Sunday, October 28, 2012

Bartimaeus And The ‘Pilgrims And Park Rangers’ Of His Day


(Thirtieth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on October 28, 2012 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Mark 10: 46-52.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirtieth Sunday 2012]


Let me begin today by recommending a book.  It’s called, “The Right to be Wrong: Ending the Culture War over Religion in America.”  The author is a man named Kevin Seamus Hasson.  He’s the lawyer who founded The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is a law firm that defends religious freedom both in and out of the courtroom.

And they do it at The Becket Fund for people of all faiths!

In his book, Hasson traces the history of religious liberty here in the New World from the time of the Pilgrims until our own day.  And what he makes crystal clear from the very beginning is that the struggle for true, religious freedom and the rights of conscience is not peculiar to our generation.  It’s been going on since the time of the Pilgrims—a group that he uses to symbolize one of the tow extremes that we should want to avoid in our country right now. 

He starts off in chapter one by addressing what he calls “America’s most enduring myth,” namely that “the Pilgrims came here looking for religious freedom, found it, and we all lived happily ever after.”

Hasson says that the myth is wrong on all counts: The Pilgrims weren’t looking for religious freedom; they were just looking for a place where they could live “in their own world according to their own vision of the truth.”  Nor did they find this freedom and bequeath it, happily, to succeeding generations. 

Hasson says that when others joined the Pilgrims in Plymouth Colony—others who did not share their beliefs—the Pilgrims often persecuted the dissenters, using their legal system to accomplish the goal.  As he put it, “The Pilgrims did not respond well to this unplanned pluralism.  In fact, they attempted to outlaw it.  They set up tax-supported churches and banned competing religious services or cultural displays.  They kept dissidents from proselytizing.  They had religious tests for public office.  And they refused to exempt conscientious objectors, like Quakers, from obeying their laws.”

So in the history of our nation we have had some groups and individuals like the Pilgrims, who wanted to outlaw every religion but their own; and then, at the opposite end of the spectrum, we’ve had groups and individuals to which Hasson gives the title “Park Rangers.”  These are men and women who basically want to outlaw everybody’s religion—or at least remove all religious expression from public life.

Pilgrims and Park Rangers—the two extremes to be avoided.  (By the way, I won’t explain in this homily why he refers to that second group as “Park Rangers.”  You’ll have to read the book to find that out!)

For Hasson—and for people like James Madison, the 4th President of the United States—what’s needed in a religiously diverse culture like ours is a recognition of the natural right to religious liberty, and a respect for the conscience of every citizen.  Hasson defines conscience in this way: “[It’s] the interior, quintessentially human voice that speaks to us of goodness and duty, the voice we must obey if we are to keep our integrity.  It counsels doing good and avoiding evil, and serves as a referee to rule on which is which.  What is more, conscience requires action, not just conviction.  It demands that we live according to the truth as we know it.”

So if you’re a medical doctor, and your conscience, shaped by your religious faith, tells you that you should not prescribe contraception or refer for abortions, the federal government should not coerce you to do so!

At least that’s what President Madison would say (Madison, who was the chief architect of the First Amendment, which guarantees the free exercise of religion.)

Other, more contemporary presidents might say something different, of course.

But they’re wrong.

Now why do I mention all this in my homily today?  How is what I’ve said about Kevin Seamus Hasson’s book connected to this gospel reading we just heard?


Although it might not be immediately obvious to us, Bartimaeus in this story was exercising his right to religious freedom and following the dictates of his conscience—and a group of 1st century “Pilgrims and Park Rangers” was trying to stop him! 

The text tells us that when Bartimaeus was told that Jesus was passing by he began to cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.”

“Son of David” was a messianic title.  That means that when Bartimaeus used it he was making a declaration of faith.  He was exercising his right to religious freedom by declaring that he believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah: the Messiah that he and his Hebrew brothers and sisters had been waiting for for centuries.

And, at the very same time, Bartimaeus was acting on a judgment made by his conscience.  Because he believed that Jesus was the Messiah, he became convinced that our Lord could help him by restoring his eyesight, and so he made the decision—which was the judgment of his conscience—to reach out to our Lord for a healing.

But a number of people who were present that day didn’t like it!  And so—just like the Pilgrims and Park Rangers of our world today—they tried to stop Bartimaeus!  They told him to be quiet! 

Most of these naysayers were probably “Pilgrims,” in the sense that they thought that their Jewish religion should be the only one allowed to exist; but there may have been a few “Park Rangers” there as well.

To his great credit, Bartimaeus ignored them all and continued to exercise his religious freedom and assert his conscience rights by calling out to the Lord.  In fact, the Bible says he began to shout even louder, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!”

As Catholic Americans in 2012, we find ourselves in the same position that Bartimaeus was in on that day when he encountered Jesus on road near Jericho.  Our ability to practice our faith fully—and to apply the teachings of our faith to the circumstances of our daily lives—is being threatened on many fronts, most notably by the federal government’s HHS mandate, which requires Catholic institutions and business owners to pay for services that are clearly immoral.

In other words, the Pilgrims—and especially the Park Rangers—are at it again.

May the courageous example of Bartimaeus inspire us (and all people of good will) to speak up, loudly and clearly, for religious freedom and the rights of conscience at the ballot box this November—and everywhere else.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Pilgrimage to Lourdes and Other Sacred Shrines in France

Here are some pictures from our recent pilgrimage to Lourdes and several other holy places in France.  It was a spiritually uplifting week with a great group of "pilgrims."
(Click on images to enlarge.)
Our group in front of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Chartres

One of the streets in Lourdes

Our first Mass at the shrine

Bernadette Soubirous
Relics of St. Bernadette

People congregating near the Grotto

The Grotto, where our Blessed Mother appeared to Bernadette

Prayer intentions and flowers left in the Grotto

Through this opening on the floor of the Grotto, one can view the healing waters of Lourdes

The Rosary Basilica

Where one enters the baths


The underground Basilica of St. Pius X in Lourdes, which holds 20,000 people. 

Every day at 5pm there is a special Blessing of the Sick ceremony in the underground basilica.

A few familiar faces were in the choir the day we attended the ceremony.


On the 27th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood, I was the main celebrant and homilist at the 6:45am English Mass at the Grotto.  What a great blessing!  It was definitely the highlight of the pilgrimage for me.


The group gave me a beautiful Marian vestment for my anniversary.

Fr. Mahar and I preparing for Mass at the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal in Paris.

Fr. Mahar was the main celebrant that day.

The incorrupt body of St. Catherine Laboure

St. Vincent de Paul, who is buried in the church that bears his name in Paris
Les Buissonnets, the childhood home of St. Therese in Lisieux

The Basilica of St. Therese in Lisieux

Celebrating Mass in the basilica

St. Therese

One of her habits


Yes, I was always eating (so what else is new?).  And yes, there was always some good vino on the table.


No explanation needed for this picture.

Some people who hung around the hotel we stayed at in Paris

The spires of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Chartres.
They don't match!
One is a 349-foot plain Romanesque pyramid dating from the 1140s, while the other is a 377-foot early 16th-century Flamboyant Gothic spire on top of an older tower.
Three amigos