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”.