Sunday, July 31, 2005

What’s On The List Is Important, But What’s Not On The List Is Just As Important!

Some interesting pro-life t-shirts.

(Eighteenth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on July 31, 2005 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Romans 8: 35-39.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Eighteenth Sunday 2005]

What’s on the list is important, but what’s not on the list is just as important.

I pointed this out a couple of weeks ago in a letter I wrote to the editor of the Providence Journal. An op-ed piece had appeared in the Journal a few days earlier by Miriam Inocencio, who is currently the president of Planned Parenthood of Rhode Island. In her column, Ms. Inocencio said that her organization “embraces a culture of life”. Planned Parenthood, of course, is the largest abortion provider in the country—so it was ludicrous for her to make such an assertion.

She said (and here I quote): “Planned Parenthood has always embraced a culture of life that celebrates the rich diversity of the human family and sees all human beings regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual preference, ability, or socio-economic status—as deserving of an equal place at life’s table.”

In my letter to the editor I offered this brief comment on Ms. Inocencio’s statement: “The discerning reader will notice that one crucial category was left off her list: age. One who is truly pro-life believes that human beings of every age—from conception until natural death—deserve the opportunity to sit at the table of life with the rest of us.”

What was on Miriam Inocencio’s list (gender, ethnicity, etc.) was important, but what was left off her list (namely, age) was just as important!

This same principle applies to our second reading today, this beautiful text from Romans 8, where St. Paul asks the rhetorical question, “What will separate us from the love of Christ?”

He answers his question with a long list of possibilities: anguish, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, the sword, death, life, angels (specifically bad angels), principalities (that was one class of angels), present things, future things, [evil] powers. Knowing that some people might have mistakenly embraced the lie of astrology, he even uses two astrological terms, height and depth.

His point is that none of these things—real or imagined—can separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Jesus Christ.

To that we should all shout, “Alleluia!”

But remember: what’s on his list is important, but what’s not on it is just as important.

Paul gives us a long list of realities which—thanks be to God—do not in and of themselves separate us from God and his love. And we all need to take his words seriously. We may think, for example, that our sufferings somehow disconnect us from the Lord, but they do not. Paul is adamant about that. In fact, if we respond to them in the right way, our crosses can actually lead us into a deeper relationship with God. No doubt some of you in this church right now are living testimonies to this truth. Because of a past suffering (the death of a loved one, perhaps), you’ve returned to the Church and to the practice of your Catholic faith.

But there is one reality that St. Paul does not mention on his list which is just as important as everything he does mention: sin! Sin is not on the list! And yet, there are some Christians who will read this text from Romans 8 and say, “See, once we give our lives to Jesus and acknowledge him as our Lord and Savior nothing can separate us from him—not even our sins!”


Paul says that no suffering, no angel, and no other cosmic force can separate us from God’s love; he doesn’t say that our sins don’t separate us from God, because they do!

Here, of course, I’m talking about mortal sins. Venial sins weaken our love for God, but they don’t separate us from the Lord completely. And for that we should be grateful, since we all commit venial sins every day!

Now here’s where it gets confusing for many people, which is why we priests are often asked the question, “What’s a mortal sin?” In other words, “Which sins are considered to be mortal?”

Well, first of all, we need to remember that there are 3 conditions for committing a mortal sin: grave matter (in other words it must be something serious), sufficient knowledge (we must know it’s wrong and understand its severity), and full consent of the will (you can read about these in paragraph 1857 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church).

The last 2 conditions—sufficient knowledge and full consent of the will—need to be evaluated on a case to case basis; but grave matter is different. Grave, serious matter is pretty easy to identify.

On that note, a priest gave a Lenten mission at Immaculate Conception Church a couple of years ago in which he gave out a list of “Sins which need to be confessed.” On that list he mentioned a number of sins which involve “grave matter.” Let me share some of those with you now. I hope no one is offended by this, but I’m your pastor, and as such I’m responsible for instructing you on the nature of sin. If I don’t do this at least from time to time, I will be committing a mortal sin of my own that I will have to answer for on Judgment Day (and, quite frankly, I’d rather not have to do that!). But aside from that dimension of things, this information is essential for us to know if we want to remain in the state of grace and closely united to God—and I presume we all do!

I should also make mention of the fact that is not an exhaustive list; however it does include many of the more common mortal sins that are committed in modern American culture. And just in case you’re wondering, they’re listed here in alphabetical order:

Abortion (which includes the doctors and nurses involved, as well as those who directly assisted the woman in procuring the abortion: e.g., the doctor who referred her for the abortion, those who actively encouraged her to have the abortion, those who drove her there and those who paid for it.)


Artificial Birth Control (including non-therapeutic sterilization procedures like vasectomies and tubal ligations, which, in essence constitute permanent birth control!)


Calumny (telling lies about another person which seriously harm their reputation)

Despair (believing that God won’t or can’t forgive you for a serious sin)

Detraction (telling someone’s faults to others with the intention of ruining their reputation.)

Drug Abuse


Excessive gambling

Excessive materialism

Hatred (Remember, St. John says in his first letter that hatred in its extreme form is as bad as murder!)

Homosexual actions

In vitro fertilization (or any other reproductive technology which replaces the marital act.)


Missing Mass on a Sunday or Holyday without good reason


Occult Activity (ouija boards, tarot cards, séances and the like)

Premarital sex (including the type that a former president wasn’t too clear about)

Presumption (i.e., sinning seriously and then having the attitude that God MUST forgive you)

And last—but certainly not least—receiving Communion with any of these sins on your soul!

The next time you examine your conscience in preparation for Confession, make sure these sins are on your list when you come into the confessionalif you’ve committed them. If they’re not, and you deliberately don’t confess them, then, sadly, you take them with you as you go out the door of the reconciliation room. You come in with them, and you go out with them! And that’s a tragedy even greater than the sins themselves.

Bishop Sheen understood this quite well, which is why he used to say, “Sin is really not the worst thing in the world. The worst thing in the world is the denial of sin! Because if I deny that I’ve committed certain serious sins in my life, how will I ever be forgiven for them?”

What will separate us from the love of Christ? Neither anguish nor distress nor persecution (nor any of the other negative things St. Paul mentions in Romans 8). That’s great news!

But neither will our sins! Yes, they can separate us from the love of the Lord (as I’ve noted in this homily), but they won’t—if we acknowledge them, repent of them, confess them, and are absolved of them.

And that, I would say, is the greatest news of all!

Saturday, July 30, 2005 Music Festival!

On Saturday, July 30 some of our teens and adults went to Framingham, Massachusetts for the annual Music Festival.

Martin Doman was there.

So was Righteous B--always a big hit!

The day was filled with deep, spiritual conversation.

Archbishop Sean O'Malley celebrated Mass.

All the praise and worship was exhausting.

Five unidentified people.

Three amigos.

I think they all had a good time and can't wait to go back next year!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Steubenville East 2005: Experience The Glory!

Each year we take teenagers to the Steubenville East Youth Conference. It provides our young people with an opportunity to experience Jesus Christ in a personal way while among their peers. For many, this weekend is a life-changing event. Here is this year's stellar group from St. Pius X! (Click on this and the other images to enlarge.)

Does anyone know who these two chaperones are?

I teased them a lot, but I believe we had the finest chaperones at this year's conference. (And yes, that includes the deacon!)

On Saturday night Jesus moves powerfully in the lives of these teens. It happens during the empowerment prayer service, when our Eucharistic Lord is brought into the tent, carried in a monstrance. Just before the Saturday evening session began this year, a thunderstorm occurred. When it was over, a double-rainbow appeared in the sky. As the rainbow was a sign of God's covenant with Noah (see Genesis 9), so this rainbow was a sign of God's special presence with us that night.

The men were as one body on Saturday, leading the group in prayer and praise.

The women were no less enthusiastic!

Remember, friends are friends FOREVER, if the Lord's the lord of them!

They were playing 'The Happy Song' inside the tent, and some of our young people couldn't contain themselves!

As these pictures indicate, praising God and expressing your Catholic faith can be exciting!
But who is that guy with the light sabre in his left hand?

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Three Ways To Deal With The Ever-Present ‘Weeds’ Of This Life

(Sixteenth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on July 17, 2005 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Matthew 13: 24-43.)

Members of the Christian Student Fellowship at Indiana University

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Sixteenth Sunday 2005]

The article was entitled, “Faith and Frat Boys.” It appeared in this year’s May 9th issue of Time Magazine, and it began this way:

“At 3:30 on a Sunday morning, Brandon Straub soberly surveyed the bodies draped across the sofas in his fraternity house at Indiana University. . . .

‘I’d be lying if I didn’t say that seeing some of these scenes makes me sad,’ he said, ‘How will they feel when they wake up in the morning?’

Truth is, most of them wouldn’t be up in the morning. By the time the revelers rose, after noon, Straub, 21, who is not only a loyal fraternity member but also a leader in the Greek InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, had already gone to church and come back. As some of his frat brothers nursed hangovers and others cleaned up from the night before, Straub pondered his situation. He walks a fine line of faith at Indiana, which is currently ranked by the Princeton Review as America’s No. 15 party school (and No. 5 in the category ‘lots of beer’). The challenge, Straub says, is ‘How can I serve God and love the guys here?’”

I think it’s safe to say that Brandon Straub has a very deep appreciation of the parable Jesus told in today’s Gospel reading from Matthew 13—because he’s currently experiencing the reality of this parable firsthand on the campus of Indiana University!

Jesus speaks here about wheat (which symbolizes those who are trying to live as the Lord’s disciples) and weeds (which symbolize those who are living ungodly lives); and he makes it clear that on this earth the wheat and the weeds coexist. They live together and they grow together.

Now what does that mean, practically speaking?

Very simply, it means that as much as you might want to separate yourself from people who tempt you to do wrong and who try to lead you away from Jesus Christ, the fact is you can’t escape them! In one way or another, they will always be around!

So you have to learn to deal with them!—because there’s really no other viable option!

The article in Time Magazine was all about how young Christian college students today are trying to deal with the “weeds” they encounter on their respective campuses. And the article (I’m quite happy to say) made it clear that it can be done! Even at the No. 15 party school in the nation, it’s possible to resist the influence of the weeds and stay on the narrow road that leads to eternal life.

But it’s not magic. There are certain things that all of us—young and not so young—need to do in order to deal effectively with our daily “weeds”.

I’ll share 3 of them with you today.

Number 1: Take responsibility for your spiritual life!

Most of us have no trouble whatsoever taking responsibility for our physical health—because our culture encourages us to do so! When I go to work out, for example, there are almost always 15-20 people in the gym with me. If I had to venture a guess I would say that there are probably not as many people in church at the same hour. Face it, in the modern world it’s extremely easy to neglect your soul these days! But neglecting your soul will make you extremely vulnerable to the influence of the “weeds” around you. That’s because you’re weak—and so am I.

In today’s second reading, St. Paul says, “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness”: that’s the good news! But we must actively seek the power of the Spirit by taking responsibility for our spiritual lives: by having a regular, daily prayer time and sticking to it; by being faithful to Mass; and by going to Confession often—especially when we fall into serious sin.

Number 2: If you want to resist the influence of the weeds, make sure you surround yourself with lots of wheat!

In the Time Magazine article there’s a story told about Joshua Hoke, the son of a Protestant minister who’s now a student at Indiana. When Joshua was growing up, he was forced to practice his faith. (When your dad’s the minister, you go to church on Sunday morning whether you want to or not!) So when he first arrived at Indiana in 2002, he decided to see how the other side lived. As he put it, “Christianity wasn’t a choice [at home], and [here] I wanted to do what I wanted to do. The culture of college is, If it feels good, do it.”

So he did “it”: he smoked pot, drank heavily, and even tried cocaine—but it all left him empty. One night in his sophomore year he went for a walk and prayed, “God, are you even on this campus?” At that moment, he had an experience like St. Augustine had just before his conversion: he heard music in the distance, coming from one of the houses on “Greek Row.” He thought it was a band playing in one of the frats, but when he checked it out he discovered that it was a worship team at one of the Christian fellowship houses. Now Joshua Hoke lives in that house with 54 other students who are also trying to take their Christianity seriously.

He’s learning to resist the weeds again, because he’s surrounding himself with lots of wheat.

Where’s the wheat in your life? Or maybe I should ask, Who are the stalks of wheat who help you to resist the weeds every day?

And finally, number 3: Be honest with yourself.

If Brandon Straub—the young man I mentioned at the beginning of my homily, who’s a practicing Christian living in a wild frat house at Indiana University—if he began at some point to do the things his frat brothers do every Saturday night, hopefully he would be honest with himself and say, “I need to get out of here, before I become just like them!” So far, he’s managed to remain true to what he believes in—and that’s great. But he might begin to weaken at some point in the future—perhaps in the midst of a big trial or disappointment—and the temptation will be for him to deny that he’s in any spiritual danger: “I’ll be alright. I can handle it. I’m not going to fall.”

Beware of that kind of self-deception! It can turn you into a weed before you know it!

I remember when Brian Sistare (now Fr. Juniper) had his conversion many years ago. In the first months after he gave his life to Christ he continued to go to parties with his old friends. He didn’t go to drink; he went so that he could be a positive influence on his old drinking buddies. And to some extent, he succeeded. But it soon became apparent to him that he couldn’t continue to do this without being influenced in a negative way by them. Thankfully, he was honest with himself and admitted his weakness.

So what did he do? Well, very simply, he turned these old friends into “casual acquaintances”. He didn’t eliminate them from his life completely, but he did stop hanging around with them in the same way that he had before his conversion. And he was much better off because of it.

Are we prepared to be as honest with ourselves in similar situations? Hopefully we are.

So there you have it—3 ways to deal with the ever-present weeds of human existence: #1 take responsibility for your spiritual life; #2 surround yourself with lots of wheat; and #3 always be honest with yourself.

Jesus concludes this parable by saying that in the end, the weeds will be cast into the fiery furnace, while “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of the Father”. In the words of last week’s Steubenville conference, Jesus is saying that the righteous—the wheat—will “experience the glory”—not just for a few moments, not just for a weekend, not just for 4 years of college, but forever!

May that thought inspire us all to “be” the Lord’s wheat, and to deal effectively with the many, many weeds that surround us.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Parable Of The Sower: YOU Choose Where The Seed Is Sown!

(Fifteenth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on July 10, 2005 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Matthew 13:1-23.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fifteenth Sunday 2005]

It’s happened after the Steubenville Youth Conference every year—when the teens have come back to Westerly.

It’s happened after every parish mission.

It happened after Pope John Paul II visited a foreign country during his pontificate.

It happened after young Jill Gaccione from Westerly died of cancer, just a week after graduating from high school.

It happened after Chad Antoch from our town died in a terrible car accident on East Avenue during the fall of his senior year at Westerly High.

It happened after the events of September 11, 2001.

It’s happened after every Mass in which the truth of Jesus Christ has been proclaimed with clarity and conviction.

What is “it” you ask?

“It” concerns the parable we heard a few moments ago from Matthew 13 (the parable of the sower).

You see, after all those events that I just mentioned took place, the parable of the sower was “played out” in the lives of ordinary people like you and me.

That’s the “it” that happened.

In other words, the parable was no longer simply “on paper”: after all those events I just described it was actually lived out because of the choices people made.

Take, for example, the Steubenville East Conference at LaSallette Shrine in Attleboro (which, incidentally, is happening as we speak; more than 60 teens from our area are attending this year). Like the seed that fell on the path, some of the young people who go each year hear the message of the weekend without fully understanding it. But instead of seeking that deeper understanding afterward, they make the choice to forget about it all and go on with their lives—and so Satan “steals away” whatever truth was sown in their minds and hearts during the retreat.

Some others respond very positively during the weekend. They’re like the seed that fell on rocky ground. Something begins to take root in them on the retreat, and because of that they come back to Westerly on an emotional and spiritual high. But when their faith is challenged in some way after they return (perhaps because of a trial they experience), they make the wrong choice and proceed to give up on God.

Here’s an example of what I mean. . . .

On the very first Steubenville trip to Ohio, we had a young man named Jeremy with us. He had a fantastic weekend; he experienced God in a way he never had before; and he began to come to terms with the things in his life that he needed to change. But on the plane flight back to Rhode Island he called his parents at home, and he found out that a classmate of his had just died after a long battle with cancer. Well, sadly, that was the end of Jeremy’s walk with the Lord during his high school years. It lasted only a few hours, because the seed had fallen on rocky ground.

Others come back from the retreat and do very well—until Satan gets their priorities out of order. And that can happen so easily! They stop going to Mass because they “have to work on Sundays”; they stop coming to prayer group because they’re “too busy and have too much homework”; they forget their good Catholic friends and begin to hang around with teens who are heavy into the “party scene”—because they decide they want to be popular. And so they become like the seed sown among thorns: “choked,” as Jesus would say, by worldly anxiety and the lure of riches.

Finally, there are those who come back from the weekend, go to Mass and Confession regularly, and continue to grow spiritually. They’re like the fruitful seed that fell on rich soil. Oh yes, they struggle just like the rest of us. They have days when God seems very close to them, and days when he seems a million miles away. They take two steps forward spiritually; then they sometimes take one step backward. But they never give up!

And because they persevere in this way, God fashions them into good, fruitful servants. Some of these young people have gone on to become priests and religious (many of you know that), but most of those in this final group are currently laypeople living in the world with all of you. Many of them are now married and raising children in the faith. They’re taking the message of Vatican II seriously, and are bringing their Catholic values into the marketplace as doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc.

This is how the parable of the sower has been “played out” after every Steubenville high school youth conference. But the same thing has happened after all those other events I mentioned earlier: after every parish mission, after every papal visit, after Jill Gaccione’s death and Chad Antoch’s death, after the events of 9/11, after every Mass where God’s word has been preached with power and conviction. Some have heard the message of truth in these situations, and have allowed it to go in one ear and out the other; others have accepted it, but then fallen away when trials have come to them; still others have gotten distracted by worldly concerns and have turned away; and some have said Yes to the word and have persevered in their Yes—bearing lots of fruit for God in the process.

In the world of nature, seeds cannot choose where they’re sown. (We all know that.) If they’re thrown on a path, their fate is sealed. The same is true if they’re thrown on rocky ground, or among thorns, or onto good soil.

But Jesus makes clear in this parable what I’ve tried to make crystal clear in this homily: that in the spiritual dimension we all can—and we all do—choose where the seed is sown in us. Through the exercise of our own free will, we determine what kind of “soil” the seed of God’s word falls upon in our hearts.

Let’s pray at this Mass that the Lord will find only good, rich, fertile, healthy soil inside of us.