Tuesday, August 30, 2005

How Deep Is Your Love?

The Brothers Gibb, alias the Bee Gees.

(Twenty-third Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Romans 13: 8-10; Matthew 18: 15-20.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-third Sunday 2005]

How deep is your love?

The Bee Gees turned that little question into a number 1 song back in the late 1970s, making millions of dollars in the process.

Today I’ll turn it into the theme of my Sunday homily and won’t make any money whatsoever—but hopefully the message I share will help all of us to become better disciples of Jesus Christ (which is really much more important in the long run).

How deep is your love?

Now in past generations the meaning of that question would have been crystal clear. But in an era of trashy soap operas, sleazy novels and “The Real World” of MTV—it definitely needs to be explained a little bit.

When I use the term “love” in this context, I’m talking about authentic, genuine love—not the counterfeit version that’s so prevalent in our culture at the present time.

Speaking of the counterfeit, last week I was listening to the radio, and I heard a man from California being interviewed on a talk show. This man claims to love his wife, but he wants to go out with another woman because “that’s how men are; they need that kind of experience from time to time.” And he expects his wife to show her love for him by respecting his “needs” and tolerating his behavior.

Now I’ll be honest with you, when I first heard this I thought for sure that the man was joking, but it soon became clear to me that he was dead serious! And the talk show host wasn’t startled in the least by the man’s remarks!

Please understand: when I ask, “How deep is your love?” that’s definitely not the type of love I’m talking about!

I’m talking about the “real deal,” which is best defined by the image on the back wall of our sanctuary: the cross of Jesus Christ!

“Greater love no one has,’ Jesus said, ‘than to lay down his life for his friends.”

I could begin by asking, “Is your love that deep?”—but since I don’t want to discourage anyone at the start I won’t.

To love in this Christ-like, Biblical sense is “to desire the good” for somebody else. Jesus died on the cross because he desired the “good”--namely, heaven--for each of us and for every human person created in his image and likeness.

At the beginning of today’s second reading from Romans 12, St. Paul says something very interesting. He says that we actually “owe” this type of love to other people.

And why is that? Why are we expected by God to show this love to others?

Because Jesus first showed it to us, that’s why! He showed it to us when he poured out his blood for our salvation.

Jesus thought that human beings were worth this type of radical, selfless, sacrificial love—and according to St. Paul if Jesus thought that about people, then so should we!

Back now to the issue I raised at the beginning of my homily: How deep is your love? How deep is it at the present moment?

Is it deep enough such that you would never consciously lead another person into sin? In the last verse of today’s second reading St. Paul says, “Love does no evil to the neighbor.” If I really love you it means that I would never consciously encourage you to damage your relationship with Almighty God or with others in any way! But think how often people today lead their so-called friends into sin. It happens all the time!—“C’mon, nobody will get hurt; nobody will know; you’ll have a good time.”

Think of how many marriages and families have been destroyed with that line! If someone tries to lead you into sin in this way in the near future, remember the message of this homily, and realize that that person doesn’t really love you—at least they don’t love you with the authentic love of Jesus Christ!

How deep is your love?

Is it deep enough such that you will tell your friends the truth when they do something wrong? This is certainly one of the messages of today’s Gospel passage from Matthew 18. Jesus is instructing his disciples here on how to love those who sin against them in some way. (I know the text doesn’t sound like it’s about love, but it is!) Jesus begins by saying, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault.” Most of us (and I definitely include myself here) would rather avoid confrontation in our interpersonal relationships. But if we really do love others, we need to pray for the grace to overcome that tendency to be silent. We need to pray for the grace to tell them the truth they need to hear about themselves, in a respectful way.

How deep is your love?

Is it deep enough, such that you will make every effort to share the truth of the Gospel with your friends and acquaintances (even if you don’t see them doing something seriously wrong)? Think about it . . . the greatest “good” we can desire for any other person is their eternal salvation. But sometimes that’s the last thing people are willing to talk about—even with those they claim to love deeply! That makes no sense does it?

And finally, Is your love deep enough, such that you will be willing to avoid someone’s company for a time, to make it clear to them that their unrepented sin is grossly unacceptable? This is another difficult one, and it should only be done as a last resort—as Jesus indicates in this Gospel. That’s what he means when he says that after you have made every other effort to deal with the sinner, you should “treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” Basically that means avoiding his company for a time—until he’s willing to take responsibility for his behavior.

Psychologists often refer to this approach as “tough love”. It’s very hard to do—especially with members of your immediate family (some of us know this by experience)—but at times it can be necessary, as Jesus indicates here.

How deep is your love?

If you’ve somehow managed to stay awake during this homily and have faced the issue honestly, you now realize why you need to come to Mass—at least every Sunday and holy day!

It’s because your love is not deep enough—and neither is mine! And so we come to Mass to receive the grace of God by listening to his message of love in Scripture, and by receiving the sacrament of his love, the Holy Eucharist, so that his real love within us will grow--and be more visibly evident when we leave here.

This means that all good Catholics—from the pope on down—will have to answer this simple question in the very same way.

If someone says to them, “How deep is your love?” they will respond with honesty and with faith by saying, “Not deep enough; but hopefully getting deeper--by the grace of God—each and every day and at each and every Mass.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

When It Comes To Your Catholic Faith, Do You Have A ‘Game Face’? And How Often Do You Have It On?

Tom Brady, Curt Schilling, Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong with their "game faces" on.

(Twentieth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on August 14, 2005 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Matthew 15: 21-28.)

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

It’s called “a game face”.

It’s the look that every great athlete has when he’s about to compete for a big prize in his chosen sport. Tom Brady has had it in 3 Super Bowls. Curt Schilling had it in game 6 of last year’s ALCS against the Yankees, and in game 2 of the World Series against the Cardinals. Tiger Woods has it in every major golf tournament. Lance Armstrong has had it in the last 7 Tour de France cycling races—and he’s won them all!

Having a game face is about having a certain appearance, a certain look in your eyes when you’re competing. But even more importantly, it’s about having a certain attitude. In fact, every “game face” begins in the heart. There’s a look of determination and desire on the athlete’s face, because there’s an attitude of fiery determination in his or her heart.

The question I have for myself and for all of you today is this: When it comes to your Catholic faith, do you have a “game face”? And if so, how often do you have it on?

(The second question, incidentally, is just as important as the first.)

In the spiritual dimension, having a “game face” means having a determination to seek Jesus and love Jesus and follow Jesus and obey Jesus and live for Jesus—regardless of the obstacles and the opposition you might encounter along the way.

In other words, it means being a lot like the Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel story from Matthew 15.

On the day Jesus came to her town in the region of Tyre and Sidon, this woman put on her game face and absolutely refused to take it off—although she easily could have. Several times!

And Jesus knew it!—which is why he said to her, “O woman, great is your faith!”

There are very few occasions in Scripture where we are told that Jesus was impressed by somebody’s personal faith, but this is one of them. Another was when the Roman centurion came and requested a healing for his dying servant. (He, interestingly enough, was also a Gentile.) About him Jesus said, “I have never found so much faith among the Israelites.”

This Canaanite woman made a faith-filled request to Jesus, asking him to heal her possessed daughter. And she persevered in making that request. But exercising such incredible perseverance wasn’t easy. In order to keep her game face on and resist the temptation to give up the cause, she had to overcome a number of obstacles and difficulties.

For example, she more than likely had to disregard the objections and negative comments of her friends and relatives.

Remember, this woman was a Canaanite by birth, and Jesus was a Jew. Those two groups (the Canaanites and the Jews) had been enemies for centuries. Can you imagine the reaction of her Canaanite relatives and friends, if she told them beforehand that she intended to seek a healing from a Jewish rabbi?

“You’re going to do what? From whom? What are you, crazy? He’s one of ‘them’! What are you thinking, woman? Don’t you understand?—he’ll probably call you ‘unclean’ and spit in your face!”

Our friends can sometimes give us good advice and help us to draw closer to God, but at other times they can give us very bad advice and draw us away from the Lord. They can cause us, in other words, to lose our game face, and become just like the rest of the world in our attitudes and behavior.

When my friends try to exert a negative influence on me, how often do I stay strong like this Canaanite woman did? That’s a question for everyone, but I think it’s especially important for you teenagers to ponder—because your friends play such an important role in your lives.

But this was not the only obstacle she had to overcome. There were other dissenting voices she also had to deal with—and sadly these were voices that should have been encouraging her to persevere! Lest we forget, the Bible says that Jesus’ disciples also wanted this woman out of the picture. They also wanted her to leave. In fact, they went up to our Lord at one point and said to him, “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.”

How many Catholics—young and old—lose their game face (their commitment to Jesus), when they find themselves in a hostile environment? In school, for example, when almost everyone in the class says they’re “pro-choice”; or at work, when others attack the Church or some teaching of the Catholic faith?

This woman didn’t care what her own people thought; she didn’t care what the disciples thought; she had her game face on, and no human being—not even a friend, a relative or a disciple—was going to get her to take it off!

And neither was any negative or difficult circumstance! We’re told at the beginning of the story that when she first called out to Jesus on behalf of her daughter, our Lord said nothing to her—absolutely nothing—although he heard what she was saying.

Have you ever prayed for something important, and felt as if God were giving you the “silent treatment”?

It can happen. Even though God always hears and responds to our prayers in some way, at certain times it can seem like he’s being completely silent and not giving us any answer at all.

And that perceived silence is enough to get some people to take off their game faces for good.

It did not have that effect on this woman! Quite oppositely (and amazingly!), it made her even more determined to follow Jesus!

Or how about when God says No—or at least when he seems to say No? How does that affect your game face? For some, sad to say, it’s devastating.

I mentioned a young man named Jeremy in a homily I gave about a month ago. Jeremy came with us the very first year we took teenagers to the Steubenville Youth Conference out in Ohio. 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. In other words, he made the decision to put on his “game face of faith”! However during the trip back home, he phoned his parents here in Westerly, and he found out that one of his best friends from high school had just died after a long battle with cancer.

I’m sure Jeremy had prayed for his friend very hard during his time in Ohio. He prayed that his friend would be physically healed. God, unfortunately, said No to that intention; and sadly, Jeremy took off his game face—immediately! And I don’t think he’s put in back on since—although I and many other people are praying that he someday will.

There are 3 possible responses to prayers of petition: Yes, No and Wait! Jesus at first didn’t answer the Canaanite woman when she asked to have her daughter healed; and then when he finally did respond he really wasn’t very clear as to whether he was saying No or Wait. But what’s important to note is that Jesus’ unclear response didn’t weaken the woman’s faith at all! Not even a little bit! In fact, in a mysterious way, it actually caused her faith to grow stronger!

And so she eventually obtained the blessing that she was seeking: a blessing she would not have received had she taken off her game face and given up somewhere along the way.

When it comes to your Catholic faith, do you have a “game face”? And if so, how often do you have it on?

The lesson of today’s Gospel story is that if you put it on by following and serving and obeying Jesus—and if you keep it on in spite of what others may say and in spite of difficult circumstances—you will be blessed in many special ways, like this Canaanite woman was.

And in the end, you will receive the ultimate blessing—the ultimate reward of your persevering faith: everlasting life!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Parish Sunset Cruise: August 8, 2005

Each year our parish sponsors a sunset cruise aboard the Argia, an authentic 81 foot replica of a 19th century schooner that sails out of Mystic, Connecticut (click here for more information).
The cruise takes us into Fisher's Island Sound, just opposite St. Edmund's Retreat. There we hold a brief prayer service, led by Deacon Fran Valliere and Mark Gordon.
This year the sky was a little hazy, but the air was warm and comfortable. Dinner was enhanced (once again!) by great wine, provided by John and Carol Marzano.
Enjoy the pictures!

Everyone waited patiently for the boat to arrive, with the exception of Joey Brocato (the guy with his arms crossed).

Ready to go!

Fran and Donna (a.k.a. Mr. and Mrs. Deacon)

Deacon Fran gave the homily during the prayer service, but Fr. Ray couldn't resist the opportunity to preach to a captive audience.

Two stowaways known only as SW and SM.

Top to bottom: John and Charlotte, Mike and Mary Ellen, Bob and Luann, Mark and Michelle. All are happy because the kids are with babysitters!

Deacons--always serving!

Thanks, John! We couldn't have done it without you!

Friday, August 05, 2005

Annual Mass At The Beach: August 4, 2005

The Eucharist is at the center of our lives as Catholics. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, it is "the source and summit of the Christian life" (CCC, 1324).
Every year we gather our young people at the beach here in Westerly for a special Mass. It's a great opportunity for them to meet Jesus in word and sacrament--in the midst of his beautiful and awesome creation!
I thank Jim and Fran Pucci (and Lauren!) for hosting this event every year. May our Eucharistic Lord bless them for their hospitality and generosity.

Here are some pictures from this year's event:

The crowd begins to gather.

Fran the music man gets the sound system in order.

Deacon Greg reflects on his homily before Mass while Fr. Ray prays for him.


Everyone rejoiced in the Spirit at the end of the Liturgy.

"Just a little something," courtesy of Fran, Jim and Lauren.

"You mean it takes videos, too?"