Sunday, February 17, 2008

Remember the Patriots of 2007!

David Tyree making his famous catch that helped bring the 2007 New England Patriots "down from the mountain".

(Second Sunday of Lent (A): This homily was given on February 17, 2008 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, RI, by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Matthew 17: 1-9.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Second Sunday of Lent 2008]

Remember the Patriots of 2007. (Incidentally, that’s a statement, not a question!)

When you’re tempted to put other things before God in your life, remember the Patriots of 2007.

When you’re tempted to miss a Sunday Mass, or avoid Confession (when you need it), or neglect your daily prayer time, remember the Patriots of 2007.

When you’re tempted to compromise your moral principles in some way, remember the Patriots of 2007.

When you’re tempted to let your worldly accomplishments—your earthly successes—go to your head; when you’re tempted to think that you’re God’s gift to the world, and that you can make it through this life on your own power and resources, remember the Patriots of 2007.

And then resist the temptation!

In the Gospel story we just heard from Matthew 17, Peter, James and John went “to the top,” so to speak,—like the Patriots did in the 2007 NFL season. They traveled up Mt. Tabor with Jesus, and had an awesome, overwhelming spiritual experience: they saw Jesus transfigured before their eyes, and Moses and Elijah in conversation with him.

And Peter wanted to stay there—which is quite understandable! He and his friends were getting a little glimpse of heaven, and he wanted it to continue. (A pretty normal reaction, if you ask me.) So he said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

But Jesus—and his heavenly Father—said No! (sort of like the Giants said No to the Pats in the Super Bowl a few weeks ago!). The joy they were experiencing on the mountain that day couldn’t go on forever—at least not on this side of the grave. They had to descend Mt. Tabor and go back into the “valley of their lives,” so to speak, where they would have some joys but also a lot of trials and disappointments to deal with. Of course, they were supposed to be different after seeing Jesus transfigured. In fact, that’s precisely why the Lord took them up there and gave them this glimpse of his divinity. He knew they needed to be different! He knew he would be crucified in the very near future, and he wanted these 3 apostles (who were the leaders in the apostolic group) to grow in strength, so that they would remain faithful in the midst of the awful events of Holy Thursday and Good Friday.

Notice the words God the Father spoke from heaven: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” In other words, “Be clear about it, Jesus is my divine Son; he’s the Messiah you’ve been waiting for. So remain faithful, even if you see horrible things happening to him in the near future; even if everyone else turns against him.”

The time these apostles spent on top of Mt. Tabor was great—but eventually it came to an end. The Patriots stayed on top of the professional football mountain for an incredible 18 straight weeks this year—but eventually their time on top also came to an end (much to the joy of the New York Giants, and the surviving members of the 1972 Miami Dolphins!).

And that’s the way it is with everything in this life, with the exception of our relationship with God: sooner or later, no matter how good it is, it ends. That’s a truth we must always remember! (Ah yes, Giant fans, even your time on top will have a terminal point somewhere down the road! So enjoy it while it lasts, like the apostles enjoyed their time on the mountain with Jesus.)

I will conclude my homily now as I began it:

When you’re tempted to put other things before God in your life, remember the Patriots of 2007. Remember their sudden demise—their painful, very quick descent down “the pigskin mountain of glory” and into the valley! If you do that, it should motivate you to get your priorities in order and put God in the number one spot in your life—where he belongs!

When you’re tempted to miss a Sunday Mass, or avoid Confession (when you need it), or neglect your daily prayer time, remember the Patriots of 2007. The mighty Patriots “died” in the end—and so will you and I! So don’t take any chances with your soul! Make sure it’s in the state of grace—because your soul is the one part of you that won’t ever die.

When you’re tempted to compromise your moral principles in some way (at work or at school—or even when you’re preparing your taxes) remember the Patriots of 2007. Remembering the Patriots will remind you that it’s not worth it! (Someone needs to tell this to certain steroid-using baseball players!) Now it’s true, you may get a few moments of pleasure, or a few extra bucks, or a few years of comfort and glory by giving in to this particular temptation—but at some point in the future it will all come to an end (perhaps very suddenly), and then you’ll have to answer to Almighty God himself for these unrepented sins in your life.

When you’re tempted to let your worldly accomplishments—your earthly successes—go to your head; when you’re tempted to think that you are God’s gift to the world, and that you can make it through this life on your own power and resources, remember, one final time, the Patriots of 2007. Remembering the Patriots will help you to be humble and grateful in the good times (in the 18-0 periods of your life). It will also help you to keep all your accomplishments in perspective; and it will help you cope when you fail. The “crucifixion experiences” of your life will not destroy you.

We can learn lessons from everything, my brothers and sisters, including our favorite sports teams. The Pats of 2007, who had a Transfiguration-like experience for 18 straight weeks, teach us that we must never, ever place our ultimate hope in the things of this world, or in any other human person here on earth. If we do, there will always be a “week 19”—eventually. Guaranteed!

Our hope needs to be in Jesus Christ—who won the ETERNAL victory on the Cross, and who will share that victory with us, if we follow him faithfully over the mountains—and through the valleys—of this life.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Satan, the Master of Verbal Deceit

(First Sunday of Lent (A): This homily was given on February 10, 2008 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Genesis 2:7-3:1-7.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: First Sunday of Lent 2008]

One day shortly after her husband’s death, Judy got together with a friend of hers at the local coffee shop. At one point during their conversation Judy said, “Did you know that my husband Joe was a real cheapskate? He didn’t even leave me any insurance money!”

Her friend said, “Well if he didn’t leave you any insurance money, where did you get that beautiful new diamond ring you’re wearing?”

Judy paused for a few seconds. Then she said, “Well, okay, I’ll tell you the truth. Joe did leave me $10,000 in his will. Out of that money, $1,000 was to be used to buy a nice casket, and $9,000 was to be used to buy a nice stone.”

Then she smiled, held up the diamond ring and said, “And this is a very nice stone indeed!”

Now I would like to think that Judy simply misunderstood her husband’s request, but it’s pretty clear from the details of the story that she knew exactly what he wanted: a nice gravestone over his remains at the local cemetery.

But she wanted a diamond ring instead, so she conveniently and deceitfully twisted the meaning of his words to justify her action.

Which, incidentally, is exactly the kind of thing that Satan does! Satan is the Master of Verbal Deceit; he loves to twist the meaning of words, he loves to play games with words—for the purpose of leading human beings into sin and eventually into hell!

He even tempts people—like Judy—to play games with their words in order to rationalize their sinful behavior.

And so very often, it works.

It all began in the Garden of Eden, as we heard in today’s first reading from Genesis 3. When Eve said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die,’” how did the serpent respond?

He responded by twisting the meaning of God’s words, in order to lead Eve and her husband into sin! He said, in effect, “God didn’t mean that you would actually die! He said that because he really doesn’t care about you. He wants to hold you back and keep you down and squelch the incredible potential that you and Adam have as human beings!”

Then Satan played the ultimate word game to seal the deal and get Eve to take the big bite. He said, “If you [and Adam] eat this fruit, you’ll be like gods who know what is good and what is evil.”

The key word in that temptation, of course, is the word “know.” Yes, it’s true, God does know the difference between good and evil—as the devil said. But he knows it like I know the difference between good health and typhoid fever. For me, typhoid fever is something that’s “out there,” because I don’t have the disease personally (thank God!). I know it in my mind only; I don’t know it experientially!

God “knows” evil in the same way. It doesn’t touch his inner life; for him, it’s always “out there”. But when Satan said to Eve, “If you eat this fruit, you’ll know evil too,” he meant something very different. He meant, “If you eat this fruit, you’ll know evil—because you’ll actually experience it! You’ll know it from the inside. You’ll know it in the sense that it will come into your heart and make you miserable and ruin your entire life.”

This is why I called Satan “the Master of Verbal Deceit.”

Twisting the meaning of words is one of his most despicable talents.

And it’s one that he’s still utilizing today, in our generation, by getting people to redefine words and concepts in order to justify their evil actions.

For example, think of how the word “freedom” has been redefined in recent years in order to justify everything from pornography to so-called “gay marriage.”

Think of how “rights” have been redefined in our civil laws so as to exclude the “right to life” of the unborn.

Think of how the meaning of the word “person” has been changed, in order to justify evils like embryonic stem cell research. These men and women say, “The embryo is not a ‘person’ according to us, so we can do whatever we want with it.”

Forty years ago in medical textbooks “pregnancy” was rightly said to begin at the moment of conception. That’s how the word was defined. But certain doctors who wanted to justify the use of abortifacient contraceptives (like the IUD and the birth control pill) succeeded in changing the definition, so that now medical textbooks say that pregnancy begins at the moment of implantation.

How diabolically convenient!

There are literally dozens of words that fit into this category: marriage (that used to mean one man and one woman, but now in certain circles it can mean just about anything); normal (so-called “normal behavior” in 2008 is very different from normal behavior 50 years ago); virtue and vice (their meanings have actually been reversed in some segments of our society—virtue has become vice and vice has become virtue!).

All these words and many others have been redefined in our culture for the sole purpose of defining deviancy down, and making sin acceptable.

It’s a clever strategy. And it will continue to work—as it worked with Adam and Eve—unless by the grace of God we resist and put a stop to it, beginning in our own personal lives.

The choice, as always, is ours.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Talk at Portsmouth Abbey: "Conversion is from the HEART to the HEAD to the BODY"

On Thursday, February 7, I helped to give a one-day Lenten retreat to the students at Portsmouth Abbey School in Portsmouth, RI. I was joined by Martin Doman and Fathers Bernard Murphy and Luke Fletcher of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.
The day was planned by Mr. Dan Hodes, a teacher at the school and a parishioner of St. Pius X Parish.
Hodes, you did a great job! We're proud of you and Kendra (Kendra Smith, another parishioner who teaches at the Abbey) here in Westerly.
Here is the audio version of the talk I gave to the students on the dynamics of conversion: Conversion

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The ‘Beatitudes of the Super Bowl Commercials’ and the Beatitudes of Jesus Christ

Terry Tate, Office Linebacker

(Fourth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on February 3, 2008 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Matthew 5: 1-12.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourth Sunday of the Year 2008]

You just heard the Beatitudes according to Jesus Christ.

A little later today you’ll hear another version of these sayings—believe it or not—courtesy of the wonderful people who bring you the commercials at the Super Bowl!

Did you realize that?

Now to be sure, the men and women who advertise during the Super Bowl every year don’t express their beatitudes in the same way that Jesus did here in Matthew 5, in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was clear and direct and right to the point in these 12 verses of Sacred Scripture; they, for the most part, are much more subtle in how they share their messages with us and with the world.

That’s what makes them good advertisers. It’s what makes them effective in what they do!

Both sets of beatitudes, of course—the Beatitudes of Jesus and what I would call “the beatitudes of the Super Bowl commercials”—represent philosophies of life (very different philosophies of life!). Both sets of beatitudes say to us, “Do these things, and you will have lasting happiness; do these things and you will fulfill your true potential as human beings; do these things and your relationship with God will be what it should be; do these things and your relationships with other people will be what they should be.”

Let me now illustrate the difference between these 2 sets of beatitudes by giving you a few concrete examples:

As we heard a few moments ago, Jesus said in Matthew 5, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”; in other words, “Blessed are those who know they need God, and who put him first in their lives” (that’s basically what it means to be poor in spirit).

The Super Bowl advertisers, by contrast, say, “Blessed are those who get rich—fast—by making good deals online with E*Trade, or by making good investments with Charles Schwab or TD Waterhouse or some other big investment firm!”

Jesus said in Matthew 5, “Blessed are those who mourn” (which includes mourning for your own sins—because if you mourn for your sins, you’ll probably repent of them and receive forgiveness—and that’s a great thing!).

The Super Bowl advertisers, on the other hand, say, “Blessed are those who forget about their sins and party a lot and have a really good time, preferably with an ice cold Bud Light in their hands.”

Jesus said in Matthew 5, “Blessed are the merciful.”

The Super Bowl advertisers say, “Blessed are the tough guys who can push other people around—like Terry Tate, office linebacker!” (Remember him?)

Jesus said in Matthew 5, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

The Super Bowl advertisers say, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for all that this world has to offer! Blessed are those grab for all the gusto they can get!—who feed their earthly appetites to excess, with Doritos and Big Macs and other high fat foods!”

One final example: Jesus said in Matthew 5, “Blessed are the clean of heart.”

The Super Bowl advertisers say, “Blessed are those—like Jessica Simpson, and the models of Victoria’s Secret, and the people at!—who use sex to manipulate others. Blessed are those who treat their bodies (and the bodies of other human beings) like objects.”

Two very different sets of beatitudes; two very different philosophies of life.

When I was preparing for this homily the other day, I came across an on-line article that was entitled, “Super Bowl Ads are a Sign of the Times.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself!

Keep that thought in mind when you watch the Super Bowl later on tonight. Super Bowl commercials are a very clear sign of the times we’re living in; they’re a sign of the materialism, and the selfishness, and the greed, and the hedonism that are so rampant right now in our culture!

Now you know why so many people these days are so unhappy! On an unconscious level at least, they’ve believed the message of these commercials! And that really shouldn’t surprise us, because this is the same message they and all of us are bombarded with every day in pop songs and on television and in movies and in newspapers and in popular magazines!

In fact, the sad reality is that we’ve all been negatively influenced to some extent by these lies of the world! We’ve been unconsciously formed (or should I say “deformed”?) by these false, poisonous ideas.

And so the true Beatitudes—the Beatitudes of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior—can sound outlandish to us at times! For example, I’m sure that many Catholics all over the world will hear this Gospel reading proclaimed today at Sunday Mass, and they’ll say to themselves, “Jesus, what are you talking about? Those Beatitudes make no sense to me! Blessed are the poor in spirit? Blessed are those who mourn? Blessed are the merciful? Blessed are the peacemakers? Blessed are those who try to be holy? Lord Jesus, why in heaven’s name would I want to be any of those things? It sounds to me like a prescription for depression and misery, not a formula for lasting happiness!”

This is why we need to pray every day! This is why we need to read the Bible every day!

Do you? Do you have a regular prayer time, and do you read at least one passage of Sacred Scripture every day?

Remember, the world is programming us all the time to believe these “Super Bowl beatitudes”. It doesn’t just happen on Super Bowl Sunday! The only way to get “unprogrammed”—or “reprogrammed to the truth”—is with God’s help: the kind of help that comes through prayer; the kind of help that comes when we read the Sacred Scriptures and fill our minds with God’s revealed truth.

It’s a constant battle, yes, but it’s a battle worth fighting! Because the reward for believing and for living the real Beatitudes is happiness: relative happiness here on earth, and eternal happiness someday in heaven.

And that last one is a far, far bigger prize than all the Super Bowls of history—put together.