Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lent: A Time To Get Fit Spiritually!

This homily was given at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. on Ash Wednesday, 2009, by Fr. Raymond Suriani. It is available only in audio form. To listen to the homily, click here: Ash Wednesday 2009

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Importance of ‘Carrying’ Others to Jesus

(Seventh Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on February 22, 2009 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Mark 2: 1-12.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Seventh Sunday of the Year 2009]

If you live on this earth long enough, sooner or later what happened to me in the last 3 weeks will happen to you:

You’ll have an illness or be forced to go through a surgery that will keep you out of commission for an extended period of time.

And if you’re an active person who finds fulfillment and meaning in your daily work (like I do), then the inactivity will drive you absolutely, positively crazy! (Or, if you’re like me, it’ll just make you crazier than you already are!)

One of the reasons for this phenomenon is that most of us tend to measure our self-worth by the number of activities we engage in. If we “do” a lot, then we think our life is worth something; if we “do” little or nothing that the world considers “productive,” then we think our life is worth little or nothing.

This, of course, is not the Catholic and Christian way of looking at reality (which means it’s not the right way of looking at reality), but it is the contemporary cultural way of looking at things—and we’re all affected by it to some extent.

I know I was a few weeks ago, in the aftermath of my shoulder surgery. It was very frustrating. I literally couldn’t “do” much of anything in terms of my normal, daily activities. In fact, I spent an entire week at my sister’s house without ever going out the front door even once!

I’ve never been inside a building continuously for that length of time in my entire life—except, maybe, when my mother took me home from the hospital right after I was born!

I didn’t like it—but I decided early on that I should try to make the best of it. The line of Scripture that came to mind was the one from Ephesians 5 where St. Paul says, “Make the most of every opportunity.”

Believe it or not, there is opportunity in everything—even sickness.

So I made the decision to take advantage of the opportunity God was giving me in my convalescence to do things like read Scripture and pray more. And I resolved that in my prayer I would be like the 4 men in this gospel story we just heard from Mark 2. These 4 men took a paralyzed friend of theirs to Jesus, and the Lord gave the sick man what he needed: first forgiveness, and then healing.

But please notice something: Notice that if these 4 men had not made the effort to physically carry their paralyzed friend to the house where Jesus was and then lower him through the roof into the presence of our Lord, the guy would have remained paralyzed—and even worse he would have remained in his sins!

The man was blessed because—and only because—his friends carried him to Jesus Christ in faith; which is what we do, spiritually speaking, whenever we pray prayers of intercession, and whenever we offer up our sufferings for others in union with the sufferings of Christ: in a certain and very real sense we “carry” our brothers and sisters to the Lord.

Obviously this little biblical story illustrates the fact that God has made some things in this life conditional. Recall that in 1 Corinthians 3, St. Paul tells us that we are God’s “co-workers,” which basically means that we are called to cooperate with God to accomplish his will in the world. It’s not a case of God doing everything and we human beings doing nothing. In God’s design, certain good things will happen in this life only if we do our part to help bring them about. And one of the ways we “do our part” is by “carrying people to the Lord” (in other words, by interceding on their behalf and by offering up our sufferings for them).

Very often, unfortunately, we don’t see the immediate results of our bringing people to Jesus in this way, but thankfully at other times God will let us know that what we’re doing is having a positive effect. In that regard, two weeks ago I was praying and offering up my sufferings for a number of special intentions, one of which was our parish school. So it didn’t surprise me when I called our principal, Henry Fiore, during my convalescence and he told me that new people were calling every day to inquire about registering their children for next year—in spite of the difficult economic situation we’re currently in. One doctor from Cape Cod called, for example, to say he is moving to Westerly in the near future and wants to register his 3 children, all of whom are in upper grades.

Henry had stories like that to tell me every time I phoned him during my recovery.

I said to him, “Well, I take that as a sign that my offered-up pain is making a difference. I don’t like it, mind you, and I’m trying to get rid of it every day, but while I have it I’m trying not to waste it.”

Which leads to the obvious question of the day: Whom have you “carried” to Jesus lately through prayer and/or suffering?

Need a suggestion? How about our new president? As committed Catholics, we should be “taking this man to Jesus” every day in prayer and in acts of penance, asking that God will give him the wisdom he needs to guide us in these tough economic times; but, even more importantly, asking that the Lord will convert his heart on issues like abortion and embryonic stem cell research.

Our new president may have good ideas on many matters of importance to our nation, but, quite frankly, when it comes to life issues his positions are nothing short of atrocious. He’s already given the green light to using taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions in foreign countries, and now he plans on lifting the 8-year ban on embryonic stem cell research imposed by former president Bush.

In this year of St. Paul, we should be praying and doing penance that he will have a St. Paul-like conversion on moral issues like these—which are even more important than our nation’s economy, because they involve direct attacks on our nation’s most innocent citizens.

So I ask you once again: Whom have you “carried” to Jesus lately? If you say “No one,” then realize that you might be depriving our country of some much needed changes at the present time—and you may be depriving the people you love of the blessings God wants to give them. Bishop Sheen used to say, “Thousands of favors are hanging from heaven on silken cords, and prayer is the sword that cuts them down.”

There are many people who are counting on us to do some “cord-cutting” for them in their need.

May we not disappoint them, as the 4 friends of this paralyzed man did not disappoint him 2,000 years ago.

That, my brothers and sisters, is where I was going to end my homily—until yesterday morning, when I received a beautiful email from Betsey Conway, who’s the wife of one of our local veterinarians, Dr. Michael Conway. As you know if you read the Westerly Sun this past week, Dr. Conway was recently diagnosed with a very serious—and very aggressive—form of cancer. That came as a big shock to me, since I just saw him at the gym about a month ago. He was running and lifting weights and appeared to be in perfect health.

You never know, do you?

Betsey’s email contained a reflection that she recently wrote about the trial she and her husband are now dealing with. In it she quotes a sonnet of William Shakespeare, and then she compares an experience she and Mike once had on an airplane to prayer. It ties in perfectly with the theme of this homily, and so I share it with you to conclude today. Here’s part of what Betsey wrote:

Several years ago Mike and I were on an airplane on the evening of the 4th of July. The plane was hugging the long shoreline of Connecticut as we began our descent to Providence. As we gazed in amazement down below, the small towns nestled in the gentle river valleys sparkled with the bright lights of fireworks. As the plane moved on, more wondrous displays unfolded. We were mesmerized, and felt our spirits light up like the earth below.

In these dark nights, bearing the uncertainty and fear that Mike’s condition evokes, we are like the sonnet writer who beweeps our outcast state. But, like the writer at the conclusion of the sonnet, our spirits sing hymns at heaven’s gate when we remember that heaven is not deaf, that we are rich in friends and family, wealthy in their love for us and the love of Jesus Christ.

And so this starry night I like to imagine that the Lord looks down on this sullen earth and sees the brightness of the prayers of people petitioning the Lord on our behalf, much like the fireworks so brilliantly displayed for us that 4th of July. I can imagine how beautiful it is to Him. It is priceless to us and we are richer than kings.

In all my years, I’ve never heard anyone compare intercessory prayers to fireworks—but it really is a great analogy. So when you “carry” your friends and family members to Jesus in the near future, remember to “shoot up a firework or two” for Dr. Mike Conway. I know the good doctor—and his family—would greatly appreciate it.