Sunday, November 13, 2016

Nine Things That Young People Have Been Taught by the 2016 Presidential Campaign

(Thirty-third Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on November 13, 2016 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read 2 Thessalonians 3: 7-12)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirty-third Sunday 2016]

The title of my homily today is, “Nine Things That Young People Have Been Taught by the 2016 Presidential Campaign.”

What brought this topic to mind were the words of St. Paul in today’s second reading from 2 Thessalonians 3.  There Paul talks about the GOOD example that he and his companions had set for the Thessalonians when they visited Thessalonica on one of their missionary journeys.  Listen again to his words:
Brothers and sisters: You know how one must imitate us. For we did not act in a disorderly way among you, nor did we eat food received free from anyone. On the contrary, in toil and drudgery, night and day we worked, so as not to burden any of you. Not that we do not have the right. Rather, we wanted to present ourselves as a model for you, so that you might imitate us.  
Paul and his missionary companions taught the people by their words, and even more importantly by their deeds.  And so the young people of Thessalonica were truly blessed.  They had a leader—St. Paul—who was a good role model and who taught them well.  He taught them the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and he taught them to take personal responsibility for their lives.  He did the latter by working among them and earning his keep.  As he said there, “In toil and drudgery, night and day we worked, so as not to burden any of you.”

Unfortunately, the youth of the United States were not so blessed during this past presidential campaign.  Yes, they were taught lessons—many lessons—by the words and the deeds of the two major party candidates.

But most of those lessons were not good.

I’ll give you some examples—nine to be exact.  (What I’m about to share with you, by the way, is not an exhaustive list.  These are just the ones I came up with the other day—in about 5 minutes!  Sadly, there were a lot to choose from!)

Lesson number 1 that these candidates taught our young people: It’s okay to mislead others, as long as your intention is good.  Or, to put it another way, As long as your cause is noble (noble, at least, in your own mind) it’s okay to lie.

Now there’s a lesson that will take them places!

Lesson number 2 that our youth were taught this year: Don’t take responsibility for your own actions; rather, always pretend it’s someone else’s fault.  Actually, most of our young people had already been exposed to this idea—many times; this year’s campaign merely reinforced it.

Lesson number 3: If you’re rich and powerful enough, you can treat women as objects for your amusement—and get away with it.

What a great lesson for young men to learn early on in life!

Lesson number 4: If you’re rich and powerful enough, you can live by your own set of rules.  The law of the land will apply to other people but not to you.  In this regard, do you know that one of the presidential candidates actually spoke at an African American church service in Philadelphia last Sunday?  Now, can you imagine what would happen if a Catholic priest invited a politician to do that in a Catholic church at a Sunday Mass?  The ACLU would be all over that in a heartbeat!  But the ACLU was nowhere to be found last Sunday.  Neither they nor the people in the mainstream media had anything negative to say about this blatant violation of the “separation of church and state.”  That’s because they know: If you’re rich and powerful enough, you can live by your own set of rules.  The law of the land will apply to other people but not to you.   

That brings us to lesson number 5: When you can’t argue against something rationally and intelligently, just call your opponent names—and make the names as vile as possible!

That lesson was given pretty much on a daily basis during the campaign.

Lesson number 6:  What’s important is not the truth; what’s important is winning the argument.

Or the debate (call it what you will).

Lesson number 7: If someone will help you to get what you want, ignore the evil that they do—even if it happens to be selling the body parts of aborted babies for profit.

Just pretend the evil isn’t happening.

Lesson number 8: Calumny (telling slanderous lies about another person) and detraction (telling the sins of another person) are useful tools to help you get what you want.  So use them!  And if you can get your friends to join you in the calumny and detraction, all the better!

After all, what are friends for?

And, finally, there’s this one (which, in a certain sense, sums up a lot of the others): All’s fair—if YOU say it’s fair.

Let me close my homily now with two requests.  First of all, a message for parents: Talk to your children about this!  Have a conversation with your children about what’s gone on in our country—politically—in the last several months.  That’s so important!  The lessons I just shared with you are some of the underlying messages that the events of this presidential campaign have given to all of us.  And young people (and even not-so-young people) are negatively influenced by these messages—even if they’re not conscious of it.  These messages are part of the cultural atmosphere that young men and women are breathing in every day.

And it’s toxic!

They need you to help them get a healthy perspective on it all.  They need you to help them understand that sometimes adults don’t act like adults, and that there’s a better way—a more virtuous way—to deal with conflict and disagreements in this life.

And secondly, remember to pray for our President-elect.  Pray that he will be a good leader, a moral leader, a unifying leader.  Pray that he will work to enact laws that respect the dignity of every human person from natural conception to natural death.  In other words, pray that he will be a much better president than he was a presidential candidate.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Preparing to Vote in the 2016 Election

(Thirty-second Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on November 6, 2016 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read 2 Maccabees 7: 1-2, 9-14; 2 Thessalonians 2:6-3:5; Luke 20: 27-38.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirty-second Sunday 2016]

Some people believe that God is like a clockmaker.  That is to say, he’s distant from his creation.  A clockmaker builds the clock and winds it up (nowadays he puts a battery in it).  But then he goes on his merry way, allowing it to run on its own. 

As Catholic Christians, we don’t believe in that kind of God.  As Catholics we believe—as did our Jewish spiritual ancestors—in a God who is very close to us, a God who is intimately involved in human history (as well as in our individual lives).

Therefore it should not surprise us in the least that our three Scripture readings today were what they were!  There’s an election coming up in two days here in the United States of America (just in case you weren’t aware of that), and these readings are perfect to prepare us for that very important event in our nation’s history.

But that’s exactly what we should expect from a God who’s deeply involved in our lives, and who consequently knows exactly what we need to hear!

Take this first reading from the second book of Maccabees.  It’s about what eventually happens when a civil government does not believe in religious freedom—which is why freedom of religion needs to be a major issue for Catholics (and for Protestants, Jews, Muslims and all other believers) in this election.

Here we have seven sons and their mother brutally murdered by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Greek king who was ruling over Israel at the time. 

A little historical background is needed in this regard:

Alexander the Great, you will recall, had conquered much of the known world in the 4th century before Christ.  After his death, his generals divided up his empire.  One of those generals was named Seleucus.  He began what historians refer to as the Seleucid Empire, which eventually included Israel.  Antiochus IV Epiphanes was a descendant of Seleucus, who became king in 175 B.C.  Seven years later, in 168 B.C., Antiochus invaded Jerusalem, desecrated the Temple, and instituted laws that prevented the Jews from practicing their religion freely.

Those who violated those laws and who tried to remain faithful to their Judaism were immediately put to death—like those 7 brothers we heard about in today’s first reading.  And, by the way, what you heard this morning was the “PG, Readers’ Digest version” of the story.  If you want the full version with all the blood and gore read all of 2 Maccabees 7 sometime.  Just don’t do it after a meal.

Our situation in the United States right now is not as bad as the situation was in Israel at the time of the Maccabees—at least not yet. 

But it’s definitely moving in that direction—and faster than you might realize!  I’ll give you one example of what I mean.  In September of this year, the chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (appointed by President Obama in 2011) wrote in a government report that religious liberty is a “code word” for discrimination and a host of other evils.  Here’s the exact quote: “The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance.”

Translated that means: If you believe in the Gospel message of Jesus Christ, you’re a bigot who must be silenced!

I hope you realize, my brothers and sisters, that it’s a very short step from an attitude like that to the kind of open persecution that King Antiochus engaged in.

Obviously, then, we need to know where our candidates stand on this very important issue.  And do not be fooled by those who say that they support freedom of worship.  That’s not enough!  Freedom of religion is what our Constitution guarantees; consequently, THAT’S what we need to demand from our civil government.  Freedom of religion, you see, is much more than freedom of worship.  Freedom of religion means that you can live your private life—and your public life— according to the dictates of your faith.  Freedom of worship means, “You Christians can pray however you like within the four walls of your church building, but outside in the real world you had better think and act and live like the rest of us—or else!”

Which brings us to the Gospel reading, where the Sadducees express their confusion to Jesus concerning matters related to marriage.

Apparently ours is not the only age in which people have been confused about this issue!

Well, as Catholics, we should not be confused.  We should be crystal clear about the fact that a true marriage can only take place between two people who have the natural potential to procreate (i.e. a man and a woman)—because children are one of the intrinsic “goods” of marriage.

I don’t think it’s asking too much to expect our civil leaders to be clear on this issue as well.  Satan is working very hard to destroy the traditional nuclear family, and we need people governing us who will resist those destructive trends—because as the family goes, so too a society goes.  Most of our social problems begin as family problems.

Do you know where the people for whom you intend to vote stand on the marriage issue?

You should.

You should also know where they stand on the other issues that the people at Catholic Answers have described as “non-negotiable” for good Catholics, namely abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research and human cloning.  Those issues are referred to as “non-negotiable” because they’re intrinsically evil and involve direct attacks on innocent human life.

This means, for example, that any candidate who supports Planned Parenthood—an organization that has sold the body parts of babies for profit—does not deserve a Catholic’s vote (or anyone else’s vote for that matter!).

The words of St. Paul in our second reading today are important in this regard.  I’m talking about the line where he prays (and here I quote) “that we may be delivered from perverse and wicked people.”

I told you God gave us perfect readings this weekend!

That’s a great prayer to say OFTEN during the next few days: “O Lord, deliver us from perverse and wicked people!”

Now you might say, “But Fr. Ray, what about other issues like the economy and immigration?”

Here I think it would be good for me to quote from Catholic Answers’ Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics.  There it says this: “Some issues allow for a diversity of opinion, and Catholics are permitted leeway in endorsing or opposing particular policies.  This is the case with the questions of when to go to war and when to apply the death penalty.  Though the Church urges caution regarding both of these issues, it acknowledges that the state has the right to employ them in some circumstances (Cf. CCC 2309, 2267). . . .  [As Pope Emeritus Benedict said, back in the days when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger:] ‘There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.’”

The guide goes on to say, “The same is true of many other issues that are the subject of political debate: the best way to help the poor, to manage the economy, to protect the environment, to handle immigration, and to provide education, health care, and retirement security.  While the underlying principles (such as solidarity with the poor) are non-negotiable, the specific applications being debated politically admit of many options, and so are not ‘non-negotiable’ in the sense that this guide uses the term.”

Practically speaking, this means there is no official Catholic Church teaching on how to deal with our economic and immigration problems, or on how to reduce our dependency on foreign oil, or on how to get rid of poverty in our country.  In good conscience, Catholics can hold very different views on policies involving these and similar subjects.

But the non-negotiables are always non-negotiable.  Always!

At least they are for all good, serious Catholics.

For those who may still have some difficulty understanding and accepting all this, let me leave you with this question:

If an elected official cannot be counted on to show respect for the most innocent and vulnerable among us (the unborn, the sick, the elderly), how can we trust that person to do the right thing in other situations?  How can we trust that person to do what’s best for us and for our country?

Think about that.