Sunday, April 28, 2013

Fr. Giudice's Homily on the Gay Marriage Controversy

Regrettably, this week the Rhode Island state senate passed a bill that will soon legalize so-called "gay marriage." 
This tragic situation was brought about with the assistance of a number of former OPPONENTS of same-sex marriage--including Westerly's representative in the senate, Dennis Algiere.

My announcement at the end of our Masses two weeks ago, urging people to contact Senator Algiere and to let him know where they stood on the issue, caused quite a stir in town and in the local newspaper, The Westerly Sun.

Fr. Giudice addressed all of this in his excellent homily this weekend.  To listen to his homily, click here:
Fr. Giudice's Homily April 28

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd is not always a pleasant experience!

Augustine (Allesandro Preziosi) and Monica (Monica Guerritore) in "Restless Heart"

(Fourth Sunday of Easter (C): This homily was given on April 21, 2013 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Acts 13: 14, 43-52; John 10:27-30.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourth Sunday of Easter 2013]


Hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd is not always a pleasant experience!

Every Christian—every human person—needs to understand that.

Jesus said to us in today’s gospel reading from John 10, “My sheep hear my voice.”

That, of course, is true.  But Jesus could have added the line, “however, it’s not always a pleasant experience for them when they hear my voice”—and the statement would still have been true.

Last weekend many of us saw the film, “Restless Heart” at the Westerly Middle School.  The movie was about St. Augustine, whose pre-conversion life was definitely as “colorful” as any modern-day reality show or soap opera!

Before his conversion at the age of 33, Augustine often prayed the famous prayer, “Oh Lord, make me chaste—but not yet!”

Needless to say, he gave his mother, Monica, fits!  But she never stopped praying for her son; nor did she stop telling him the truth—whether he wanted to hear it or not (and most of the time, as you might imagine, he did not want to hear any of it!).  For the young and hedonistic Augustine, Monica was the voice of the Good Shepherd; but, until he was ready to open his ‘restless heart’ to Christ, Augustine usually had a very unpleasant experience when he heard the Good Shepherd’s voice through his mom!   We can discern that from these words which he wrote many years after his conversion: “I remember my mother warned me in private not to commit fornication, and especially not to defile another man’s wife.  These seemed to me womanish advices, which I should blush to obey.  But they were yours, O God, and I knew it not.”

But they were yours, O God, and I knew it not.

In today’s first reading from Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas preach the gospel message to the people of Antioch.  Through these two apostles, the people of that city were blessed to hear in a very clear and powerful way the voice of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.

But not all of them were thrilled by what they heard, were they?  Quite oppositely, many of them were apoplectic!  They were enraged!  That led some of them to verbally abuse Paul and Barnabas while the two men were trying to preach God’s word to the crowd; and shortly thereafter it led others to start a persecution of Paul and Barnabas that finally resulted in the two apostles getting kicked out of town!

Hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd was definitely not a pleasant experience for the hard-hearted men and women of Antioch.

So, I ask you, my brothers and sisters, why should we expect things to be any different in our world today?  If the Catholic Church is what she claims to be—in other words, if the Catholic Church in her official teaching really speaks with the voice of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ—then shouldn’t we expect to hear a challenging message from time to time?  Shouldn’t we expect to hear from the Church the same kind of message that Augustine heard from his mother; the same kind of message that the people of Antioch heard from Paul and Barnabas?

I laugh when people in the media criticize the Catholic Church for its stance on issues like abortion, or euthanasia, or embryonic stem cell research or so-called gay marriage—as if her teachings on these issues are negotiable and subject to change.

The Bible says that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever!  So if Jesus doesn’t change, how can we possibly expect his Church to change on these and other fundamental moral matters?

Is it always pleasant to hear the teaching of the Church?  No, it is not!  But remember, hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd is not always a pleasant experience!

And yet it can always be a healing experience!  It can be a healing experience if we respond to the Good Shepherd’s challenging message in a positive way.

People who rebel against the voice of the Good Shepherd do the kinds of evil things those 2 men did in Boston this past week; whereas people who respond positively have live-changing experiences—of the good kind!

Let me conclude my homily now by sharing with you an example of this from the writings of Archbishop Fulton Sheen.  Sheen, as many of you know, preached on the Seven Last Words of Jesus on many Good Fridays at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.  That’s the context of this particular story.  Sheen wrote:

After I had been preaching on Good Friday at St. Patrick’s one year, a woman came to the back of the main altar, her hair disheveled, a haunted look on her face, and [she] cursed me violently.  I said, “Why did you come in here?”

She said, “To steal purses.”

I said, “Did you get any?”

“No,” she said, “that second word of yours got me—the word to the good thief.”  Then she said, “Why am I talking to you, you blankety-blank?  You’ll just tell the cops.”

I said, “Why do the cops want you?”  She pulled out clippings from the Los Angeles Times and FBI folders.  Three of her confreres were in San Quentin, and the FBI was looking for her.  I asked her if she had ever been a Catholic, and she said yes, she had, up until the age of fourteen.  So I heard her confession, and she became a daily communicant.  But she was unable to work.  I supported her for about twenty years until she died.  Well, I was harboring a criminal, so after some time I said to her, “I must make known to the FBI that I know about you.”  She agreed, and I told the FBI.  I said, “You’re looking for a woman.”

“Do we want her badly?” they said.

I said, “Oh yes.  Her name is so-and-so.  She’s a daily communicant at St. Patrick’s.”

They said, “You have done far more for her than we or the prisons could have done, so we’re letting her go.”

That woman heard the voice of the Good Shepherd speaking to her through Bishop Sheen on that Good Friday many years ago—and it was a very unpleasant experience!  She literally hated what she heard—until she let the message change her heart and her life!

Then she experienced forgiveness, and mercy, and healing—and she got on the narrow road that leads to eternal life.

So did Augustine, eventually—which is why we now refer to him as “St. Augustine.”

May each and every one of us respond to the challenging voice of the Good Shepherd in the same positive way.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The ‘Reparation’ of Simon Peter: An Example for Us


(Third Sunday of Easter (C): This homily was given on April 14, 2013 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read John 21: 1-19.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Third Sunday of Easter 2013]


John steals $25 from his brother, Michael.  The next day John feels guilty for what he’s done, and he tells Michael that he’s sorry.  Michael says to John, “I forgive you.”  John says, “Thank you, Michael,” then turns around and starts to walk away.

If you were Michael, what would you do at that point?

I’ll tell you what I would do.  I’d yell out, “Hey, John, where are you going?  Come back here right now and give me my $25!”

And I’d have every right to do that.

12-year-old Tim is told by his dad not to play baseball too close to the house.  Well, Tim doesn’t listen to his father, and later that day he hits a long fly ball through the living room window.

Sound familiar to anyone?

Tim immediately regrets what he’s done and goes to his dad to apologize.

If you were Tim’s father, and you really cared about the moral and spiritual development of your son, what would you do at that point?

Once again, I’ll tell you what I would do.  I’d say, “Apology accepted; but you can forget about getting any allowance money for the next several weeks.  That cash will be used to help pay for a new window to replace the one you just broke!”

Those two little stories, my brothers and sisters, illustrate the idea of “reparation.”  Catholics used to talk about reparation—and specifically about “the need to make reparation”—all the time.  However, nowadays you rarely hear the concept even mentioned—although the Church still teaches it, and most people (even non-religious people) believe in a form of it, as those two stories make clear.  Even non-believers would agree that John should give the $25 back to his brother, Michael, and that Tim should use his allowance money to help to pay for the window he broke on his house.

That is to say, they would agree that these two boys need to repair the damage they caused by making some concrete acts of “reparation.”

If you are a member of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or some other 12-step group, then you are definitely familiar with this idea and practice.  For the benefit of those who may not be aware of it, Step 8 of AA’s recovery program reads as follows: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed [through our abuse of alcohol], and became willing to make amends to them all.” And then we have step 9, which is: “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”

That’s reparation.

The need for reparation also explains why we are asked to do some kind of penance after we go to confession.  In paragraph 1491 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church it says this: “The sacrament of Penance is a whole consisting in three actions of the penitent and the priest's absolution. The penitent’s acts are repentance, confession or disclosure of sins to the priest, and the intention to make reparation and do works of reparation.”

During a confession, when I give a penitent prayers to say for his or her penance, I almost always tell the penitent to pray those prayers for specific people—usually the people (or at least some of the people) who were mentioned during the confession (people, in other words, who were hurt by the sins the penitent committed!).

That’s one way they can make reparation for what they’ve done: by praying for the people they’ve sinned against.

Here it’s important to note that reparation is rooted in justice, and is different from forgiveness.  Michael, for example, forgave his brother John when John said he was sorry for stealing Michael’s $25, but John still needed to give that money back to his brother—out of justice.  In the same way, Tim’s dad forgave his son immediately when Tim apologized for breaking the living room window.  But, out of justice, Tim still needed to help with the cost of getting the window fixed. 

The Catechism puts it this way: “Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm (e.g., return stolen goods, restore the reputation of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries). Simple justice requires as much. . . . Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must ‘make satisfaction for’ or ‘expiate’ his sins. This satisfaction is also called ‘penance.’”  (CCC, 1459)

I mention all this this morning because we have, in today’s gospel reading, a biblical precedent for this idea of reparation.  It comes from Simon Peter’s verbal exchange with the risen Christ at the Sea of Tiberias.  As we heard a few moments ago, three times in this post-resurrection scene Jesus says the same thing to Peter. 

He asks him, “Do you love me?”

Now Jesus was (and is!) God, so he obviously already knew the answer to that question!  He knew the love (and the repentance) that were in Peter’s heart—so why did he ask the question at all, let alone three times?

It’s because, only a few days earlier, Peter had denied three times that he even knew Jesus!  You remember the story, I’m sure; no need to recount it here. 

That means the questions were for Peter’s benefit; they were not designed to enlighten Jesus as to how Peter felt about him!  The three questions of Jesus at the Sea of Tiberius gave Peter three separate opportunities to make three separate acts of reparation for his three terrible sins of Holy Thursday night.

And make no mistake about it, answering those questions was definitely a penance for Peter—especially after Jesus said, “Simon, do you love me?” for the third time!  In fact, the text explicitly tells us that Peter at that point was “distressed”.  He was visibly upset.  He was also probably more than a little bit embarrassed at having to answer the same question three times in front of the other apostles!

I ask you this morning to think of the people whom you regularly hurt by your sins—starting with the people in your family: your husband, your wife, your parents, your children, your brothers and sisters, your co-workers, your fellow students, your friends—and the many other people with whom you share your life.

How often do you think of making reparation—through prayer or through various acts of charity—to these individuals for the sins you commit against them?

Hopefully you think of it often—and hopefully the thought often leads you to prayer and to some kind of concrete action.

Because remember, if we don’t make reparation for our sins here on this earth, we will need to do it after death—in that place we call purgatory—before we will be able to enter the kingdom of heaven.