Sunday, November 27, 2022

The Extraordinary Happens Within the Context of the Ordinary


(First Sunday of Advent (A): This homily was given on November 27, 2022 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122:1-9; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:37-44.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: First Sunday of Advent 2022]

It was an ordinary morning in “paradise” in early December, 81 years ago: the sun was shining, the birds were singing, the air was pleasantly warm—and then the Japanese planes flew in, dropping their bombs and firing their guns on our ships in Pearl Harbor.

The extraordinary happened within the context of the ordinary.

It was a typically gorgeous July day as I remember it: I was 12 years old and would normally have been outside playing baseball with my friends, but I was glued to my television set—and I’m sure they were glued to theirs—as Apollo 11 blasted off from Cape Kennedy with Neil Armstrong on board.  It was another ordinary summer day later that same week, when Armstrong became the first human being to set foot on the moon.

The extraordinary happened within the context of the ordinary.

It was a normal Tuesday morning for most of us: our morning rituals were completed, and we were beginning our day at work or at school.  I had said Mass here at St. Pius, and was getting ready to make a visit to our parishioners in Westerly Hospital—and then I was told about planes crashing in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania.

Once again, the extraordinary happened within the context of the ordinary.

Countless other examples could be given of this phenomenon, one of which concerns the reason we’re here this morning: on a seemingly ordinary day in the first century, a man was led to his death outside the city of Jerusalem.  Two others were executed along with him.  In many ways, this crucifixion looked like a typical display of Roman justice—but it was anything but typical.  In this “ordinary” event, the most extraordinary occurrences were taking place: the world was being reconciled to God, the price for every human sin was being paid, and the gates of heaven were being opened for God’s saints.

The extraordinary happens within the context of the ordinary. 

This is the message Jesus has for us in today’s Gospel text from Matthew 24.  He speaks there about his Second Coming—which will certainly be an extraordinary event in human history (to put it mildly!).  And he compares the human situation at his Second Coming with the human situation in the days prior to the flood.  He says, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  In those days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark.  They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away.”  In other words, the extraordinary flood happened within the context of the ordinary events of the time: people were going about their day-to-day business—eating, drinking, celebrating weddings and other festive occasions—when, all of a sudden, the rain began to fall.  And, of course, it didn’t stop for a long, long time!

“So it will be,” Jesus indicates, ‘at the coming of the Son of Man.”  “Two men will be out in the field’ . . . ‘Two women will be grinding at the mill . . . “—in other words, people will be going about their ordinary daily tasks when this incredibly extraordinary event takes place, and human history finally comes to an end.

Only God knows if we’ll still be on earth when all this happens.  But even if we don’t survive until the Second Coming, the same truth applies to the day of our death: this incredibly extraordinary moment when Jesus comes for us will most likely occur on what will be an ordinary day to the rest of the world.  Take a look at the obituary page in the newspaper when you get home today: every one of those people had an extraordinary meeting with Jesus Christ on a day that most of us would certainly call “ordinary”—either yesterday or, perhaps, a day or two before.

This is why Jesus tells us to “stay awake!”  He’s telling us to remember that this extraordinary final encounter with him could happen on any “ordinary” day in the future—or even today!  Is there any more important reason for us to examine our consciences frequently and go to Confession regularly?

But expecting the extraordinary every day is not only the best way to prepare for death, it also happens to be the way to get the most out of life!

Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Whatever you do in your family, for your children, for your husband, for your wife, you do for Jesus.”  All those tedious, boring chores; all those monotonous, stressful sacrifices: to the vast majority of people—let’s face it—these are nothing but terrible inconveniences.  But to people like Mother Teresa— who see the extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary—they’re opportunities to love and serve Jesus Christ, the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  That gives them a much more positive (and pleasant) outlook on life!

These people never would say that they attended an “ordinary Mass,” because they know by faith that in every Mass they have an extraordinary encounter with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.  They never would say that they made an “ordinary confession,” because they know that every time they receive the sacrament of Reconciliation the precious Blood of Jesus Christ comes upon them and washes them clean of their sins—and that is definitely extraordinary!  They never treat the Bible as an ordinary book, because they know that our extraordinary God wrote it—consequently they listen to it with attentiveness and read it with enthusiasm.

I began my homily today by saying that the extraordinary happens within the context of the ordinary.  Hopefully by now it’s clear: those who are most sensitive to this truth live life to the full, and—even more importantly—they die fully prepared. 

Sunday, November 13, 2022

How to Be Persecuted for the RIGHT Reason


(Thirty-third Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on November 13, 2022 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Malachi 3:19-20a; Psalm 98:5-9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12; Luke 21:5-19.)

 [For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirty-third Sunday 2022]

There are, basically, two reasons for experiencing persecution in this life:

1.) We can be persecuted because of the evil we say or do; or 2.) We can be persecuted because of the good we say or do.

Today’s gospel reading deals with the latter reason.  And it indicates that as the time approaches for the end of the world and the consummation of human history, the persecution of those who do and say what’s good (in other words, of those who truly love and serve the Lord) will increase.

That’s why Jesus makes it clear at the end of the passage that his followers need perseverance: “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”

So today’s homily will be about how you can make sure that you are persecuted for the right reason, so that you will “secure your life” before God on the Day of Judgment.

Now I’ll do that by giving you some very practical suggestions.  These are suggestions of things—good things—that you can do or say which are almost certain to get you persecuted (maybe even by members of your own family!).

So here they are:

Suggestion number 1: Go on vacation with Catholic members of your extended family, and tell them that you’re going to Mass and not to the beach on Sunday morning.  Since all too many Catholics take a “vacation” from God and Mass when they’re on vacation from their work, that’s almost certain to elicit a few snide remarks.

Suggestion number 2: If you’re married, have more than two children.  You’ll be accused of trying to overpopulate the world—which, of course, is exactly the opposite of what’s happening in most western, industrialized countries at the present time!  But, since many people are ignorant of that fact, having three or more children will bring you at least some persecution.

Suggestion number 3: Publicly announce that you believe marriage is between one man and one woman, and that you don’t believe in so-called “gay marriage”.  Then duck when the rocks get thrown at you!  And make no mistake about it, they will be thrown—at least in the figurative sense.  I speak from experience!

Suggestion number 4: Don’t live together with your fiancĂ©e before you get married, and then tell people you don’t believe that it’s right for a couple to live together before their wedding day.  A variation of this is to make a chastity pledge to wait to have sex until you get married (as many of our teenagers do every year at the Steubenville Youth Conference).

Suggestion number 5: Speaking of marriages, decline an invitation to attend a friend’s wedding, because your friend is Catholic and the marriage is outside the Church and therefore invalid.  Even if you respectfully decline, and at the same time profess love and support for your friend, that action of saying no is almost certain to get you some big-time persecution.

And speaking of weddings, suggestion number 6 is the following: If you attend a wedding ceremony or a funeral liturgy at a Protestant church (like Christ Episcopal down the road), don’t go to communion—even if many of your Catholic friends and relatives do.  That will get at least a few of them talking.  As Catholics, of course, we can pray with Protestants in their churches, but we’re not supposed to receive during their services (just like they aren’t supposed to receive at ours), because we are not united enough with them in terms of what we believe.  As St. Paul indicates in 1 Corinthians 10:17, the Eucharist is supposed to be a sign of our unity in faith—a unity, unfortunately, that we do not have at the present time with our Protestant brothers and sisters.

Suggestion number 7 is for the students in the congregation (especially those in high school and college): When the subject of abortion comes up in one of your classes, publicly announce that you’re pro-life.  (And, by the way, don’t assume you’ll be less persecuted by your teacher and your peers because you go to a so-called “Catholic school”!  Unfortunately, not every Catholic school is truly Catholic in what it teaches!)

Suggestion number 8 is for everyone: Tell your friends and acquaintances that you’re proud to be Catholic!  Since, as one commentator has said, “Anti-Catholicism is the last respectable prejudice left in America,” such a positive endorsement of the Church will more than likely get at least a few negative responses.

Or how about this last one: Tell people that you’re seriously thinking about entering the priesthood or religious life (presuming you are), or tell people you know someone who is (if you do) and that you support them in their vocation.  Then watch the sparks fly!  And don’t be surprised if some of the biggest sparks come from “good, devout, churchgoing” members of your own family!

I’ve seen that happen many times over the years.  The very people who should be the most supportive—aren’t!

I’ll end my homily now as I began it:

There are, basically, two reasons for experiencing persecution:

We can either be persecuted because of the evil we say or do, or we can be persecuted because of the good we say or do.

Let’s pray at this Mass that ALL the persecution we experience in this life will be because of the latter, keeping in mind that persecution for doing and saying good things has a reward—a reward from God himself.

And that reward lasts forever!


Sunday, November 06, 2022

Artificial Nutrition and Hydration for the Terminally Ill

(Thirty-second Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on November 6, 2022 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read 2 Maccabees 7; Psalm 17:1-15; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5; Luke 20:27-38.)

 [For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirty-second Sunday 2022]

They were violent.  They were brutal.  They were merciless—and they were proud of it! 

I’m speaking here of the Seleucid kings of the second century B.C.

And who, Fr. Ray, were the Seleucid kings?

Glad you asked!

Most of you, I’m sure, have heard of Alexander the Great.  In the 4th century before Christ, Alexander conquered the Holy Land—and a lot of other places in the known world.  When it was at its largest point, his empire stretched all the way from Greece to modern day Pakistan.  Then he died.  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.

Eventually the Seleucids took control of the area we now know as Palestine.

Well, in 175 B.C. a descendant of Seleucus named Antiochus IV Epiphanes came to power.  King Antiochus, unfortunately, was not what you would call “a nice guy.”  In fact, he was just the opposite—especially when it came to his relationship with the Jews.  In 168 B.C., for example, he invaded the holy city of Jerusalem, desecrated the Temple, and instituted laws that prevented the Jews from practicing their religion freely.

Those who violated these laws and who tried to remain faithful to their Judaism were immediately put to death—like the 7 brothers we heard about in today’s first reading from 2 Maccabees 7.  This, incidentally, is the “PG version” of the story.  If you want all the gory details of what they did to these 7 boys—and their mother—you’ll have to open your Bibles later on and read all of 2 Maccabees 7.

Hopefully, you now see why I began my homily by saying of King Antiochus and his successors: “They were violent.  They were brutal.  They were merciless—and they were proud of it!”

As sick as it might sound, they reveled in the blood and the gore and the torture!

We, of course, are much more refined in the United States of America in 2022.  And so we rightly call Antiochus and his friends “barbaric”! 

But, unfortunately, at times we can be just as brutal as they were!  We’re just more technological and sanitary in our contemporary brutality.

The horrible things we do to the embryo and to the pre-born child in the womb through embryonic stem-cell research and abortion certainly fit into this category, but so do other activities—some of them done very quietly in the name of compassion: compassion for the sick and the terminally ill. 

This is something we all need to be aware of.

I have noticed, for example, a growing tendency in recent years among medical and hospice personnel to withdraw food and hydration very quickly from terminally ill patients—sometimes, in my estimation, MUCH TOO QUICKLY!  There is, of course, according to Catholic moral teaching, a time when one can legitimately stop feeding and nourishing someone by artificial means (for instance, when death is only a few hours away and the feeding process is causing the patient a great deal of physical discomfort, or when the patient’s body isn’t able to assimilate the food and water because they’re in the final stage of their disease).  But if the doctors tell you that grandma could die of her cancer “sometime in the next two weeks,” and then they tell you that they want to take out her feeding tube and IV drip TODAY, then you need to be an advocate for grandma and tell those doctors, “Don’t you dare!”

Because if they do those things—or if they refuse to hydrate and feed her artificially when death isn’t imminent—then it is highly likely that grandma will actually die from starvation and dehydration and not from her cancer!

Catholics are not bound to use “extraordinary means” to prolong life in the case of a terminal illness, but as Pope John Paul II made clear in an address he gave to a group of American bishops back in 1998, nutrition and hydration are to be considered ordinary care and ORDINARY means for the preservation of life—even when they’re administered artificially.  They are not “extraordinary”!

In writing about that statement, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome said this: “The address of John Paul II to a group of bishops from the United States of America . . . on October 2, 1998, is quite explicit: Nutrition and hydration are to be considered as normal care and ordinary means for the preservation of life.  It is not acceptable to interrupt them or to withhold them, if from that decision the death of the patient will follow.  This would be euthanasia by omission.”

That’s the bottom line, my brothers and sisters: It’s euthanasia by omission.

Food, water, cleanliness, warmth and the like, are basic needs of the sick and the dying.  They’re basic needs for all of us!  We are obligated to supply these needs because each and every human person—regardless of how sick or weak or handicapped they are—has an inherent dignity, given the fact that they’re made in the image of Almighty God.

If you didn’t know this important teaching of the Church before (and some of you may not have), the fact is you do know it now!  This means that God expects you in the future to be an advocate for the terminally ill, specifically your terminally ill relatives and friends. 

And please also remember to pray every day for all doctors, nurses and hospice caregivers.  Pray that they will be men and women of sound moral principles, who fulfill their true calling as instruments of God’s healing, and who do no harm to any of the patients entrusted to their care.


Tuesday, November 01, 2022

Is it Possible to Go to Heaven by Accident?

(Solemnity of All Saints 2022: This homily was given on November 1, 2022 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; Psalm 24:1-6; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: All Saints 2022]

According to some Catholics, what do these 5 things have in common? ...

1.    Backing into another car in the St. Pius X parking lot

2.    Knocking over a glass of wine at the dinner table

3.    Dialing the wrong phone number

4.    Leaving the turkey in the oven for too long on Thanksgiving Day and burning it

5.    Getting to heaven 

The answer is: According to some Catholics, these are all things which happen by accident!

But the truth is, the first four may happen accidentally from time to time—but getting to heaven is never, ever an accident!  It doesn’t just happen automatically at the moment of death.  Getting to heaven is by grace and by choice!  The grace comes from Jesus Christ and his passion, death, and resurrection.  Without that grace, no one can enter the Lord’s kingdom.  The normal way to receive that grace (at least initially) is through the sacrament of Baptism. 

But that’s only half the story.  To get to heaven we must make the choice to be faithful to our baptismal call, by living in faith and in love.  And this is why getting to heaven is not an accident: it’s because living a life of faith and love is not an accident!  It requires a conscious decision—a conscious daily decision. 

Isn’t it interesting that the Gospel of All Saints’ Day—the day we honor all those who are already in heaven—isn’t it interesting that this Gospel recounts for us the Beatitudes?  The Beatitudes are all about making the choice to live a virtuous, holy life centered on God.  For example, “Blest are they who show mercy;” “Blest are the peacemakers;” “Blest are they who hunger and thirst for holiness;” “Blest are those persecuted for holiness’ sake.”  People show mercy by choice (and most of the time, let’s face it, it’s not an easy choice!); they work for peace by choice; they hunger and thirst for holiness by choice; they put up with persecution for holiness’ sake by choice.  The Beatitudes show us the virtues that get us—and keep us—on the road to heaven.  But the Beatitudes are not easy to live!  Which obviously means that no one lives them by accident.

In today’s second reading from 1 John 3, the apostle tells us that “we are God’s children now [through baptism, but] what we shall be has not yet been revealed.  We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him [like Jesus], for we shall see him as he is.  Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he [Jesus] is pure.”  St. John is talking there about our eternal destiny; but notice that he calls it a hope; and notice that he attaches a condition to the fulfillment of the hope, namely purity!  [Please tell this to those who think they can indulge in pornography and illicit sexual activity—without repenting—and still enter the kingdom of God after they die.]  According to St. John, if a person really has the hope of heaven in his heart, he will choose to be pure in thought, word and deed.  And, of course, if he happens to commit a serious sin of impurity somewhere along the way, he will then choose to repent and go to confession, so that he can be purified by the Blood of the Lamb and put back on the road to the kingdom.

Jesus said in Matthew 7, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many.  How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life.”  The people St. John saw in today’s first reading—the people dressed in white—are the men and women who found that narrow road, who walked on it during their lives, and who eventually died on it.  Was it any easier for them to be faithful to Christ back in the first century?  No way!  They are definitely not in heaven by accident.  As the angel said to John, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”  In spite of their great trials (and in some cases, no doubt, because of their great trials), they attained eternal glory.  And so they give us hope.  After all, if they can choose to be faithful to their baptismal call in good times and in bad, then so can we.  Today we ask all these saints (canonized and uncanonized) to pray for us, so that we will follow their example of faith, and choose heaven.