Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pray—or Pay!

(Twenty-fifth Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on September 19, 2010 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read 1 Timothy 2:1-8.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-fifth Sunday 2010]

Pray—or pay!

That, I would say, sums up the message of St. Paul in the first two verses of today’s second reading from 1 Timothy 2—this text which concerns our relationship with our civil leaders.

He writes, “First of all, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.”

The implication of Paul’s words in this passage is that if we don’t pray for our civil leaders—if we don’t offer supplications, prayers and petitions for God to bless and guide them in their work—we will pay for it! And not just in higher taxes, but in other ways that can be even more devastating.

Pray—or pay! Now some of you might be thinking, “But Fr. Ray, I do pray for the president, the governor, and our other civil leaders—and things are still pretty bad out there!”

True. But it could be worse. And I believe, without prayer, it would be worse—a lot worse!

Of course, the solution to our political and social problems isn’t only the responsibility of God; we also have our part to play—first of all, by electing the best people we can find into office. And that’s why I like this passage of Scripture so much. Because here God indicates to us—through St. Paul—the kind of people we should be looking for at election time.

Notice the reason why Paul says that we should pray for our civil leaders. This is a key part of the text. He says we should do it so that “we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.”

“In all devotion”: this expression points to the idea of religious freedom! A good civil leader respects the religious freedom of his citizens. This is a Biblical notion that we also find in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . “

The Constitution does not promote freedom FROM religion (as some in our culture would have us believe!); quite oppositely, the Constitution promotes freedom OF religion!

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a great line in this regard, which is found in paragraph 2211: “The political community has a duty to honor the family, to assist it, and to ensure especially . . . the freedom to profess one’s faith, to hand it on, and raise one’s children in it, with the necessary means and institutions.”

Religious freedom in America, right now, is under assault—and we need to be aware of that fact. Catholic hospitals, for example, should not be forced by the federal or state government to provide services that the Church considers to be immoral. Catholic hospitals and health care facilities should be free to follow Catholic moral teachings with respect to the services they offer and do not offer.

And our Founding Fathers would agree! That’s the kind of thing they were getting at when they wrote the First Amendment.

Along the same lines, Catholic doctors should not be forced to refer for abortions, or prescribe contraception (emergency or otherwise), if such practices violate their consciences. Catholic pharmacists should not be forced to fill prescriptions of RU-486 (the abortion pill) or the so-called “Morning-after pill”.

But there are many political figures today who are working extremely hard to pass laws that would force Catholic doctors and pharmacists to do those very things—and to engage in other practices that are equally immoral! Similarly, there are politicians (usually backed by special interest groups) who want to force Catholic schools to teach that so-called gay marriage is ok, and that sex outside of marriage is morally acceptable. There are even politicians in Washington right now who are trying to restrict what pastors can say from their pulpits on these and other issues of personal morality.

A good civil leader believes in, respects—and promotes in law—religious freedom. And that’s important because, as St. Paul reminds us in this text, religious freedom is a precondition for a “quiet and tranquil life.”

Is it any wonder that life in our culture is becoming less quiet and less tranquil these days?

The second idea Paul mentions there is “dignity”. He says that we should pray for our civil leaders so that “we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion AND DIGNITY.”

A good civil leader, therefore, according to St. Paul, recognizes and upholds the dignity of every human person from natural conception until natural death.

Not surprisingly, that’s strikingly similar to what our Founding Fathers were getting at when they wrote these famous words in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

So obviously any politician who fails to recognize the dignity and the fundamental rights of every human person is not worthy of our support on Election Day.

That immediately disqualifies those who call themselves pro-choice; it disqualifies those who support the destruction of human embryos for research (since embryos are human beings at a very early stage of development). It disqualifies those who in any way support euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. It also disqualifies those who are racists.

That really narrows the field down, doesn’t it?

Not everyone, of course, agrees with these Biblical principles. I understand that. Not everyone sees these issues of devotion and dignity in the same way that St. Paul and our Founding Fathers saw them—as being of paramount importance.

They say, “Well, other issues are important too—like the economy.” Their primary consideration in the voting booth is usually, “Which of the candidates on this ballot will benefit ME the most financially?”

And so, instead of voting according to moral principles like the ones I’ve mentioned here, they vote for the person they think will fill their wallets or pocketbooks the most.

Many Catholics in Rhode Island have done this for years. There’s no secret about that.

Which raises a very interesting question: Where has it gotten us? Where has disregarding the moral law and the principles of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence gotten us here in our beautiful state of Rhode Island?

Sad to say, it’s gotten us one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, and, according to the President himself, “The worst economy since the Great Depression.”

Pray—or pay.

I pray that we will fare better in this year’s election—so that we won’t pay for it with any more unemployment and unnecessary human suffering.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Prodigal Son: He Made a Good Confession

(Twenty-fourth Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on September 12, 2010, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Luke 15: 1-32.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-fourth Sunday 2010]

He made a good confession.

I’m talking here about the prodigal son.

The boy made a good confession—a very good confession.

Now I know that he never entered a reconciliation room like the ones we have here at St. Pius; nor did he use the traditional opening statement, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned”; nor did he receive a formal penance from a validly ordained priest or say an act of contrition.

But he made a good confession nonetheless—because all the elements that the Church says are necessary for a good, valid confession were present in his story, either explicitly or implicitly.

Let me begin by asking you the question: What 4 elements are necessary for a good confession? Do you know? In other words, what 4 things are required for a person to be absolved of his sins in the sacrament of reconciliation?

Every Catholic should know these, for lots of reasons—not the least of which is that his eternal salvation might hang in the balance! Think about it. If a person has committed a mortal sin and he needs God’s forgiveness, he won’t know if he’s actually received that forgiveness, unless he knows what God requires of him, and what God requires of the priest!

If he’s ignorant of those things, then all he can do is hope that he’s been forgiven.

Well, if you paid attention when you were in Catholic school or in Catechism class, you know the answer. The four elements of a good confession are: contrition, confession, absolution and satisfaction. Contrition, confession and satisfaction are acts of the penitent; absolution is, of course, the action of the priest.

Applying this, now, to the story of the prodigal son . . .

First of all, let me say that we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this boy was in the state of mortal sin. Many of our Protestant brothers and sisters say, “There is no such thing as mortal sin. It’s not in the Bible.”

Oh yes it is! St. John, in chapter 5 of his first letter speaks of it as “deadly sin” or “the sin unto death”—which he explicitly distinguishes from lesser sins (what we would call “venial sins”).

And mortal sin is present by implication in this story of the prodigal son—because what does the father say to his older son at the very end—after this boy gets all upset that his dad has thrown a big party for his wayward brother?

The father says, “We must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother WAS DEAD and has come to life again.”

The older brother could have said at that point, “Now wait a minute, dad, bad-boy baby brother isn’t dead. He’s very much alive and having a grand old time with his friends—which is precisely why I’m so upset!”

But the older brother understood: His father was speaking in spiritual terms, not in physical terms. And from that perspective, the younger son had been dead! He had cut himself off TOTALLY from his father and family through his materialism and fornication (and probably a lot of other things!).

So how did the reconciliation happen?

Well, first there was CONTRITION. The younger son experienced true sorrow for his sins. But it’s very clear from the details of the story that his contrition was not what we would call perfect.

It was what we would call imperfect.

Perfect contrition is being sorry for your sins because you love God deeply and are sorry that you’ve offended the Lord whom you love so much. Imperfect contrition is being sorry because you’re afraid of going to hell!—you’re afraid of being punished for what you’ve done.

Now obviously it’s much better to have perfect contrition—but the really good news is that you only need to have imperfect contrition to receive God’s forgiveness in the sacrament of reconciliation.

Notice why the prodigal son finally made the decision to return to his dad. It was NOT primarily because of love; it was first and foremost because of fear! He was afraid that he was going to die!

And he was right! If he had kept hanging around with Porky Pig and Company, he probably would have died. So he said to himself, in effect, “You know, I had it pretty good back home. Even my father’s servants ate better than this! Maybe if I go back my dad will take me in and make me one of his servants. It’s worth a shot. At least I’ll get a roof over my head and three square meals a day!”

Which brings us to CONFESSION—the second step in the reconciliation process. When the prodigal son finally met his dad face to face, the first thing he did was to confess his guilt—clearly and honestly. To his credit, he didn’t try to minimize what he had done. He didn’t make any lame excuses for his behavior. He called his sin “sin”—“Father I have sinned against heaven and against you.”

One of the things I can relate to in this part of the story (perhaps you can, too) is “the rehearsal”. He rehearses his confession before he makes it.

Have you ever done that? I have—lots of times!

The father, of course, forgives immediately and welcomes his son back into the family. And in the process, he doesn’t throw the boy’s sin back in his face. That’s significant. He reads his son’s heart; he hears the words of sorrow and repentance—and that’s enough.

Which is precisely the way it is with us after we go to confession. God forgives and he also “forgets”—which means that the sin he’s forgiven never comes between us and him again. He knows we did it (of course—God knows everything!), but he treats us as if we had never done it.

The ABSOLUTION in the sacrament of reconciliation comes when the priest says, “I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

The absolution in this story is not as explicit. But it’s there! It’s implicit in the words and in the actions of the father. It’s implicit in his joy, in his embrace, in his kiss—as well as in his gift of a new set of clothes, which are definitely the clothes of a son—a ROYAL son! They’re not the clothes of a servant.

This brings us, finally, to SATISFACTION (which, by the way, has nothing to do with the old rock song by the Rolling Stones!). If we’re truly sorry for our sins, we will try to make amends for them—to make “satisfaction” for them. In other words, we will try to undo whatever negative consequences our sins have caused in the lives of others. This is, not surprisingly, the purpose of the “penance” the priest gives during a confession.

Now we can do this—we can make satisfaction for our sins—through words, through actions—and even through prayers. If you’ve ever been to me for confession you know that when I give a penance of prayers I will almost always tell you to pray those prayers specifically for one or more of the people you’ve hurt by your sins.

Praying for those we sin against is one way of undoing some of the consequences of our negative actions toward them.

This idea of satisfaction, like absolution, is not explicit in the story of the prodigal son. But it can be reasonably presumed. If this boy was truly sorry for how he had hurt his dad, then you can be certain that after he returned home he tried to be the best son he could possibly be from that moment onward. And you can also be sure that he tried to reach out to his brother and smooth things over with him—because that relationship was also in need of some big-time repair.

If the prodigal son was not willing to do those things, I would question whether he was really sorry for his sins in the first place! I would question his contrition.

Personally, I think he was so grateful to his dad—and so thankful to be home—that he happily spent the rest of his life making amends for the things he had done in his past.

So there you have it: the story of the prodigal son’s good confession.

It’s my prayer today that this story will provide some added incentive for us to make good confessions ourselves in the future, because the real reason that Jesus told this parable in the first place was to move us all to repentance—sincere, heartfelt, genuine repentance.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Pawtucket Red Sox Game

We took our altar servers to a Pawtucket Red Sox game on September 5. It was a perfect night to watch baseball.
Unfortunately, the PawSox lost, 5-4. But the fireworks display afterward made everyone feel a lot better!
And congratulations to Chris Mancini, who caught a foul ball during the game!
Here are a few pictures from the event, courtesy of Jenn O'Connor . . .
Chris, with his prized 'catch'