your building itself doing? Is it solid, or is it a little weak? That is to say, are you having trouble living the faith you profess? If you are, perhaps it’s because you’ve let your prayer life slide, or perhaps it’s because you haven’t made a really good confession in a really long time.

Inspect your temple, and then resolve to ACT on what you find (especially during this upcoming Lenten season), so that your life will be as strong and as solid as this beautiful and well-built church is that you’re in right now!