Sunday, May 15, 2011

Is Jesus Christ your Lord—your Good Shepherd—In Your Response To The Death Of Osama bin Laden?

(Fourth Sunday of Easter (A): This homily was given on May 15, 2011 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read John 10: 1-10.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourth Sunday of Easter 2011]

Jesus is THE Good Shepherd.  He tells us that explicitly in the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 11.

But the decisive question is: Is he MY Good Shepherd?

To call Jesus THE Good Shepherd says something objective about Jesus and his identity.  To say that Jesus is MY Good Shepherd is to say something about MY personal relationship with him.

Jesus is THE Good Shepherd whether I follow him or not; however he’s only MY Good Shepherd if I make the personal decision to live as his disciple.

And to be a true member of Jesus’ flock I must have the intention of being obedient to him in ALL things.  There’s an old saying that some of our Protestant brothers and sisters use, and there’s a lot of truth in it: If Jesus isn’t Lord of all (in other words of all in my life), then he’s not Lord at all.

So I ask you today, is Jesus Christ your Lord—your Good Shepherd—in your response to the death of Osama bin Laden?

On the basis of what I’ve been hearing and reading in recent days, I think that’s a very difficult question for many Christians to answer.  For example, I’ve listened to certain commentators in the media—men and women who identify themselves as Christians, and whose opinions I usually agree with—spewing the kind of hatred and venom that you would normally expect to hear from someone like Osama bin Laden!

Is that what we’ve come to?

Have we descended to his level in all this?

I certainly hope not.

That having been said, what is the proper Christian perspective on this issue—the perspective of someone who can honestly call Jesus, “MY Good Shepherd”?

Well let me begin by saying that a true Christian can—and should, I believe—support how our troops acted in this situation.  God bless the courageous men who were a part of this very dangerous mission in Pakistan.

However we shouldn’t support what they did because this was a case of “getting even with an evil man”; we should support what they did because their actions helped to protect and defend innocent human lives—innocent human lives here in the United States and throughout the world.  I think you could make a very good case that if they had tried to take bin Laden alive (as some are suggesting they should have), they would have put their own lives and the lives of many others in grave danger.

Here we need to understand the teaching of the Catholic Church concerning the 5th commandment, which is, of course, “Thou shalt not kill.”  I highly encourage you to read the relevant section of the Catechism—the section on the 5th commandment—in its entirety when you have the chance.  The Church distinguishes there between the taking of innocent human life (which is always forbidden—that’s why abortion and euthanasia are wrong), and dealing an unjust aggressor (someone who is trying to attack and kill you) a lethal blow.  Taking an innocent human life is never right, but dealing an unjust aggressor—which bin Laden certainly was—a lethal blow is sometimes morally permissible.

Let me quote to you now a few important lines from the Catechism itself.  In paragraph 2264, it says: “The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing.”  Then, in the next paragraph, it says: “Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality.  Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life.  Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow.”  And, finally, in paragraph 2265 it says: “Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others.  The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm.  For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.”

The most loving thing those soldiers could have done for their brothers and sisters in the free world, was exactly what they did: render this unjust aggressor incapable of doing any more evil.  In fact, some might even try to make the case that this was the most loving thing they could have done for Osama bin Laden himself!

But none of this justifies hatred toward bin Laden or toward anyone else!  That’s where we have to draw the line, as Christians, if Jesus Christ is truly to be OUR Good Shepherd.

So, can we hate what he did in orchestrating the deaths of so many innocent people here in the United States and in other parts of the world?  Yes, we can hate what he did—and well we should!  It was despicable!

Can we be angry about it?  Yes, we should be angry at every gross moral evil! 

Can we be happy about the fact that he will no longer be able to carry out his murderous missions here and in other places on the planet?  Yes, we can be—and should be—happy about that!

And yet, at the very same time, we must love and forgive—which, of course, is not easy!  But it is possible, by the grace of God.  We need to do these things, first of all, because Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, told us to love our enemies and to forgive others.

And secondly, we need to do these things because, if we don’t, unforgiveness and hatred will eat us up on the inside, and eventually turn us into the very kind of monsters that we say we detest.

Of course, in fulfilling these commands of our Lord we need to understand what it really means to love and to forgive other people.  To love another person does not mean to ignore his or her sins or to dispense with justice.  To love means to desire “the good” for the person; and the ultimate good we can and should desire for every man and woman is eternal life.  Now, if someone like Osama bin Laden was to attain eternal life, he would need to come to terms with all the evil he did in his life as a terrorist.  And he would need to do that before he died.  He would need to experience true sorrow (and even remorse) for the innocent lives he destroyed, the families he ruined, and the hatred he inspired in others.

So that’s my prayer for this man: in love I pray that he finally—at some point before he died—came to terms with his heinous crimes against humanity, repented of them, and sincerely sought the mercy of God.   If that did happen, I can assure you, it was the most unpleasant experience of bin Laden’s life, the most horrific experience of his life.  When someone who engages in diabolical activity like this finally faces the reality of what they’ve done, it can be overwhelming.

But the pain of that experience definitely beats the eternal pains of hell!

And what about forgiveness for bin Laden and for our other enemies? 

To forgive someone means to “let go” of an offence, but it does not mean that we’re supposed to completely forget about justice in our relationship with the person!  Not at all!  For example, if I steal $10 from you, you can forgive me (and hopefully you will!)—but you still have every right to demand that I give you back your $10!

That’s justice, after all.

And please also understand: my forgiveness of someone does not automatically make things right between that person and Almighty God.  If I forgive you for something terrible that you did to me, but you’re not truly sorry for your sin, you are not “off the hook,” so to speak, with the Lord!  Not by any stretch of the imagination!

So forgiving a mass murderer like Osama bin Laden does not automatically exonerate him of his sins before God!

Rather, it gets us “off the hook,” by keeping the sin of unforgiveness out of our hearts.

And it keeps us from becoming hateful people ourselves.

I come back, now, to the question I asked at the beginning: Is Jesus Christ your Lord—your Good Shepherd—in your response to the death of Osama bin Laden?

I pray that, for each of us, the answer is a sincere—and an obedient—yes.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

‘Awareness’ and Motherhood

(Third Sunday of Easter (A): This homily was given on May 8, 2011 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Luke 24: 13-35.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Third Sunday of Easter 2011]


It’s what the disciples lacked, but desperately needed. I’m talking here specifically about the two disciples we heard about in today’s gospel reading, who met the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus on Easter Sunday. They lacked awareness, first of all, that it was Jesus himself who was walking with them. They thought they had met up with a Passover visitor to Jerusalem who was completely out of touch with the local news: “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”

But they also lacked awareness of some other things—some other very important things. For example, they were not aware of the prophecies of what we now call the Old Testament, and how these prophecies related to what they had seen and heard during the previous week. And so Jesus set them straight. As St. Luke tells us, “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.” (By the way, that had to be a really long homily that Jesus gave them. So don’t complain about the length of mine!)

Obviously they were also unaware of the fact that the true Messiah—the one God had chosen for his people—was to be a suffering Messiah, and not a powerful king like David, who had ruled the nation of Israel many years before. Thus these men were unaware of the necessity of the cross in God’s plan of salvation: that the Messiah had to suffer and die to save us from sin and eternal death. “Oh, how foolish you are!’ Jesus said to them, ‘How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter his glory?”

Throughout the course of the day they spent with Jesus, the awareness of these two disciples increased, until it finally became complete when Jesus did for them what he had done for his apostles at the Last Supper a few days earlier: he fed them with the Eucharist! “And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.”

Awareness. It’s what Cleopas and his friend needed—and received—from our Lord on the first Easter Sunday. It’s also what every child needs—and receives—from his or her mother (if that mother is fulfilling her vocation well). On this Mother’s Day, that’s a truth that needs to be both noted and emphasized. This flows from a mother’s role as the “chief nurturer” of the family.

A good mother, for example, helps her children to be aware of their identity as children of God, created in his image and likeness. She thus helps her children to be aware of their intrinsic value as human beings. Let’s face it, our self-worth (or lack thereof) is, to a great extent, instilled in us at an early age by our mothers, since they’re usually with us the most!

A good mother also helps her children to become aware of the true meaning of life—if she herself knows it and is being faithful to it.

A good mother helps her children to be aware of their responsibilities to God, and to the members of their family, and to others.

A good mother helps her children grow in their awareness of the need they have to say they’re sorry.

A good mother helps her children to grow in their awareness of how to handle success and deal with failure.

She helps them to grow in their awareness of how to set the right priorities in life (presuming she has the right ones herself!).

And of course a good mother, if she’s Catholic, also helps her children to grow in their awareness of the need they have to pray, and attend Mass, and go to Confession, and put God first in their lives.

To the extent that you received awareness of these things from your earthly mother, thank God today. Thank him from the bottom of your heart—because not everyone is so blessed!

But even if your earthly mother failed you or hurt you in some serious way—even if she did not fulfill her vocation very well—fear not. You see, regardless of what your earthly mother was like, if you’re a baptized Catholic you DO have a mother who has not failed you and will never fail you—a mother who teaches awareness in all those areas I just mentioned. I’M TALKING HERE ABOUT HOLY MOTHER CHURCH! In fact, she teaches all these things even more clearly and consistently than our good earthly mothers do. The Church teaches us our identity as children of God; she teaches us that we are loved and valued by God beyond what we can even imagine. She teaches us the meaning of life; she helps us to become aware of our responsibilities to God, and to our brothers and sisters. She teaches us that we’re sinners who need to say we’re sorry; she teaches us how to handle success and deal with failure. And, of course, she teaches us the importance of prayer, and Mass, and Confession, and putting God first in our lives.

I recently read that Blessed John Paul II rarely mentioned his earthly mother in conversation or in writing. He spoke of his dad all the time, but not his mom. That’s probably because she died when he was just a small child. He never had the opportunity to get to know her in the same way that he was able to get to know his father, who had a very powerful impact on him during his youth.

But John Paul II did have Holy Mother Church in his life always—and she formed him pretty well, I would say (with the assistance, of course, of our Blessed Mother!).

So there’s always hope.

Lord, today we thank you for the many ways that our earthly mothers helped us to be aware of our identity, our value, and our call to live as your disciples. But most of all we thank you for giving us Holy Mother Church, through which we are born again to eternal life, and through which we receive the grace, the love and the knowledge we need to attain that heavenly goal. Amen.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Blessed John Paul II: A Man Unafraid!

(Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday, Year A): This homily was given on May 1, 2011 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 2011]

“Be not afraid!”

That’s a command that Jesus uttered many times during his 3-year earthly ministry, and it’s a command that his Vicar on earth, Pope John Paul II, repeated many times during his 26 years as the Successor of St. Peter, beginning at his first Mass as Holy Father.

And today that same John Paul II, who lived a life of fearless discipleship, is being beatified. Beatification, of course, is the second-to-the-last step in the canonization process. A person is beatified by the Catholic Church only after his or her life has been analyzed, and scrutinized, and meticulously investigated—and after a miracle has been attributed to his or her heavenly intercession. (The Church, incidentally, has very strict standards as to what qualifies as an official miracle!) As most of you know, the healing of a French nun, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, of Parkinson’s Disease back in 2005, was the miracle attributed to the heavenly prayers of John Paul.

He’ll need another one before he can be canonized a saint—something for which I have humbly volunteered my services. Whatever I can do to help Blessed John Paul II become Saint John Paul II I’ll be glad to do.

What a nice guy I am!

As I prayed about what I would say on this day of his beatification, that famous line of his came to mind: “Be not afraid!”

It’s been said that “love makes the world go ‘round”—and there’s a lot of truth in that statement; but because we live in a world that’s tainted by original sin, it’s also true to say that much of this world “goes ‘round” in FEAR, not love!

• People fear that they won’t be appreciated at work or at school, so to make themselves look good they put down their co-workers or fellow students and spread nasty rumors about them

• People fear that they won’t have enough money for themselves when they retire, so they steal—or they cheat on their taxes

• We fear that we’ll lose our friends if we don’t engage in the same immoral activity that they engage in on a regular basis, so we compromise our moral values and follow our friends into sin (that’s what we usually call “peer pressure”)

• A young woman fears that her boyfriend will reject her if she doesn’t give into his sexual advances, so one day she finally gives in

• We fear that others will perceive us as weak and take advantage of us if we forgive, so we nurse grudges against the people who have hurt us

And on and on it goes.

Reflect on your own life today, my brothers and sisters. If you do so—honestly—you’ll find that many of the things that you do (and don’t do) each and every day are motivated by fear.

The fear is usually unconscious, but it’s real nonetheless.

To which Blessed John Paul II would say: “Be not afraid!”

These words, incidentally, were words that he himself made every effort to live by! Make no mistake about it, when it came to dealing with fear, John Paul II’s LIFE stood behind his teaching. Because of the events of his personal life, and because of the political and social situation he had to deal with for many years, John Paul confronted fear constantly—from the earliest days of his youth.

But, by the grace of God, he consistently won the battle. And if he can do it, so can we!

So what words would John Paul say to us today, if he were standing here at this pulpit? What insights would he give us on battling fear, based on his own personal experience? Well, we can’t know the answer to that question for sure, but I strongly suspect he would say things like this:

• “Do not fear that God will fail to provide for your needs. He will always provide. Remember, I lost my entire family before I was 21 years of age. My only sister died before I was born. My mother died when I was 8. My elder (and only) brother, a medical doctor whom I greatly loved and admired, died 3 years later; and my father, who was my greatest spiritual inspiration, died tragically less than a decade after that. At 20, I had already lost all the people I loved. But the Lord was always there for me, and he will always be there for you.”

• “Do not be afraid of lies—the lies the world tells you every day about the human person and about life and its meaning. When I lived under Nazi and Communist rule in Poland I battled these lies every day. But I knew the truth, rooted in my faith, and I proclaimed it as openly and as clearly as I could. Nazism and Communism were political and economic systems built on the very worst of lies, so they were doomed from the start. Many people were surprised when Soviet Communism crumbled in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, but I wasn’t. What’s built on lies, eventually dies. So don’t be afraid of them.”

• “Do not be afraid of suffering. I suffered in so many ways in my life. I just told you about some of them: losing all the members of my family before I was 21; living for years under Nazi and Communist oppression (I was even forced to study for the priesthood secretly, in an underground seminary). But there were many other sufferings as well: for example, the time I was shot in St. Peter’s Square in 1981 and nearly died; and, of course, my long and difficult battle with Parkinson’s Disease. But through these and all the other trials of my life, I looked to God and found my strength in him. His grace was always sufficient for me, and it will always be sufficient for you. So don’t be afraid.”

• “Do not be afraid to confront your sin and repent of it. I instituted today’s feast, the feast of the Divine Mercy, to remind the world that every sin can be forgiven through the blood of Jesus Christ. And don’t be afraid to take your sins to the sacrament of Confession. Jesus gave the power to priests to dispense his mercy to repentant sinners. As you heard him say to the very first priests in today’s gospel, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.”

• “And speaking of forgiveness, do not be afraid to extend forgiveness to others. Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness; it’s an act of strength. And it’s an act that brings with it liberation and peace. Remember how I forgave the man who tried to assassinate me back in 1981? I did that because it was the right thing to do—the thing Jesus wanted me to do—and I did it to set an example for the world. Hate destroys, but forgiveness heals.”

• “Do not be afraid to face the tough issues and the tough questions—after all, as a Catholic you possess the truth! Because I wasn’t afraid of taking on the difficult contemporary issues relative to sexual morality, I gave the world a series of teachings known as ‘the Theology of the Body’—teachings that will help people to find fulfillment in their relationships for generations to come.”

• “And finally, do not be afraid of the future; and certainly do not be afraid of death. Jesus promised to be with us always, until the end of time. And he told us that in his Father’s house there are many dwelling places—including one for us, if we remain faithful. Remember how I approached death: I put myself confidently in the hands of Jesus through Mary. The last words my secretary heard me say on my deathbed were, ‘Totus tuus’—‘Totally yours, Mary.’ And without any fear in my heart I said to a nun in my final hours, “Let me go to the Lord.”

I hope you will join me today in thanking God for the gift of John Paul II, and for the many lessons our former Holy Father taught us—especially that very important lesson: “Be not afraid!”

Given the fact that he is now Blessed John Paul II, I think the best way for us to conclude this morning is to seek his heavenly intercession for all of our special intentions. For this purpose, I’ll use the prayer I gave out for people to say for my healing. I ask you now to kneel as I say the prayer in the name of each of us:

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.