Monday, February 28, 2011

The Bus Trip

This is definitely a more uplifting post than yesterday's. 

Mike Rogers, our seminarian who is currently studying theology at the Gregorian University in Rome, is turning 30 on March 23.

Boy, do I feel old!

In anticipation of that important and transitional moment in his life, he is writing 30 personal reflections on his blog--one on each of the 30 days preceding March 23.  These are "stories of grace," which recount his experience of God's presence and love during the first 3 decades of his life.

Today's reflection made my day, and brought back many pleasant memories.

Thank you, Michael.

This was just what the (heavenly) Doctor ordered!

Readers of this blog, please check out this link: The Bus Trip 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

I'd Appreciate Your Prayers

This past weekend, I made the following announcement at all our Masses:

I think today is a good time to make this announcement. It’s probably better if everyone knows at this point, since there are a number of rumors—false rumors—that are circulating about me and my health.

What is true, unfortunately, is this: about two months ago I was diagnosed as being in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease.

That’s why I have this resting tremor in my right arm; this also explains some of my residual shoulder problems and some other symptoms I’ve been having for a number of months.

This is the disease Pope John Paul II had; it’s the disease Michael J. Fox has—and a number of other famous people as well.

There’s no cure for it at the present time. They just try to control the symptoms as best they can. God willing, they’ll be able to do that for me and I’ll be relatively healthy and functional for a good long time—for many years (so I guess you’re stuck with me for the foreseeable future!).

In the meantime, I do ask a couple of things from you. First of all, please don’t call the rectory. I don’t need to be inundated with phone calls about this. I know that I have the love and support of most of the people in this great community, and I draw a lot of strength from that.

But I do ask for your prayers—specifically your prayers seeking the intercession of John Paul II.

First and foremost, ask him to intercede for a cure for this disease and the many other serious diseases that people face in our world today. And, secondly, I ask that you pray to him for me, that if it’s God’s will I will receive a miraculous healing. As many of you know, John Paul will be beatified in early May of this year. Beatification is the second of three steps in the canonization process. However, before a person can be beatified, a miracle has to be attributed to their heavenly intercession. Well, in John Paul’s case the beatification miracle was the healing of a French nun who just happened to have Parkinson’s Disease.

I was telling someone the other day, “John Paul healed that nun. I think it’s only fair that he also heal a priest!”

Next week I will put a special prayer in the bulletin that you can say for these two intentions.

Thanks for listening. I feel better now that I’ve said it. And I also thank you in advance for your faithful prayers on my behalf and on behalf of all those who suffer with Parkinson’s.
Fr. Ray

Those of you who read this blog don't have to wait for next week.  Here's the prayer:

O Blessed Trinity, we thank you for having graced the Church with Pope John Paul II, and for allowing the tenderness of your Fatherly care, the glory of the cross of Christ, and the splendor of the Holy Spirit, to shine through him.

Trusting fully in your infinite mercy and in the maternal intercession of Mary, he has given us a living image of Jesus the Good Shepherd, and has shown us that holiness is the necessary measure of ordinary Christian life and is the way of achieving eternal communion with you.

Grant us, by his intercession, and according to your will, the graces we implore, hoping that he will soon be numbered among your saints.  Amen.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

When It Comes to Sin, It’s Best to Avoid ALL Excuses!

(Sixth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on February 13, 2011 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Sirach 15: 15-20; 1 Corinthians 2: 6-10; Matthew 5: 17-37.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Sixth Sunday of the Year 2011]

I assure you, what I am about to read to you this morning I did NOT make up! This is from the home page of a real web site:

Hello, friends. Welcome to “The Mother of All Excuses Place.” Over the years, everyone where I work has always thought that we should be writing down all the excuses everyone there has given for not coming to work that day. We all thought that it would make a very entertaining book to read. Well, we never got around to writing that book, but with the popularity of the Internet and the ease of making a web site, I decided to publish all the calling in to work excuses I, or people that submit them, have heard over the years.

I also have sections for missing school and homework excuses, police or accident excuses, kids excuses, getting out of family events and holiday function excuses, breaking dates excuses, doctor excuses . . . missing church excuses (the guy lists 180 of those; none of which, by the way, is valid—so don’t get your hopes up!), wedding excuses, diet excuses, why I ate that excuses, tax excuses, not paying the rent excuses, getting out of home repair excuses, unwanted house guest excuses, jury duty excuses, defense excuses, not voting excuses, miscellaneous excuses. . . . We have all used or heard excuses for missing just about everything. If you have a suggestion for a new excuse page or would like to submit an excuse, please go to the “Submit Excuses” page and send them to me!

Now I could give you the address of this web site, but I won’t, because I don’t want to encourage anyone to make excuses for their bad behavior!

Although the temptation is always there for us to follow that path! In fact, I think the author of this site is absolutely correct when he says, “We have all used or heard excuses for missing just about everything.”

I dare say we have also all heard (and perhaps even used) excuses for any and every sin!

This brings us to an important difference between ordinary people and saintly people. Saints are men and women who consistently overcome the temptation to make excuses for their sins. They face their sins, admit their bad choices, take responsibility for their actions, repent of what they’ve done, receive forgiveness for their transgressions, and then make a serious effort to change their lives for the better.

Now this should be really good news for all of us, because it means that sanctity—holiness—is always possible, regardless of what we’ve done in the past! But a key step in the process of becoming the holy person that God wants us to be is overcoming the ever-present temptation to make excuses for our actions.

I mention all this today because our three Scripture readings this morning are what might be called “anti-excuse readings”.

Take the first. There Sirach speaks about personal responsibility—the fact that we can choose good or evil without coercion: “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live; he has set before you fire and water; to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand. Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.”

Comedian Flip Wilson, when he played his character Geraldine, was famous for saying, “The devil made me do it.” It was a funny line, but it was also absolutely, positively false! The devil can’t “make” us do anything. He can tempt us, yes, but he can’t force us to sin.

And neither will God! Sirach makes that crystal clear in the last line of this text when he says, “No one does [God] command to act unjustly, to none does he give license to sin.”

So when it comes to sin, we can never say, “The devil made me do it,” nor can we say, “God made me do it.”

We can only say, “I made me do it!”

And hopefully we do say that when we need to.

In today’s gospel reading—a very challenging text from Matthew 5—Jesus indicates that we also need to take responsibility for dealing with sin at its root. As he reminds us here, the root of murder is anger—sinful anger, and the root of adultery and fornication is lust. Jesus understood that if you kill the root of a weed, you will keep that weed out of the “garden” of your life. But if you ignore the root of the weed, it will eventually manifest itself in the “garden” of your life in some form.

This is very important for us to remember because we live in a culture right now where anger and lust are treated almost as rights! They’re not seen as the roots of serious sins (which is what they are); they’re seen as good and healthy attitudes! And so people today will say things like, “I have a ‘right’ to get angry and seek revenge on that other person for what he did to me”; “I have my needs, and so I have a ‘right’ to whatever kind of sexual gratification I want. After all, I’m only human.”

And so excuses abound in our society for lustful and angry behaviors. And if you don’t believe me, just ask any judge who presides over a criminal court.

He or she will tell you.

“But, your honor, I did it because . . . (and then they give the excuse).”

Finally, we have today’s second reading from 1 Corinthians 2—a beautiful text that reminds us of the ultimate gift of God, which is, of course, heaven. St. Paul says, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it even entered into the mind of man what God has prepared for those who love him.”

That’s one of my favorite lines of Scripture, because it reminds me that heaven is even better than anything I can possibly imagine (and I have a pretty fertile imagination, so I can imagine some incredibly wonderful things!).

But, of course, before we can get into heaven, we all must face divine judgment—where we won’t be able to use any excuses for our sins. Notice what Paul says here. He says that the Holy Spirit “scrutinizes everything”. And that means EVERYTHING! Nothing, in other words, can be hidden from his eyes. The Holy Spirit knows not only what we do; he also knows why we do what we do. In fact, he understands our motives and intentions—that is to say he understands our heart—better than we do!

So yes, excuses can influence people here on earth (as “The Mother of All Excuses” web site makes clear), but they have absolutely no effect on the Lord. He’s way beyond our excuses. He sees right through them. To him, they are totally transparent.

So, when it comes to dealing with sin, it’s best not to use them at all.

Monday, February 07, 2011

The Pack is Back!

What a game last night!

Ever since the days of the great Vince Lombardi, I have been a fan of the Green Bay Packers.  It was great to watch them win another Super Bowl yesterday, against an excellent Steeler team.

The Lombardi Trophy is home again!

I think Vince is looking down, with a big smile on his face.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

What It Takes to be a ‘Light’

(Fifth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on February 6, 2011 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Matthew 5: 13-16.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fifth Sunday of the Year 2011]

A woman in the parish sent me the following email the other day:

We were attending a football banquet in December. My son was off with his buddies, but my daughter was sitting with me and some fellow sports’ moms that I’m pretty friendly with.

We came back from getting our food, and the thought crossed my mind to say grace, but I was tentative because I could envision the eyes rolling and the snickering, etc. Well, my daughter sat down and she immediately made the Sign of the Cross and bowed her head in prayer. I felt so ashamed! I followed her example, and, since then, I never let ridicule stop me from thanking our most gracious and forgiving God.

What a fantastic witness my daughter is! I have a feeling God has some pretty great plans for her.

In today’s gospel text from Matthew 5, Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. . . . And your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”

That young girl was a light—a very bright light—to the “sports’ moms” (as well as to her own mom) at that local football banquet last December.

She wasn’t looking for attention; she wasn’t pushing her religion down anyone else’s throat; she wasn’t putting down the other people at the table for not doing what she did. She was simply acting like a good Catholic, like a true believer! She was simply doing what she believed God wanted her to do in that situation.

Was she conscious that she was the only one praying at that moment? Probably. Was she a little self-conscious as she bowed her head in silence? Perhaps.

But she prayed anyway! In spite of how she might have felt, she turned to God and thanked him for the food she was about to receive.

And that’s what it takes to be a true light! It takes a willingness to stand apart and do the right thing, regardless of how it makes you feel.

On that note, it’s been good to see several letters in the Westerly Sun in recent weeks defending traditional marriage and opposing so-called “gay marriage”. Some of these letters have been from parishioners, I’m happy to say. But at the same time what’s been extremely distressing (at least to me) is the larger number of letters defending gay marriage. Now the interesting thing is this: Same-sex marriage has been rejected in every state where the people have actually voted on the matter (and that includes in ultra-liberal California!). The only way they’ve been able to legalize it in certain states is with the help of activist judges who legislate from the bench, or by pushing it through the legislature and ignoring the will of the people.

This is why Governor Chafee opposes a statewide referendum on the issue: he knows that, in all likelihood, he and the pro-gay marriage forces would lose!

But my question is this: If the majority of people in the state of Rhode Island oppose the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples (something we can safely presume, since even the majority in California opposes it), then why haven’t there been more letters in the Sun defending traditional marriage?

Why have the majority of letters written in recent days been in support of so-called gay marriage?

Edmund Burke once said, “All that it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” Put in the terms of this homily, that saying could be rendered, “All that it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to hide their ‘lights’ under a bushel basket.”

I’m glad attorney Scott Spear wrote a letter to the Sun the other night in defense of himself and of the talk he gave on this issue at St. Clare’s a couple of weeks ago. I’m sure he was horrified at Sun’s coverage of the event, especially the picture they ran of him on their front page the following day.

Did you see it?

The Sun photographer took dozens of pictures of Mr. Spear during his talk. I know that for a fact because I was there and I watched her take them! But the one the editors chose to put on the front page the following day was one in which Mr. Spear looked extremely angry (some might even say, hateful!). Not only that, he also had his fist clenched in front of his face like he was ready to physically attack somebody. Now if you were there that evening you know that Scott Spear was gentle, kind and respectful; yet that picture made him look like the stereotypical, hate-filled “homophobe.”

Thankfully, his letter to the editors of the Sun showed more respect for them than they had shown for him. He focused exclusively on the issue itself, and the legal ramifications churches and schools and businesses and others will have to face if gay marriage is somehow legalized here. He wrote, “Marriage is a public institution referenced in multiple laws governing society. When Massachusetts changed the legal definition of marriage, 1,200 laws had to be altered. Make no mistake, when the definition of marriage changes, that change impacts everyone.”

He then noted some of what we will have to face in Rhode Island with the legalization of gay marriage, based on what’s already happened in other states. Here are just a few of the examples he gave:

• People in the wedding or hospitality business who oppose homosexual “marriage” will have to participate or risk losing their license to make a living. After all, you can’t refuse to serve someone who is black, and under the law you won’t be able to refuse to participate in a homosexual wedding either. This has already happened in New Mexico.

• Churches that own property which same-sex couples would like to use for their ceremonies will have to allow such use, against their religious beliefs, or lose their tax-exempt status. This has already happened in New Jersey.

• Professionals like doctors and lawyers and accountants who don’t want to perform services for homosexual couples claiming to be married will be sued or risk losing their license to practice their profession. This happened in California.

• Whenever public schools teach children about marriage, they will be forced to teach about homosexual “marriage.” There will be no leeway. This has happened in Massachusetts, California and elsewhere. Children as young as kindergarten will be exposed to this subject in the public schools.

There are many issues where we need to let our lights shine—but this is one of the most important! Calling our local senator and representatives and letting them know where we stand on the matter is one way to shine our light; writing letters to the editor is another; sharing our opinion respectfully in family gatherings or with friends and co-workers is still another.

Is it easy? No—but then again, Jesus never said it would be.

Recall what I said at the beginning about that young girl who prayed quietly at the football banquet. I said that even though she might have felt awkward and self-conscious, she still prayed and let her light shine. She was willing to stand apart and do the right thing, regardless of how it made her feel.

By the grace of the Eucharist we receive at this Mass, may God help us to follow her GREAT example!