Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Truth about Pope Benedict and the Priestly Abuse Scandals

(Fourth Sunday of Easter (C): This homily was given on April 25, 2010 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Acts 13: 14, 43-52.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourth Sunday of Easter 2010]

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is extremely powerful.

It has the power to change the greatest sinner into the greatest saint.

It has the power to bring hope to those on the verge of despair.

It has the power to destroy falsehood with truth, and to diffuse hatred with love.

It has the power to address the deepest longings of the human heart.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to do all these things—and more.

Which is precisely why a lot of people fear it and hate it so much!

This fear and hatred go back to the earliest days of the Church, as we heard a few moments ago in our first reading from Acts 13. There we were told that Paul and Barnabas went into a synagogue in Antioch one sabbath day and began to preach the Gospel with great effectiveness. People were there in large numbers and they were listening attentively. And how did the enemies of the apostles respond to this message of truth and hope and love? It says, “They were filled with jealousy and with violent abuse contradicted what Paul said.”

Violent abuse. It sounds like what the New York Times typically hurls at the Catholic Church on its editorial pages, does it not? It’s definitely what the Times and other secular news outlets have been hurling at Pope Benedict XVI in recent weeks—which is what I want to talk about for a few moments today.

I mention the New York Times, incidentally, because most other newspapers and media outlets in this country follow its lead—for better or for worse.

In this case, it’s for worse.

First of all, let me say that this topic is not something which is pleasant to preach about or pleasant to hear about, but I think the subject needs to be addressed, because our Holy Father is currently being accused of doing terrible things that he didn’t do.

The background of these accusations has been the recent revelations of priestly sexual abuse in Ireland and other places in Europe, and the gross mishandling of some of these cases by certain bishops and religious superiors. Pope Benedict, for his part, has been very clear in his condemnation of these evil acts and in his support for the victims.

In doing this, he’s acted like the strong and loving spiritual father that he is.

But to the enemies of the Church, that’s not enough. Consequently, they’ve twisted the facts about certain cases—the most noteworthy concerning an abusive priest in the Archdiocese of Munich and an abusive priest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin—to make it appear that, during the years when he was a bishop in Munich and later the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, Benedict either ignored the crimes of abusers or approved of them remaining in active ministry.

Both of those accusations are categorically false!

I won’t get into all the details of these cases—there’s no time to do that in a Sunday homily—but I will say that if you’re interested in the truth of what really happened and why, go to the Catholic League’s web site (Catholic League News Releases), and read some of Dr. Bill Donohue’s recent news releases. They’re very enlightening. They give you lots of facts that most people in the mainstream media conveniently leave out of their news reports.

Speaking of Dr. Donohue, one of the points he has made over and over again in television interviews and in his many writings is that this attack on the Holy Father is not by accident. It’s done for a definite purpose: to discredit the Church’s teaching, especially on matters of personal morality. As George Weigel said in a recent column he wrote: “[The] enemies of the Church [have seen] an opportunity to discredit Catholic moral teaching by painting the Church as a hypocritical criminal conspiracy of sexual abusers and their enablers.”

The logic they want people to embrace in their minds is simple: The Church is run by evil men; therefore what the Church teaches must be wrong. So don’t believe it.

Another way to look at it is this: The enemies of the Church, who actively support evils like abortion, so-called gay marriage, contraception, euthanasia and the like—who cannot defend their views on purely rational grounds—try to make a case for what they believe by attacking those of us who oppose their ideas.

In other words, since they can’t discredit the Gospel message directly through sound intellectual argument, they try to discredit the message indirectly by discrediting the messengers (the pope, the bishops, priests and even lay people who support Church teaching).

What happened to Paul and Barnabas in that synagogue in Antioch all those years ago, happens in our own culture today—just in a slightly different form.

Let me conclude this morning by giving you a few insights that can help you keep all of this “news” in proper perspective.

Here I will again quote George Weigel: “The sexual abuse of the young is a global plague. Portraying the Catholic Church as its epicenter is malicious and false. Forty to 60 percent of sexual abuse takes place within families. There were 290,000 reported cases of abuse in public schools in 1991 to 2000.”

By the way, I did the math. If each school year is 180 days, that means there were, on average, 161 acts of abuse in public schools in the United States each and every school day during the 1990s! This is why Charol Shakeshaft, the Virginia Commonwealth University professor who studied this issue for the government several years ago, said : “The physical abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests.”

That means we should hear at least 100 times as many stories about it in the daily news. But, of course, we don’t.

Something else to keep in mind as you hear these reports about the Holy Father and the Catholic Church: realize that there are many, many similar stories involving other individuals from other groups that are being totally ignored (besides those involving teachers). For example, three weeks ago, as the Times was bashing Pope Benedict all over its pages, an orthodox rabbi in New York City named Lebovits was convicted on 8 counts of molesting a Brooklyn boy; a few days later, a rabbi was arrested in Arizona for raping a 7-year-old girl in New York 10 years ago.

The New York Times ignored both stories. Maybe they just didn’t have room.

Finally, here’s something else the entire liberal media conveniently ignores in its current reporting about the Church: In 2009, here in the United States, there were only six credible cases of the sexual abuse of minors. Six in a Church which has roughly 68,000,000 members!

Now, to be sure, even one act is too many; but this does provide an important message about the effectiveness of the programs that most bishops have put into effect in recent years. As Weigel said: “Having learned the lessons of 2002, the Catholic Church in America today is likely the safest environment for children in the country. No institution working with the young—not the public schools, not the teachers unions, not the Scouts—has done as much to face its past failures in this area and to put in place policies to prevent such horrors in the future.”

As Catholics, we should never fear the truth. Jesus had a Judas among his first 12 priests, and the truth is there have been Judases in the priesthood ever since. And there have been many Judases among the laity as well—for example, the lay professors in Catholic universities who teach things contrary to the faith and who corrupt the minds of impressionable young people.

They, too, are Judases.

But in the midst of all this, there are many other clerics and lay people—the vast majority—who are doing God’s work faithfully and leading many to salvation in Christ.

Today we pray for the victims of sexual abuse in families, in schools, in religious institutions and in the wider culture. May God give them the grace to heal and to forgive. And we pray for ourselves and for one another, that we will be among those faithful priests and lay people in the Church who witness to the powerful Gospel of Jesus Christ by the things we say, and especially by the things we do.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Flight 1549 and The Divine Mercy

Chesley Sullenberger

(Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday, Year C): This homily was given on April 11, 2010, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read John 20: 19-31.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Divine Mercy Sunday 2010]

It was January 14th, 2009. The New Year was in full swing. Something was different for me this year. It was something I could not quite put my finger on. It was something that made me pensive and reflective.
That’s how businessman Frederick Berretta began an article that he wrote last July for the Saturday Evening Post.

He then proceeded to talk about the routine business trip to New York that he took later that winter day.

After flying into LaGuardia Airport, he went immediately to his hotel. Once he settled in there, but before he went to his mid-afternoon meeting, he decided to spend a few moments in prayer, since he had made a New Year’s resolution to pray for 10 to 15 minutes each day. Here’s what he wrote in his article:

As I removed paperwork and emptied all the contents of my briefcase, I found two old prayer booklets. I had forgotten about them and glanced over each. One was called the Pieta, which contained a variety of devotional prayers, some of which were many centuries old. The other was a small booklet on the Divine Mercy Chaplet. On the cover was a picture of Christ from a painting with two rays of light shining out from his chest; one red, the other pale white. The booklet contained excerpts from a diary kept by a Polish nun [Faustina Kowalska] in the 1930s. She claimed to have had visions of Jesus and even dialogue with him. There were several quotations from her diary, but one in particular struck me. It was regarding the 3 o’clock hour, the hour in which Christ died on the cross: “In this hour,” Christ told her, “I will refuse nothing to the soul that makes a request of Me in virtue of My Passion.” As it happened to be the 3 o’clock hour, I reflected on that and began to pray the chaplet. I prayed slowly and with devotion, in a way that was unusual for me.
He then went to his meeting.

The following day he left the hotel late in the morning and made his way back to LaGuardia for his return trip home. There was nothing unusual or especially noteworthy about any of that, except that the plane he eventually boarded at about 3p.m. was none other than US Airways, Flight 1549.

Sound familiar?

It should—that’s the plane that ended up in the Hudson River shortly after it took off! Thanks be to God—and to the God-given skills of the pilot, Chesley Sullenberger—the plane landed safely in the water and every single person on board survived.

Mr. Berretta’s account of his experience during the last few seconds before impact is worth quoting here at length—especially on this Feast of the Divine Mercy:

I thought about my family, my wife and four children, and my eyes started to water. I thought about how hard it would be for them, and I felt so sad about leaving them, halfway through my life. I just shook my head and closed my eyes.

While I cannot say I witnessed my life flash before my eyes, I suppose I did experience a hybrid version of that. I thought about my life holistically for a few seconds, as a boy, an adolescent, and as a man. I knew I had tried to do my best and had made mistakes. Having been to confession the weekend before and having just received the Eucharist, I felt I could meet God as I was, but desperately wanted more time.

As we continued to descend, I thought I should try to find my BlackBerry and call home. I had forgotten it was in my pocket, thinking I had stowed it in my briefcase. There wasn’t time, I thought.

Then a small epiphany occurred in my mind. I thought about the Chaplet of Mercy I had prayed the day before, and I recalled the words of Jesus to Sister Faustina. Nothing would be refused if prayed in the 3 o’clock hour. I could see the image of Jesus, smiling, on the front of the cover, and I wanted to retrieve that booklet too, but I knew we had just seconds left until we hit the water. I just didn’t have time, so I just thought about the image.

In my mind, and with all the devotion and intensity I could muster, I said, “God, please be merciful to us, for the sake of your Son. Please spare us. I trust in you. Jesus, I trust in you. Mother of God, help us.” I then said the Lord’s Prayer and a Hail Mary, or maybe two. I looked out the window again, and we were below the skyline rooftops, the river approaching fast.

Then, I knew I needed to accept the outcome, whatever it may be. I needed to reconcile to the fact that I was not in control, and I had to make a decision. I did not want to go into that river in anger or denial, and my conscience was being moved to make a decision. Like the Captain who had to decide in a few seconds where to glide a 73-ton jetliner to minimize loss of life, I had to make a decision on where to point my soul. I closed my eyes, trying to envision the image of Jesus I had seen the day before on the Mercy booklet, and said again, “Please be merciful to us. . . . But it’s OK, it’s OK.”

Frederick Berretta obviously saw God’s hand—and St. Faustina’s intercession—in the events of January 15, 2009 on US Airways, Flight 1549.

Jesus said to Thomas in today’s gospel, “You became a believer because you saw me. Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Thomas, in effect, said to Jesus, “I’ll believe it, only when I see it.”

Jesus, in effect, said to Thomas, “Believe it, and then I’ll show it to you.”

Frederick Berretta believed—and God showed it to him. He believed in God’s ability to do the extraordinary. He believed in the holiness and intercessory power of St. Faustina Kowalska, who gave the world the Divine Mercy image and devotion.

And he believed that God would give him exactly what he needed in order to face whatever would happen: “Please be merciful to us. . . . But it’s OK, it’s OK.”

May God help us to believe those very same things, so that we might see—and receive—all the blessings and graces he has for us.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

If Jesus Really Did Rise (and I Truly Believe It), Then . . .

Chuck Colson

(Easter 2010: This homily was given on April 4, 2010 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Romans 6: 3-11; John 20: 1-9.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Easter 2010]

Chuck Colson was chief counsel to President Richard Nixon during Nixon’s first term of office (which began back in 1969, for those not old enough to remember). At the time, he was disdainfully referred to as “the White House hatchet man,” and was once quoted as saying, “I’d walk over my own grandmother to re-elect Richard Nixon.”

I don’t think his grandmother was too happy about that—but that’s another story.

Needless to say, he was a ruthless and power-hungry individual.

And then came the Watergate scandal. Colson pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, and was sentenced to one to three years in federal prison.

In the midst of all that political and legal and emotional turmoil, Chuck Colson experienced a personal conversion to Jesus Christ—a conversion, incidentally, that was scoffed at by most people in the secular media.

They didn’t believe that he would change; they didn’t believe that he could change.

But he did! So much so that many years later, when Mike Wallace asked him during a 60 Minutes interview, “Chuck, how do you now look back on Watergate?” the former hatchet man responded, “Mike, I thank God for Watergate, because I learned the greatest lessons of my life. The teaching of Jesus is true. He who seeks to save his life will lose it. He who loses his life for my sake shall find it.”

I mention Chuck Colson today because of something he once wrote about Easter. You see, when it comes to the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday only one thing matters: Is it true? Did it really happen historically? Or did the apostles make it all up and take the lie with them to their graves?

Well, ironically enough, it was Chuck Colson’s tragic experience with Watergate that helped to solidify his personal faith in the resurrection. Here’s what he said on the matter:

“One of the things I told Mike Wallace during [my] interview [with him] was I know [the resurrection] to be a fact and Watergate helped to prove that [to me]. [And] how do I know it? [Well], the evidence is that twelve men were with Jesus. Twelve men testified that they had seen him bodily raised from the dead. They were with him. They touched him. They doubted. They put their fingers in the hole in his side to see if he was who he said he was. After he ascended to heaven they went about the sands of the Holy Land for forty years proclaiming that Jesus Christ had been bodily raised from the dead. Never once denying it. Every single one of them beaten, tortured, stoned, and put in prison. Could they have done that if it weren’t true?

“I was in the Watergate. There were twelve of the most powerful men in the world sitting around the desk of the President of the United States. All of you will not remember all of these details, but just for the quick summary: it was in March of 1973 that John Dean, the President’s counsel, walked into his office one day and said, “Mr. President, there’s a cancer on your presidency.” [He] told him what was going on. That was the first time we really knew it was a criminal conspiracy. In less than three weeks John Dean writes in his book that he walked into the prosecutors’ office to make a deal. To bargain. As he put it in his book, to save his own skin he offered to testify against the President. The moment he did that everybody went flying in to make a deal with the prosecutors. Twelve of the most powerful men in the world couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks! You’re going to tell me that those twelve apostles for forty years would go about the sands of the Holy Land proclaiming they’d seen Jesus raised from the dead [when they hadn’t]? Absolutely impossible. . . .You see, the truth is that people will give their lives for something they believe to be true. They will never give their lives for something they know to be false.”

In Romans 6, St. Paul says, “We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him.”

Paul and the other apostles were convinced—absolutely convinced—that they had encountered Jesus Christ in his risen, glorified body after his death on Good Friday.

They believed that with all their heart.

Do you?

If you do, then certain things should logically follow in your life.

Put it this way, if I—like the apostles—am absolutely convinced that Jesus Christ is risen and alive and with us, then that should influence in a powerful way how I think and how I act.

If it doesn’t, then I probably don’t really believe.

If he did rise, for example, it means that I have value as a human being and should never call myself “worthless”. I should never embrace the kind of self-loathing that Fr. Mike Sisco spoke about in his mission talks. After all, the divine Son of God thought that I was worth dying for!

If he really did come back from the grave (and I truly believe it), then I should never feel alone—because I never am alone! Even when everyone else abandons me, he—Jesus—the risen Jesus—is still with me.

If Jesus did rise from the dead, then the whole human race has the potential of getting to heaven—which means that I should treat every single human person with dignity and respect, from the moment of their conception to the moment of their natural death.

If Jesus rose from the dead (and I’m convinced that he did), then I should always have hope and never despair.

If Jesus rose from the dead, then I’d also better take the sacraments seriously, since he instituted them and then infused them with his risen life! (And, of course, taking the sacraments seriously means that I will never miss a Sunday or holy day Mass without a very good and legitimate reason!)

If Jesus really did rise from the dead for the forgiveness of my sins (and I believe that), then I should definitely take advantage of the gift and seek his forgiveness often! (Speaking of forgiveness, when was the last time you went to Confession? If it’s been a long time, do you really believe that he’s risen and present in that sacrament? As Catholics we should!)

And finally, if Jesus really did rise from the dead, then his teaching is forever backed up by his identity (in other words, what he said is backed up by who he was—and is!)—which means I had better take his words seriously, since they’re the words of a God-man who actually came back from the grave!

Today at this Easter Mass our prayer should be simple and focused: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, help me to believe that you rose from the dead—help me to believe it like the apostles did 2,000 years ago: with all my heart—and then help me to think and to act like I believe it. Amen.”