Wednesday, December 25, 2013

‘Sin-itis’ and How to Get Rid of It

Pope Francis hearing confessions

(Christmas 2013: This homily was given on December 25, 2013 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Isaiah 62: 1-5; Matthew 1: 18-25.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Christmas 2013]


The title of my homily this Christmas is, “’Sin-itis’ and how to get rid of it.”

When you have a chronic or serious illness—and you know you have a chronic or serious illness—you normally become very interested in it (which is a good thing!).

And you become especially interested in how to cure it (if there is a cure available out there).

Prior to December 23, 2010, for example, I had no special interest in Parkinson’s Disease.  That was something “out there,” so to speak.  It was something Michael J. Fox had; it was something some of my friends and parishioners had.  I knew that researchers were working very hard to find a cure.  I prayed for them (for all those doing morally acceptable research), and I prayed for all those afflicted with the disease.

But I didn’t feel any great urgency or compulsion to learn more about it and the treatments that were available for it—until two days before Christmas in 2010 when the neurologist told me I had it.

Then I suddenly got REALLY INTERESTED in the subject!  It became a top priority, such that now rare is the day when I don’t go to “Google News” and plug in “Parkinson’s Disease” to see what’s going on in the world of research.  I want to know if and when a cure is found—and how to get it as soon as it becomes available.

I usually also ask the Lord in prayer every day to grant me a healing if it’s his will—just in case he wants to take the direct route in making me well.

A cure or a healing: either is fine with me.

I’m not fussy!

Now some people have chronic or serious illnesses, but they’re not at all interested in them.  That’s usually because they don’t know they have them.  I now realize that I had Parkinson’s long before I was ever diagnosed.  Since I’ve learned what the symptoms of the disease are, I realize that I had some of the more minor ones as long as a decade ago.

“Well, thank you for sharing these things with us, Fr. Ray, but what does all this have to do with Christmas?”

The answer is: Quite a lot.

You may be in perfect physical health right now (and I hope you are); you may just have a few of those middle-age aches and pains that can’t be avoided; or you may have a chronic or serious illness like yours truly—it really doesn’t matter.  Spiritually speaking, we’re all the same!  Spiritually we’re all afflicted with the very same disorder.  If you want to make it sound like a medical condition, you might choose to call it “sin-itis”.  But this is not a physical disease; it’s a spiritual disorder—a sickness of the soul—that we’ve all caught from Adam and Eve.  (Obviously it’s highly contagious.)

Simply stated, it’s the condition of being a sinner, who sins—every day.

Some people, unfortunately, don’t know they have this disease—like I didn’t know I had Parkinson’s for many years.  Others don’t want to know they have it; and some, sad to say, don’t care that they have it.

But that doesn’t change the fact that they do!

It’s a universal condition.

And since it’s sin that messes up our lives—the anger, the selfishness, the lust, the unforgiveness, the materialism, etc.—we should be extremely interested in finding the cure!

And there is a cure available!  That’s the good news.  But the cure—the antidote—doesn’t come from a purely human source!  Because, it can’t.  You can’t cure yourself of “sin-itis,” even if you’re a medical doctor; you can’t cure yourself of this spiritual illness even if you’re a priest.

Because you’re not God and neither am I!  Only God can cure it; only he can provide the antidote to this ailment.

And he has, through his divine Son, Jesus Christ, born for us on Christmas Day!  That’s what this feast is all about.

As the angel said to Joseph, “[Your wife Mary] will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.”

He came to do for us what we could never do for ourselves.

Pope Francis described our human situation perfectly, when he wrote these words in his recent apostolic exhortation: “The salvation which God offers us is the work of his mercy.  No human efforts, no matter how good they may be, can enable us to merit such a gift.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 112)

The name Jesus literally means “Savior”—not “teacher,” not “guru,” not “philosopher,” not “all-around nice guy”.  His name signifies what he was, first and foremost: the one who saves us from our sins.

If we let him!

And that really is the key to the whole process.  In Titus 2 it says, “The grace of God has appeared, saving all . . .” 

Saving all!  That means there’s no other work that needs to be done to save a person—even the worst sinner on planet earth—from his sins and the eternal consequences of those sins.  By his passion, death and resurrection Jesus has stored up enough antidote for everybody.

But we don’t actually experience eternal salvation unless we first access and then take the antidote—the cure—and then keep taking it as often as we need it.

Someday, God willing, there will a cure for Parkinson’s.  But that cure won’t do me any good whatsoever if I don’t go to the doctor to get it and then take it—and take it as often as necessary.

Well, as Catholics, Jesus has given us the means to access and receive from him the cure for sin-itis.  He’s given it to us in the sacraments: first, Baptism; and then, after Baptism, Confession.

Some of you here at this Mass have probably not been to Confession in years.  I encourage you to consider going.  If you had a serious physical illness and a knowledgeable doctor told you, “Here’s how you get cured,” you’d probably follow that doctor’s advice immediately.

I know I would!

All the more should we be concerned with our souls and their health, since our souls will long outlast our bodies.

If you’ve been away from the sacrament for a long time, don’t worry, the priest will help you to make a good confession.  And if he doesn’t, go find another priest!  There are still plenty of us around.

The powerful effect of confession was illustrated beautifully for me last Thursday night after youth group.  One of the teenage girls there said to me, “Fr. Ray, I’ve got a good idea: I’ll trade you my sins right now for your absolution.”

(That was a very creative way to ask me to hear her confession.)

I said to her, “Sounds like a good deal.”

And it was—for her, because her “sin-itis” was cured instantaneously. 

Let me give the last word today to our new Holy Father, who, when he was asked to describe himself at the beginning of his papacy answered the interviewer by saying, “I am a sinner.”  Do you remember that?  Pope Francis knows he has “sin-itis,” but he also knows how to access the cure.

And he does—often (which is why he’s always smiling!).

Let me leave you with something he said a couple of months ago in a talk he gave in St. Peter’s Square.  It’s very appropriate for Christmas.  He said:

“Jesus is all mercy, Jesus is all love: he is God made man. Each of us, each one of us, is that little lost lamb, the coin that was mislaid; each one of us is that son who has squandered his freedom on false idols, illusions of happiness, and has lost everything. But God does not forget us, the Father never abandons us. He is a patient father, always waiting for us! He respects our freedom, but he remains faithful forever. And when we come back to him, he welcomes us like children into his house, for he never ceases, not for one instant, to wait for us with love. And his heart rejoices over every child who returns. He is celebrating because he is joy. God has this joy, when one of us sinners goes to him and asks his forgiveness.” (Pope Francis, excerpted from Sunday Angelus, St. Peter’s Square, September 15, 2013)

May God give us all the grace to respond to Pope Francis’ words and go to confession—and get rid of our “sin-itis”.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Mary, Joseph and ‘the Obedience of Faith’

(Fourth Sunday of Advent (A): This homily was given on December 22, 2013 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Romans 1: 1-7; Matthew 1: 18-24.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourth Sunday of Advent 2013]

“The obedience of faith.”

That’s an expression that St. Paul uses in today’s second reading, which is taken from the first chapter of his letter to the Romans.  He writes, “Through [Jesus Christ] we have received the grace of apostleship, to bring about the obedience of faith.”

Now we know that this idea was very important to Paul because 16 chapters later—at the very end of Romans—he uses the exact same expression.  He says, "To him who can strengthen you, according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages but now manifested through the prophetic writings and, according to the command of the eternal God, made known to all nations to bring about the obedience of faith, to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ be glory forever and ever. Amen.

It’s the thought he begins the letter with, and it’s the thought he wants to leave us with as we finish the epistle.

My question is: Was he thinking of Mary and Joseph when he wrote it?  When he was writing about “the obedience of faith,” were Mary and Joseph on his mind?

They certainly could have been—and I dare say they should have been—because I can’t think of two people who demonstrated faithful obedience to Almighty God more completely than they did.

Remember, neither Mary nor Joseph understood all that we understand concerning the events surrounding the birth of Jesus.  Neither of them saw the complete picture.  Neither fully understood what God was doing in them and through them.  But whenever Mary and Joseph did come to recognize what God wanted them to do in a particular situation, they obeyed God’s instruction—immediately, and regardless of the cost. 

Joseph, for example, as we heard in today’s gospel, did not initially understand how Mary got pregnant.  But once he did understand, he acted as God wanted him to act—even though it probably tarnished his image in the eyes of other people.

The same was true for Mary.  She was pregnant during the betrothal period, which typically lasted for several months.  During that period of time a couple was actually considered married according to Jewish law—although they did not live together as husband and wife.

Which means, quite simply, that Mary was pregnant at a time when she should not have been! 

Can you imagine what the talk around Nazareth was like concerning this situation?  The gossip must have been flying around all over the place!

“I always thought Mary was such a good girl.  Do her parents, Joachim and Ann, approve of this?  Do they know what’s going on?”  “And how about Joseph?  Why is he still with that woman?  Why didn’t he do the honorable thing and divorce her?”

Obviously, for both Mary and Joseph, the obedience of faith was much more important than the gossip of their neighbors.

And this is what we see throughout the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke: constant obedience rooted in trusting faith.  After Jesus’ birth, for example, Joseph was told by the angel in a dream to take our Lord and his mother down to Egypt and to stay there.  Matthew describes the scene in this way (and here I quote): “Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt.”

The implication there is that Joseph acted IMMEDIATELY!  He didn’t even wait until morning.  Once God’s will became clear to him, he carried it out without any hesitation whatsoever.

He acted just as quickly and decisively when the angel told him to take Mary and Jesus and to go back to Israel after Herod had died.

We see the same faith-filled obedience in Mary:

Gabriel said, “Mary, Almighty God is asking you to be the instrument through which his Son, Jesus, will be born into the world.”

Mary answered, “Be it done unto me according to your word.”

And, of course, given the fact that our Blessed Mother was without sin, this was her attitude in every situation of her life, not just in the events surrounding her Son’s birth.

“Be it done unto me according to your word.”  In other words, “Whatever you want, God, I want.”

The kind of faithful obedience that we see in Mary and Joseph is something we don’t see enough of in our world today—as Pope Francis has been reminding us in many of his recent talks and writings.  There he’s been making the point that Christians need to act according to what they say they believe!

Our Holy Father is well aware of the fact that, nowadays—unfortunately—faith and obedience are often treated as if they are separate and distinct realities.  So people think they can profess faith without having to obey: “I believe, but I hate that person who hurt me;” “I believe, but I steal from my employer;” “I believe, but I cheat on my wife;” “I believe, but I don’t pay my employees a just wage;” “I believe, but I contracept;” “I believe, but I don’t care about the less fortunate;” “I believe, but I won’t forgive”—and on and on the list goes.

And you’ll notice that those who say these kinds of things will always have a “good excuse” for the disobedience!

Is it any wonder that so many people do not experience great blessings from the Lord?

The obedience of faith is what eventually brings us God’s greatest blessings.

Because of the obedience of faith that was present in the lives of Mary and Joseph, the world was blessed with the birth of its Savior—and through that Savior we have been blessed with the hope of eternal salvation!  We’ve been blessed with forgiveness and mercy and the truth that sets us free—the truth that leads us to eternal life!

And these blessings that come from the obedience of faith can come to us even after we’ve first been disobedient (which is very good news, since all of us are disobedient, at least from time to time).

It reminds me of a young woman I know, who, 18 years ago—back in 1995—got pregnant out of wedlock.  She was (and is) Catholic; she has good Catholic parents, so she knew the right thing to do in that situation.  And she did the right thing—what her faith required her to do: she took the child to term, and gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy named Eric.

Then she made another difficult decision and gave Eric up for adoption, believing that it would be better for him to be raised by two loving parents in a good, stable Catholic home.

She arranged the adoption through Catholic Social Services, with the understanding that, if the adoptive parents and Eric were in agreement, there could eventually be some contact—but it would have to be through the agency.

Thankfully, there was some contact over the past 18 years between them all (letters and such) and it was all good.

But over the last several months, a whole new dimension has been added, by the grace of God. 

(Eric, by the way, graduated from high school this past June, with honors.  From what I know of him, he’s a fine young man with a very bright future.  He’s now a freshman in college with a double major!)

But anyway, several months ago, his birth mom sent him, through the agency, the journal she kept during her pregnancy, in which she wrote about her experience, and about her love and hopes for her child.

Well, it seems that Eric was so moved by what he read that he said, “Forget about the agency, I’m going to contact my mother directly!”

And he did, via Facebook (yes, Facebook does have some good uses!).

Since then there has been personal, face-to-face contact and visits—and many blessings for everyone involved: the birth mom, her parents, the adoptive parents, and, of course, Eric himself.

Let me close my homily now by reading to you the brief note that Eric sent to his birth mother this past Mother’s Day.  This shows how her “obedience of faith” 18 years ago, has been the source of countless blessings from God—and continues to be so.  This was written, obviously, before they had physically met.  Eric wrote:

Though I have never met you, I know that you love me more than anything in the world.  I just wanted to let you know that I love you too.  I am grateful for your decision 18 years ago when you became a mommy.  And you gave me up so that our lives would be fulfilling.  Look at where we are now and what we have done.  Separate paths slowly becoming one.  Happy Mother’s Day, mommy!!!

Somewhere in heaven, my brothers and sisters, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mary and Joseph—and Jesus—are smiling.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Joy: It Comes from UNSATISFIED Desires


(Third Sunday of Advent (A): This homily was given on December 15, 2013 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Isaiah 35: 1-6a, 10; Matthew 11: 2-11.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Third Sunday of Advent 2013]


One had pleasure; the other had joy.

That was the thought I had as I reflected on today’s gospel reading from Matthew 11.

The one who had pleasure was Herod (who’s not explicitly mentioned in the passage, but who was definitely in the background of the story); the one who had joy (at least at the end of the scene) was John the Baptist.

Here we have John in prison for telling King Herod the truth about his adulterous relationship with his brother’s wife, Herodias.  Obviously for the king, the immoral activity associated with this relationship was extremely pleasurable—which is why he had absolutely no interest in giving it up.  But that shouldn’t surprise us because it seems that Herod was a man who was literally “addicted” to pleasure.  In fact it was precisely this addiction which would eventually lead him to have John executed.  The Bible tells us that Herod experienced intense pleasure one day while watching Herodias’ daughter dance provocatively.  Then he made a very foolish promise: he promised the girl that he would give her whatever she wanted—even to half of his kingdom!  She immediately went to her evil mother and said, “What should I ask for?”  Herodias wasted no time in responding.  She knew that this was her chance to get rid of her enemy for good, so she said to her daughter, “You go to the king, and you ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

Now I’m sure that after John’s murder Herodias and the king experienced many more moments of great, intense, overwhelming pleasure.  I’m not so certain that they’re still experiencing any pleasure—but I’ll leave that issue for another homily.

The relevant question for this homily is: Did the man also have joy?  We can discern from the witness of Scripture that Herod experienced a great deal of pleasure in his earthly life—but pleasure and joy are not the same thing!

Sometimes they coexist, but very often they don’t.

In fact, it’s possible for a person to experience a deep and abiding joy, while at the same time experiencing very little pleasure or none at all—just as it’s possible to experience intense pleasure without any real joy.

I hope this doesn’t sound strange to you.  But I know that it might, because in contemporary American society right now we are often given the message that pleasure and joy are synonymous.

But they’re not!

Pleasure is a positive bodily and emotional response to something.  But it’s only temporary.  For example, I derive great pleasure from eating as long as I’m eating—and as long as I’m eating good and tasty food.  I derive pleasure from sitting on a beach in the summer, as long as it’s July, and I’m actually sitting in my beach chair and the sun is shining down on me (although the pleasure can be reproduced to some extent in December if I use my imagination).  I derive pleasure from sitting in front of a television set watching the Green Bay Packers win football games (which means, of course, that I have not experienced too much pleasure watching football games this year!).

Now, in and of itself, pleasure is not a bad thing.  The problem comes either when the object of our pleasure is morally evil (like the death of an innocent person such as John the Baptist), or when the desire for pleasure becomes the driving force in our life (as it was for King Herod).

Many people today are addicted to pornography for precisely this reason: they desire the pleasure that comes from viewing it—and that becomes the driving force in their lives.  But they very quickly discover that the pleasure is only temporary, so they have to view the porn continually—or whenever they have the opportunity.

So much for pleasure.  Joy, on the other hand, is different.  Joy is a state of the heart based, believe it or not, on desires that are unsatisfied.  Which means that as long as our desire is not fully satisfied, our joy can persist.  It doesn’t have to be a temporary phenomenon.

(Here I'm presuming, of course, that the object of our desire is good.)

This insight about joy is one that C.S. Lewis had.  And I will admit that when I first read it awhile back, it didn’t make any sense to me.  It sounds like a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it?  I mean, how can joy come to us in this life from unsatisfied desires?  I always thought that joy came when our wants and desires were satisfied and fulfilled.

But then I stopped and really reflected on it, and I came to see that, as usual, C.S. Lewis was right!

I’ll now illustrate the truth of his insight with two examples: one from our modern world; the other from today’s gospel reading.

Consider, first of all, your typical 5-year-old during the month of December.  Needless to say, as December 25 approaches, that child’s joy becomes more and more intense.  Why?  Because of an unsatisfied desire!  All through the month of December that child dreams of what he will find under the Christmas tree on Christmas morning!  He longs for that new toy or video game or bike (or all of the above!).  He doesn’t possess it yet—his desire is not yet satisfied—but his heart is filled with joy because he knows (or at least he strongly believes) that it’s coming soon!

And the irony is, five hours after he gets what he wants on Christmas morning, his joy will dissipate and he’ll probably be bored: “Mom, dad, there’s nothing to do!”

This, by the way, is one of the biggest differences between life on earth and life in heaven.  Here, joy often quickly decreases when our desires get satisfied, but in heaven the object of our desire—God—is infinite, so the joy never ends!  Our desire for perfect love, perfect life and perfect truth is continually fulfilled there for all eternity.

Which brings me to the example from today’s gospel that illustrates this idea of C.S. Lewis that joy is based on unsatisfied desires: John the Baptist.

John believed that he was called to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah.  And for many years he presumed that the Messiah was none other than his cousin Jesus.  John desired the fulfillment of all the hopes of Israel, consequently I’m sure he experienced incredible joy as he was seeing God’s plan unfold before his eyes (in fact, in one of the gospels John explicitly talks about the joy that was in his heart during his ministry).

But then, for a short time, I think he lost that joy—or at least some of it.  It seems that after John was arrested and thrown into prison by Herod he began to wonder whether or not he had gotten it right.  He began to wonder whether or not his cousin Jesus really was the Messiah they were all waiting for.  I think that’s probably because John, like most Jews of the time, expected the Messiah to be more forceful and heavy-handed than Jesus was.

So he sent his disciples to our Lord to ask him the big question: “Are you the one?—are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”

Jesus answered by saying, in effect, “Go back and remind my cousin that I’m doing all those incredible things that Isaiah the prophet said many years ago that the Messiah would do [in passages like the one we heard today in our first reading]—I’m healing the blind, the sick, the lame, lepers.  I’m raising the dead, and I’m preaching the good news to the poor.  Blessed—happy—joyful—is the one who takes no offence at me.”

John the Baptist never left that prison cell—until the day he was beheaded by King Herod and was carried out.  He experienced very little, if any, pleasure during his remaining days on planet earth.

But he was definitely filled with joy!  I mean, how could he not be?!!  His desire—his hope—for the redemption of Israel had been rekindled!  His purpose had been reaffirmed!  He now knew that his work had not been in vain.  He now knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that his Savior had come!  And his desire—his unfulfilled desire—to see the Savior complete his work became the source of John’s joy.

He was like a 5-year-old child on the morning of December 24!  And I believe John the Baptist stayed that way even as he went to his death.

I mention all this today because we live in a world right now where many people relentlessly pursue pleasure (much of it sinful!).  And so they spend their entire lives like King Herod: going from one pleasure to another without ever experiencing any real joy—and they hurt themselves and other people in the process.

The lesson of this homily is that if we really want to experience a joy that lasts, we need to cultivate in our hearts a deep desire for heaven (the kind of desire the great saints had)!  Joy, remember, comes from unsatisfied desires.  Well, the desire for heaven will not be satisfied until we leave this life.  But that’s actually good news, because if we have the unsatisfied desire for eternal life deep within us it means we can always have joy (or at least a measure of joy) within us—even on the worst of days.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

John the Baptist’s ‘Bifocals’


(Second Sunday of Advent (A): This homily was given on December 8, 2013 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Matthew 3: 1-12.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Second Sunday of Advent 2013]

John the Baptist wore bifocals.

I’ll bet you didn’t know that.

Actually, he didn’t wear the kind that many of us wear (the bifocals we wear weren’t even developed until the late 18th century, courtesy of Ben Franklin).

John the Baptist’s bifocals were of the spiritual variety.

Now why do I say that?

Well, very simply, it’s because bifocals help you to see things both up close and at a distance.  (And when you get to a certain age—like yours truly!—you desperately need that kind of help.)  Bifocals, in other words, help you to see everything.  They help you to see the complete picture, not just one dimension of reality.

And that’s the way it was for John the Baptist, spiritually speaking.  When John looked at another human being—and when John looked at himself—he saw the complete picture.  That is to say, he saw both the good and the bad.  He saw someone who was created in the image and likeness of God (and in that sense they were “good”); but at the same time he saw somebody who was a sinner in need of forgiveness and mercy. 

It wasn’t “either-or,” it was “both-and”.

All this is clear from today’s gospel reading from Matthew 3.  There John predicts that the Messiah, who is about to begin his earthly ministry, will someday baptize people “in the Holy Spirit”.  That prediction alone tells us a lot about how John saw himself and others.  God does not pour forth his Spirit into beings that are evil; he pours forth his Spirit into beings who have value, beings whom he loves, beings who are created in his image and likeness.

So here we have an implicit affirmation by John of the fundamental goodness of the human person.

But at the very same time John the Baptist also recognized the reality of human sin—in himself and in everyone else—which is why he was there at the Jordan River baptizing people and telling them to repent!

He wore spiritual bifocals—always!

The problem with the Pharisees and the Sadducees was that they saw only the goodness in themselves and not the sin.  They saw themselves only as “sons of Abraham,” and completely forgot about the fact that they were also the “sons of Adam”.  Their self-understanding was only one dimensional—until John enlightened them by calling them a “brood of vipers”! 

Spiritually speaking, they were a lot like I am—physically—when I have my “TV glasses” or my “computer glasses” on.  You know, I used to own one pair of glasses (actually two if you count my prescription sunglasses)—and they were good both for distance and for reading.  Then I reached my mid-40s and things got much more complicated, as my doctor, Sam Montalto, sadly predicted they would.  So now I have 5 pairs of glasses!  I have my bifocal sunglasses; I have my progressive bifocals without the line; I have my bifocals with the line that I use for Mass.  And I have two other pairs: my so-called “computer glasses” which are perfect for everything within 4 feet of my face.  Beyond that, everything is a big blur!  (Obviously I use them primarily when I’m working on my computer.)  And I have my so-called “TV glasses” which are only good for distance.  I need them because it’s hard to watch television from a recliner with bifocals!  (Those of you who have them know what I’m talking about.  Those of you who are too young to know what I’m talking about—don’t worry, someday you will!)

As I said a few moments ago, spiritually speaking the Pharisees and Sadducees were a lot like me when I have either my computer or TV glasses on: they only saw half of reality.  They only saw their goodness, not their sin.

Which makes them like a lot of people in our world today. 

This is one of the reasons why some men and women don’t go to confession—ever!  They don’t think they need it.  Like these religious leaders of the Jewish people, they have no trouble whatsoever seeing their value and goodness as human beings created in God’s image and likeness, but at the very same time they’re almost completely blind to their faults and failings.

The other big reason, of course, why some people don’t go to confession is that they have the exact opposite problem: They see their sin, but not their worth!  They know the evil that they’ve done; oh yes, they’re crystal clear about that!  But, unfortunately, for some reason, they don’t think that they can be forgiven (even though they can be).  Or perhaps they don’t think that God wants to forgive them, even though he does.

In fact, he wants to forgive them much, much more than they want to be forgiven!

To both these groups of people, John the Baptist would say, “Take them off!  Take off the ‘spiritual computer glasses,’ take off the ‘spiritual TV glasses,’ and put on a nice pair of ‘spiritual bifocals’!  And don’t ever take them off!  Know your dignity and goodness, yes—but also know and admit your need for forgiveness and mercy.  Believe it or not, doing both those things is the only way to find happiness; doing both those things is the only way to find inner peace!”

If you’ve heard the message of this homily today and do plan to follow John the Baptist’s advice, let me now remind you that both Fr. Giudice and I will be hearing confessions every Saturday of the season of Advent from 3:30 until 4:30pm here at St. Pius.  The two of us will also be taking part (along with several other priests) in a special ‘day of confessions’ at Immaculate Conception Church on Saturday, December 21.  So I will see you on one of those occasions—provided, of course, that I have on the right pair of my glasses, and provided that you have on your spiritual bifocals.