Monday, July 27, 2009

Steubenville East 2009

"Yours, O Lord, are grandeur and power, majesty, splendor, and glory. For all in heaven and on earth is yours; yours, O Lord, is the sovereignty; you are exalted as head OVER ALL.” (1 Chronicles 29: 11)

This was the ‘theme verse’ of the 2009 Steubenville East High School Youth Conference, based on the last two words of the text—OVER ALL (or as other translations render it, ABOVE ALL).

The structure of the weekend was the same as always, but the setting was very different this year. The conference was held on the campus of the University of Rhode Island; the talks and activities took place at the Ryan Center, where the URI men’s basketball team plays.

We wondered if this strictly secular setting would have a negative impact on the spiritual experience of the teenagers, but I think I speak for almost everyone when I say that the encounters our young people had with Christ were as powerful as ever! The arena seating (and the great air conditioning!) helped everyone to focus more intently on the talks, skits, witnesses and various prayer experiences.

The food was great, too!

I am happy to say that for many of the teenagers who attended, the words of 1 Chronicles 29: 11 became a reality! They experienced for themselves the “grandeur, power, majesty, splendor and glory” of the God who is OVER ALL and who LOVES THEM ALL with an eternal love!

Here are some pictures from the weekend.
(Click on the images to enlarge.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sunset Cruise: July 13, 2009

The weather was great for this year's sunset cruise aboard the Argia, an authentic 81 foot replica of a 19th century schooner that sails out of Mystic, Connecticut. The cruise takes us into Fisher's Island Sound, just opposite St. Edmund's Retreat. There we hold a brief prayer service.
Deacon Derek, whose mom joined us for the event, did a great job leading us in prayer.
Enjoy the pictures!
(Click on images to enlarge.)
Thank God this guy wasn't really driving the boat!

(Don't worry, Mt. St. Mary's faculty, it's the Deacon's MOTHER!)

Sunday, July 05, 2009

What Would Our Founding Fathers Say?

(Fourteenth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on July 5, 2009 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Ezekiel 2: 2-5; 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10; Mark 6: 1-6.) 

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourteenth Sunday 2009

What would our Founding Fathers say? 

If they could be resurrected to this life for a brief period of time, and could survey the current state of affairs in the country they helped to establish, what do you think their reaction would be?  

Unfortunately, we can’t know the answer to that question with absolute certainty. We can’t know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, exactly what they would say in the face of contemporary American culture. But we can certainly venture a guess!—based on the things they DID say and write more than 200 years ago. 

For example: 

Here’s a great quote from John Adams, the second President of the United States: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” 

Based on that remark, I think President Adams would say to us, “The Constitution is failing you right now in the United States, because you’ve allowed yourselves to become another kind of people. To a great extent, your culture is no longer moral or religious.” 

Here’s one from Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence: “[T]he only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments. Without religion, I believe that learning does real mischief to the morals and principles of mankind.”

I think Mr. Rush would say to us today, “Have you noticed that there’s a lot of ‘mischief’ in your society right now—mischief which is often sanctioned and promoted by some of your most highly-educated, anti-religious citizens? That’s not a coincidence.” 

Here’s one from John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court: “The Bible is the best of all books, for it is the word of God and teaches us the way to be happy in this world and in the next. Continue therefore to read it and to regulate your life by its precepts.”

Can you imagine what Chief Justice Jay would say about the current attempt to remove all references to God from the public life of our country? He’d probably say, “That’s the biggest mistake you could possibly make, America.” 

And finally there are these two from George Washington (you all know who he was): “Religion and morality are the essential pillars of civil society”; and “It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible.” 

In 2009, George would probably say, “Two hundred years ago I told you it was impossible to govern properly without reference to God and the Scriptures, but you obviously didn’t believe me. Good luck trying to do it another way.”

I think all these Founding Fathers would highly approve of the 3 Scripture readings that God has given us on this Independence Day weekend. They would find them most appropriate, given the current state of affairs in our nation. For example, you could very easily make the case that the United States right now is on the verge of a kind of internal collapse—just like the Kingdom of Judah was on the verge of collapse for its infidelity at the time of Ezekiel, the prophet. As we heard in today’s first reading, they were “a rebellious house.”

And when you think of all the prophetic people that God has sent to us Americans in recent decades, calling us to reform, calling us to turn away from materialism and hedonism and all the manifestations of the culture of death—people like Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and a host of lesser voices; when you think of all these prophetic souls and how they have been—and still are—ridiculed in popular culture and in our nation’s universities, you can’t help but think of the way Jesus was treated by the people of his own hometown of Nazareth 2,000 years ago. As we heard in today’s gospel reading, “they took offense at him.” They tuned him out and refused to believe his message because they thought he was too “ordinary.”

But notice there were consequences to their disbelief. Mark tells us that because of their lack of faith, Jesus was not able to do for the people of his hometown what he wanted to do for them! The evangelist wrote, “So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.”

The people of Nazareth couldn’t have it both ways, and neither can we as citizens of this great nation. If we want God’s blessings in abundance—blessings like peace and justice— then we need to take him and his word seriously. It’s that simple. Chief Justice John Jay understood that truth 200 years ago, as did most of our other Founding Fathers. 

We need to re-learn it in our generation. 

Thankfully, God does promise us sufficient grace in today’s second reading to deal with whatever will come in the future for our country. We can take some consolation in this: the Lord will be there to help those who are faithful to him no matter what happens. His words to St. Paul in this text from 2 Corinthians 12 are also spoken to us as individuals: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” 

In the meantime, if we truly love our country, we should pray every day for the conversion of more of our citizens. (That’s because good Christians—at least in my view—make the best citizens.) We should also work for positive change in our nation as best we can by promoting virtue and actively opposing vice. And we should resolve in future elections to support only those men and women who actually believe in the principles our Founding Fathers believed in—starting with the right to life, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence.

I will close my homily now with a prayer for our nation that I found recently online. As I pray these words out loud, I invite you to join me in praying them in your heart:

God our Father, Giver of life, we entrust the United States of America to your loving care. You are the rock upon which this nation was founded. You alone are the true source of our cherished rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Reclaim this land for your glory, and dwell among your people. Send your Spirit to touch the hearts of our nation’s leaders. Open their minds to the great worth of human life and the responsibilities that accompany human freedom. Remind your people that true happiness is rooted in seeking and doing your will. Through the intercession of Mary Immaculate, Patroness of our land, grant us the courage to reject the culture of death. Lead us into a new era of life. We ask all this through Christ our Lord. Amen.