Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Proper Use of Time: The Way to Prepare for Eternity

(First Sunday of Advent (A): This homily was given on November 28, 2010 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Romans 13: 11-14; Matthew 24: 37-44.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: First Sunday of Advent 2010]

What is “it”?

See if you can figure out what “it” is. (It really shouldn’t be too difficult.)

We all have it.

We all live in it.

We all use it—but we also misuse it.

We sometimes take it for granted.

We work in it.

We play in it.

We never seem to have enough of it.

We can’t stop it or move it along more quickly, even if we’d like to.

We all waste at least some of it.

And at the end of our lives, we will have unequal amounts of it. You may end up with more of it than I end up with; I may end up with more of it than you end up with (there’s no guarantee one way or the other).

So—what is “it”?

It, of course, is “time”.

On that note, the message of today’s second reading and gospel can be summed up in this one line: When our lives on this earth are finished and we enter eternity, all that will matter is what we have done—or not done—with our time.

Jesus, in this gospel, talks about the end of time—the end of the physical world as we know it. (And incidentally, what he says here about the end of the world also applies to the moment of our physical death, if we don’t happen to survive until the Lord’s second coming).

Now what Jesus indicates here, sad to say, is that many people will not be ready for the end when it finally does occur. And notice what he says about the men and women who are not prepared. He compares them to the people of Noah’s time who were not prepared for the Great Flood. He says, “They were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.” Notice that Jesus does NOT say, “They were fornicating and committing adultery and murdering their brothers and sisters—and doing other incredibly horrible, evil things.”

All he says is that they were eating and drinking and marrying and giving in marriage—none of which is an intrinsically evil activity!

So what was Jesus’ point?

His point was that they were going about their ordinary daily business with little or no regard for the condition of their immortal souls! In other words, they were misusing the time that God had given them on this earth; they were wasting their precious gift of time by not working on their relationship with God. Oh sure, they were doing some very important and necessary things, but they were also ignoring what was most important in life—consequently they were not ready for the flood when it arrived.

Had they spent some of their time repenting and helping Noah to build the ark, and had they been on it with Noah and his family when the rain began, their personal stories would have ended a lot differently.

They would have been prepared.

This first Sunday of the season of Advent is a day for us to reflect in a serious way on our use of time. St. Paul tells us in First Thessalonians that we are tri-dimensional as human beings: we are body, soul and spirit. That means—in addition to helping others and fulfilling our daily duties—we should be using our time to care for each of those dimensions of our human personhood: our bodies, our souls (which here can signify our intellectual and emotional life), and our spirits.

So here are a few questions to reflect on during the upcoming week:

What am I doing (or not doing) to maintain good physical health? What am I doing (or not doing) to maintain good emotional and intellectual health—especially as that relates to my Catholic faith? For example, when was the last time I read a book or an article—or watched a television program on EWTN—that helped me to learn more about my Catholic religion? As Catholics, we should be using some of our time every week to learn more about our faith—so that we can live it AND so that we can properly defend it.

One of the reasons, of course, why we need to defend it is because there are so many lies out there in the world about the Church and her teaching. Did you hear the one about Pope Benedict last week? Many reporters in the secular media were telling their audiences that the Holy Father had, in effect, changed the teaching of the Catholic Church concerning the use of condoms.

But the Holy Father did no such thing. It was a lie!

Do you see how important it is that we know our faith? We have to know what the Church REALLY teaches on these matters, so that we can respectfully correct those who have believed the lies.

And what am I doing to stay in good spiritual health—besides going to Mass once a week? Am I giving at least as much time to God in prayer each day as I give to text messaging my friends? (A very good question for our teenagers, especially—though not exclusively!) Am I giving at least as much time to God each day in prayer and Scripture reading as I give to surfing the internet, or playing video games, or doing my other acts of recreation?

And what am I going to do with my time this Advent? Is this season only going to be about shopping and wrapping gifts and getting together with friends, or am I also going to take some concrete steps during these next 4 weeks to grow closer to God—the God who sent his Son into this world on Christmas Day to save me from my sins?

(On that note, we have a great Advent opportunity for growth coming up in two weeks. We’re having a day of recollection with Marty Rotella from 8-3 on Saturday, December 11. Marty’s an awesome Catholic musician with some great things to say. So if you want to hear some good music and be built up in spirit to prepare for Christmas, make plans to be here. Make some time. There’s more information on that event in today’s bulletin.)

And what about the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Will I take some serious time during the next few weeks to examine my conscience thoroughly, and then will I make the time to get to Confession? Hear again the words of St. Paul in today’s second reading:

“Brothers and sisters: you know the time [notice the reference to “time”]; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.”

I am sure that Jesus Christ is speaking directly to some people in this church right now through the words of that text—especially those among us who have been away from the sacrament of Reconciliation for many years.

Back in the 4th century, a man named Augustine read those words I just shared with you and they literally changed his life. After living a lifestyle for many years that Hugh Hefner would definitely have approved of, Augustine made the most important decision he would ever make: the decision to take the time to repent of his sins and make room in his heart for God.

And so today we call him Saint Augustine, Doctor of the Church.

Finally he put his time to good use.

May we all learn to do the same thing—not only during this season of Advent, but every day of the year.

Dear Lord, give us the grace that we need each day to use our time well, to use our time wisely, so that whenever the end comes for us, we will be ready—ready for a life with you, not in time, but in eternity. Amen.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Gratitude FOR the Mass!

(Thanksgiving 2010: This homily was given on November 25, 2010 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Luke 17: 11-19.)

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

When was the first Thanksgiving, and where was it celebrated?

Ask a 5th grader that question and he’ll probably respond by saying, “1621, in Plymouth, Massachusetts.”

Well, after this homily you can demonstrate that you are, in fact, smarter than a 5th grader by saying, “No, that’s actually NOT when the first Thanksgiving meal involving European explorers and Native Americans took place in what would eventually become the United States of America. According to Michael Gannon, a former professor of history at the University of Florida, a Thanksgiving meal involving explorers and Indians took place in 1565—56 years before the Pilgrims’ meal—when a group of Spanish Catholic colonists stepped ashore in what is now St. Augustine, Florida.”

It all happened on September 8. Here’s how the story was told in an article I read recently:

“On September 8, 1565, Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, captain general of the Indies fleet under King Philip, stepped ashore with 1,200 colonists and soldiers to found St. Augustine.

‘It was the fleet chaplain, Father Francisco Lopes de Mendoza Grajales, who first set foot in the sand. Thus honored, he welcomed the captain ashore.

‘The priest later recorded the moment, ‘I took a cross and went to meet him, singing Te Deum Laudamus [We Praise You God]. The General, followed by all—marched up to the cross, knelt, and kissed it. A large number of Indians watched these proceedings and imitated all that they saw done.’

‘The company celebrated a solemn Mass of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the Sept. 8 feast in thanksgiving for safe travels. The native Timucua Indians again watched intently.

‘Following the Mass, the Spaniards and Indians ate together. ‘It was clearly a thanksgiving feast,’ says [Professor] Gannon, ‘the likes of which would not be seen again for 56 years.” (from ‘Catholic Pilgrims’ Progress,’ by Joseph Pronechen)

Now, unfortunately—at least for those of us who like turkey—that particular item was not on the menu for the feast. Instead, the colonists and Indians probably ate something called “cocido”—a stew made from salted pork, garbanzo beans and garlic.

Personally, I’ll stick with turkey—thank you very much!

But what’s really important here is the fact that the first Thanksgiving on American soil began with a Mass! So all of you who made the effort to be here today are actually observing a very old tradition—one that predates the Pilgrims by almost 60 years!

Share that fact with your relatives and friends later this afternoon—and tell them if they want to be true to the oldest Thanksgiving tradition in the country, they should resolve to be at Mass on Thanksgiving morning next year!

We pause as a nation on this day to give thanks to the Lord for all his many gifts to us—especially those that we so often take for granted.

Which brings us right back to the Mass! I think it’s safe to say that most Catholics (and I certainly include myself here) take the Mass for granted at times, because it’s so familiar to us. We can easily forget (or lose touch with) the fact that during the Mass we actually encounter Almighty God himself! The Creator of the universe speaks to us through the symbolic actions; through the songs; through the prayers; through the readings—and yes, even through the homily! Which is why we always need to be listening! Sometimes we don’t hear God speak to us during Mass, because we’re not listening. Our minds and hearts are somewhere else.

Now it would be enough of a blessing if God just spoke to us at Holy Mass, but he even goes one step further (one very BIG step further) and becomes our spiritual food in the Holy Eucharist.

Many years ago I gave a homily in which I said that the Mass is “our primary experience of hearing Jesus and receiving Jesus so that we can go out and live for Jesus.”

I stand by that definition today.

Having said all this, I hope you will join me this morning not only in being thankful at Mass; I hope you will also join me in saying a heartfelt thank you to God FOR the Mass!

Remember, the Mass, first and foremost, was God’s idea, since it was the Son of God who said at the Last Supper, “Do this in memory of me.”

And if we’re really grateful for this gift of the Sacred Liturgy, here’s something we can do in the future to demonstrate it, in imitation of the leper who was healed in today’s gospel: we can resolve to make a Eucharistic Holy Hour from now on at least once a week.

Notice that the healed leper in this story demonstrated his gratitude to Jesus by doing something: he went back to Jesus, even though he did not have to. When we make a Holy Hour, we do something very similar: we demonstrate our gratitude to Jesus for the Mass by going back to him in Eucharistic Adoration outside of Mass when we don’t have to.

I think it’s crystal clear that Jesus was very pleased with this leper—this man who came back freely and willingly to express his gratitude in person.

And I have every reason to believe that Jesus is just as pleased with those men and women who come into Church freely and willingly (i.e., when they don’t have to!) to adore his Eucharistic Presence in the monstrance, or even in the tabernacle.

He gives them his special blessing—which is something else that they can be thankful for.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Intrinsic Connection Between Marriage and Children

(Thirty-second Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on November 7, 2010 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Luke 20: 27-38.)

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

Just outside the gates of heaven there stood two lines of men. Over the first line there was a sign that read, “Men Who Were Bossed by Their Wives.” It was a very long line. Over the second was another sign that read, “Men Who Weren’t Bossed by Their Wives.” There was only one man in that line. The angel in charge of letting people into the kingdom was curious about this, so he went over to the lone man and said to him, “Sir, I was just wondering—why are you standing in this line?” The man said, “Because my wife told me to.”

Just to be fair, ladies, I have another story—which I think will even the score.

A husband and wife had a big argument one day as they were driving along on the local interstate highway. Neither would give in to the other, so when the argument was over they drove for a long time in absolute silence. Finally, the husband spotted a mule off in a field on the side of the road. He pointed to the mule and said to his wife, “Hey, isn’t that a relative of yours?” The wife said, “Yes—by marriage!”

When certain people in our secular culture make jokes about married life—some of the comedians you see on TV, for example—they seem to do so with an attitude of ridicule and disdain. As Catholics, hopefully, we tell our jokes with an underlying attitude of respect and reverence (I certainly do that today)—because marriage is, first and foremost, a sacred institution whose author is none other than God himself.

I think it’s safe to say that here in Westerly, generally speaking, traditional marriage is still held in very high regard. I base that assertion on the large number of special anniversaries that people here in our parish celebrate every year. It seems that at least once a month or so, a couple here in our community is celebrating a 25th, a 40th, a 50th, or even a 60th.

That’s fantastic—and it’s a real witness to our young people that lifetime commitments within marriage are possible! They’re not easy (very few good things in this life are easy), but they are possible—even in today’s crazy, mixed-up world.

And speaking of things that are crazy and mixed up, how about the contemporary definition of marriage itself? It used to be clear to everyone that a true marriage involved one man and one woman, united to one another in a bond that was permanent and exclusive.

Well, that’s not the case anymore! As we all know, this traditional definition of marriage is now being disputed by a very vocal group of men and women, who basically want us to accept the idea that the union of Adam and Steve is morally equivalent to the union of Adam and Eve.

There are several reasons for this push for so-called gay marriage—some of them are philosophical, others are practical and legal. You’ll be happy to know that I won’t focus on ALL of them today in this homily! But I will mention one—a very important one—because it relates to something in the gospel reading we just heard. It’s the separation of the institution of marriage from childbearing. Because many people today have accepted the erroneous idea that having children outside of marriage is morally equal to having children within a valid marriage, one of the key objections to gay marriage has gone out the window.

Because if marriage has little or nothing to do with having children, then why can’t two women marry? Or two men? For that matter, why can’t a man marry his dog or a woman her cat?

In paragraph 1652 of the Catechism we read this line: “By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory.”

That’s the teaching of the Catholic Church, but it’s also been the understanding of secular society for thousands of years! In fact, if I had read that line to somebody 40 years ago, they would not have been able to tell me whether it was from a religious or a secular writing—because almost everyone believed the same thing: that marriage and children belong together.

The Jews of Jesus’ day certainly understood this truth, which was in the background of the exchange our Lord had with the Sadducees in today’s gospel reading. The Jews of the first century considered having children to be such an integral part of marriage, that when a man died without children, his brother was obligated to marry the widow to produce offspring in his brother’s name.

The Sadducees, of course, tried to use this fact to undermine Jesus’ authority and teaching—specifically his teaching on the resurrection of the dead.

But they failed in their attempt, because, as Jesus reminded them here, life in heaven is qualitatively different from life on earth.

Now some might object to what the Church teaches by saying, “The potential to have children is not an obstacle to gay marriage, because gay couples can always adopt—or in the case of two women, they can utilize in-vitro fertilization; or in the case of two men, they can hire a surrogate mother. So gay couples can be parents, just like heterosexual couples can be parents.”

Leaving aside the fact that IVF and surrogate parenthood are both immoral, this objection is answered by reminding the person that when we’re talking about marriage we’re talking about two people who have the natural potential to procreate. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman because only a man and a woman have the natural potential to bear children. Two men left to themselves do not have that potential; neither do two women.

Even a man and a woman who get married in their late 70s or early 80s have this potency; even they have the natural potential to procreate. Now that potential won’t be actualized unless a miracle occurs—like the kind that occurred with Abraham and Sarah in the Book of Genesis!

But the potential, at least, is there according to nature.

I mention all this today because as Catholic Christians who care about children and the future of our society, we need to have good, solid arguments at our disposal: arguments that we can use to defend traditional marriage—which is marriage as God designed it! Study after study has made clear that the healthiest environment for children to grow up in is a home with a loving mother and father who are united to one another in that loving, permanent, exclusive bond we call marriage.

So it’s fine to make jokes about married life, if we do so with an underlying attitude of respect and reverence, but at the same time we must always defend marriage—traditional marriage—as well as the intrinsic connection between marriage and children.

And that, my brothers and sisters, is no joke.