Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Dogma of the Blessed Trinity: Highly Theoretical—and Very Practical!


(Trinity Sunday 2013: This homily was given on May 26, 2013 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Proverbs 8: 22-31; Romans 5: 1-5; John 16: 12-15.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Trinity Sunday 2013]


The dogma of the Blessed Trinity is part of the very foundation of our Catholic faith.  It is, as the Catechism says, “the central mystery of Christian faith and life.”  (CCC, 234)

The dogma says that there are three divine Persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—in the one, true, and eternal God.  Now that may sound rather simple, but, as anybody who’s ever studied theology or read the Catechism will tell you, it isn’t: What does the word “Person” mean in that definition?  How can something be “one” and “three” at the same time?  If the three Persons form one God, how can they be distinct from one another?  If the Father “begets” the Son, how can the Son be said to be “eternal”?

And on and on the questions go!  That’s why volumes and volumes have been written about the Blessed Trinity in the last 2,000 years.

So, on the one hand, the dogma of the Trinity is highly theoretical.  And yet, from another perspective, it’s a very practical teaching.

And I would say that’s exactly the way we should expect it to be!  If the teaching of the Church about the Trinity is true (and I believe it is!)—and that same Triune God created us and everything that exists—then there should be many things about the Trinity that relate to the ordinary, everyday experiences we have as human beings.

And that’s precisely the way it is.

The dogma of the Trinity, for example, reminds us of the importance of family life, since it teaches us that God is (in a certain sense) a “family” of Persons united by an eternal bond of love. 

That’s a very important lesson for people in our day and age, when the traditional family is under direct and almost constant attack!

So obviously those who believe in the Trinity should make their family life a priority.  Hopefully everyone here does.

The Blessed Trinity also teaches us that we are made to live in loving relationships with other human beings (both within our families and outside of our families).  As the old saying goes, “No man is an island.”  We are made in the Triune God’s image, and within the inner life of the Triune God there are relationships—relationships of love:  the Father loves the Son; the Son loves the Spirit; the Spirit loves the Father, etc.

This means that those who believe in the Blessed Trinity should always be working to make their relationships with other people better and more loving.

Believers in the Trinity should also have no difficulty whatsoever in recognizing and avoiding sins like racism and abortion, because believers in the Trinity affirm a very important truth (whether they realize it or not).  The truth is this: Those who share the same nature enjoy the same dignity.  Now what do I mean by that?  Well, in the Blessed Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three distinct divine Persons.  However the Father is not “more divine” than the Son; the Son is not “more divine” than the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit is not “more divine” than the Father or the Son.  Each Person of the Blessed Trinity shares the divine nature; consequently each is to be worshipped as God! 

Those who share the same nature enjoy the same dignity. 

In a similar way, every human person—regardless of their age or their skin color or their other personal characteristics—has a human nature, and so they deserve to be respected and treated with a certain dignity, from the moment of their conception in the womb to the moment of their natural death.  As the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity share the divine nature and are to be treated accordingly, so every human person has a human nature and is to be treated accordingly.

The dogma of the Trinity even has implications for our understanding of marriage.  (This is something Blessed John Paul II helped us to understand through his Theology of the Body.)  And one of those implications concerns this controversial issue of so-called “gay marriage”.  As we found out a few weeks ago here in Rhode Island, a state or society can choose to make this practice legal through a legislative act or through a judicial decision.  But that’s all it is—legal.  It’s not real.  And it’s not real—that is to say a gay marriage can never be a marriage in the true sense of the term—precisely because of who God is as a Trinity of Persons, and because of who we are as human beings made in his image and likeness. 

Let me explain . . .

In the Blessed Trinity, the Father loves the Son with an intense, perfect, eternal love.  That love is so intense that it’s actually another Person—the Holy Spirit—who, as the Nicene Creed tells us, “proceeds from the Father and the Son.”

So please notice, in the Blessed Trinity, love is fruitful: the Father loves the Son, and from that love the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally.

In a speech he gave in Africa in 1988, Pope John Paul II said this: “Christian family life is a reflection of the life of the Blessed Trinity, where there is mutual giving and receiving of love among the three Divine Persons.”  This, of course, shouldn’t surprise us, because we’re made in God’s image and likeness.  As I noted earlier, our family lives are to reflect the inner life of the Blessed Trinity, because we’ve been made in the image and likeness of the Blessed Trinity!

All this having been said, if a marriage here on earth is to reflect the life of the Trinity properly, that marriage obviously must be FRUITFUL (or at least it must have the natural potential to be fruitful).

It must be fruitful (or at least potentially so), because the Father’s love for the Son in the Blessed Trinity is fruitful!

But a so-called “gay marriage” can never be fruitful, can it?  You learn that in Biology 101.  Two men cannot have a natural child of their own; two women cannot have a natural child of their own.  It’s impossible.  Only the marriage of a man and a woman has the natural potential to be fruitful!

So of all the reasons that can be mentioned as to why gay marriage is wrong, perhaps the most important one is this: It’s “anti-Trinitarian.”  It’s anti-Trinitarian because the love of the Father and the Son in the Blessed Trinity is fruitful.  The love in a gay relationship is not.

And it never can be. 

In conclusion let me summarize my homily in this way: As I’ve hopefully made clear in the last several minutes, by revealing himself to us as a Trinity of Persons, Almighty God has not only taught us something very important about himself, he’s also taught us many important things about ourselves and about our lives here on this earth.  He’s taught us about the importance of family life; he’s taught us about the need to bring his love into our relationships; he’s taught us about the dignity we have as human beings created in his image and likeness; he’s even taught us about the nature of marriage and human sexuality.

The only question is: Are we, as individuals, learning these lessons that the Lord has taught?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Who Defines Love For You?

The "definer of love" for many contemporary Americans.

(Seventh Sunday of Easter (C): This homily was given on May 12, 2013 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read John 13: 31-35; 17: 20-26.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Seventh Sunday of Easter 2013]


Who defines love for you?

Another way to phrase that question would be: Who is the major contributor to your understanding of what love really is?

That’s a crucial issue for each of us to address, because I would contend that whoever defines love for you, defines to a great extent how you love other people!

As human beings, we tend to love as we have been loved, and according to our ideas about love.  Now that’s not so bad if you’ve experienced true love in your life and have learned what real love is all about, but it can be disastrous if you’ve experienced and been influenced by some counterfeit version of love.

This is why people who abuse others emotionally, physically or sexually, very often come from abusive backgrounds themselves.  Love was defined for these abusers by the person or the persons who abused them—and that experience of false love now directly influences how they treat the people they live and associate with.

I would say that in our society at the present time love is being defined for many people by none other than Mr. Hugh Hefner, of Playboy fame.  It’s been that way for decades.

And that’s a real problem.  For these men and women, love ends up becoming little more than a synonym for sex.  And that direct association of love with sex has a number of very practical consequences:  It’s what leads many couples to live together before marriage, and to contracept within marriage.  It also leads some people to be unfaithful in their marriages; and it’s one of the biggest reasons why the divorce rate is so high.

You see, according to Hugh Hefner’s understanding of love, pleasure is the operative principle, so once the pleasure is gone so is the relationship!

And, of course, if marriage is about love, and love is almost exclusively about sex and pleasure, then why shouldn’t gay couples be allowed to marry?  Don’t they deserve some pleasure—some “love”—in their lives?

That’s the twisted logic of many supporters of so-called “gay marriage.” (And if you don’t believe me, just ask our “brilliant” legislators here in the “Catholic” state of Rhode Island who voted for it two weeks ago!).

This skewed logic makes perfect sense in their minds, ultimately because they’ve unknowingly allowed a man like Hugh Hefner to define love for them.

I remember seeing an interview with Hefner once on TV, and someone asked him, “Don’t you feel any regrets about using these young women, and allowing them to use you?” and in his response Hefner basically said, “No—if we’re all aware of the fact that we’re using each other, but we all derive pleasure from the experience, what does it matter?”

And you want to know why so many people today feel alone, and unloved and abused—even though they’re having lots and lots of sex?!

This is one of the major reasons why.  They’re using each other for pleasure through sex, and they think it’s love!

As Catholic Christians our ultimate “definer of love” is supposed to be Jesus Christ—and only Jesus Christ!  In today’s gospel text from John 17, Jesus prays that his love—rooted in the Father—will be present in us.  He said this at the Last Supper, on the night before he died.  He had said something similar earlier in the meal, which is recorded for us in John, chapter 13.  There he said, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” 

Notice the qualifying phrase there: “As I have loved you.”  Had Jesus said, “Love one another” and then left it at that, it would be perfectly acceptable to have someone like Hugh Hefner define love for us.  We would even be able to define love for ourselves.

But because Jesus added those five short words “as I have loved you,” all those other options are off the table, so to speak.  This means that our personal view of love is to be formed, first and foremost, based on the words and deeds of our Lord and Savior, who has revealed to us the love of the heavenly Father.

So what exactly was the love of Jesus Christ like?  What were the primary qualities of the love that Jesus showed to other people when he walked the face of this earth?

Well, first of all, the love of Jesus was selfless.  Our Lord never thought of himself first; he always thought of others and the needs of others before he thought of himself and his own needs.  In fact, that’s the reason he came to this earth in the first place: it was to save us from sin and eternal death.  We are the ones who have benefitted from the Incarnation and salvific activity of Jesus.  When all was said and done, the only things our Lord got out of the experience of becoming man were a bloody sweat, a heavy cross and five holes in his body!

The love of Jesus was also patient.  That patience was shown in a special way toward his apostles, who definitely were not among ‘the best’ and ‘the brightest’ when our Lord first called them.  It took them a long time to grow and mature in their faith, but through all those growing pains Jesus showed them incredible patience.  He was patient with Peter at Caesarea-Philippi when Peter put his foot in his mouth and said the wrong thing; he was patient with Peter after his 3 denials; he was patient with Thomas in his doubts; he was patient with Matthew in his worldliness and materialism.

That’s because real love is patient—as St. Paul tells us explicitly in 1 Corinthians 13.

The love of Jesus was also a forgiving love. 

Forgiveness needs to a part of every interpersonal relationship, because every interpersonal relationship involves people who are sinners, and who consequently hurt one another!

If forgiveness is not present in a relationship, the relationship does not survive.

It’s that simple.

Well, not surprisingly, Jesus is our great role model for forgiveness, since he forgave the people who hated him and who murdered him WHILE THEY WERE IN THE PROCESS OF MURDERING HIM!

“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

It takes a special kind of strength to forgive others from the heart—especially when the people who have offended us are not sorry, like the murderers of Jesus were not sorry. 

Think of the people who were wounded and who lost loved ones in the terrorist attack in Boston on Patriots’ Day.  How hard must it be—and will it be—for them to forgive?

Forgiveness is not easy—but it is possible by the grace of God that comes to us through Jesus Christ, the greatest forgiver of them all!

Finally, the love of Jesus was self-sacrificial.

“Greater love no one has,” Jesus said, “than to lay down his life for his friends.”  Real, genuine love always finds its greatest and most perfect expression in sacrifice.  Weren’t you moved and inspired the other day when you watched the news footage of the police and medical personnel—and the ordinary, private citizens—rushing to the aid of those injured by the explosions at the Marathon?  I sure was!  What was moving and inspiring was the fact that these men and women were putting their lives on the line as they were helping those in need!  For all these rescuers knew, there were more bombs in Copley Square that were about to go off!  But they sacrificed themselves anyway.  That’s the love of Jesus Christ in action.

And that’s why the greatest “visual definition” of love is—and always will be—the cross of Jesus, in the form of the crucifix.

In closing I should also add the point that many of us in this church right now have been blessed to experience real love—that is to say we’ve been blessed to experience the selfless, patient, forgiving, self-sacrificial love of Jesus Christ—through our earthly mothers.  And for that, we say a special thank you on this Mother’s Day to God—and to them.

So—who defines love for you?  Who is the major contributor to your understanding of what love really is?

For each of us, and for every Catholic Christian, may it always be Jesus, Jesus—and only Jesus!

Thursday, May 09, 2013

The Ascension: A Disappearance, not a Departure!

Fr. Emil Kapaun
Fr. Kapaun (right) helping a wounded soldier.

(Ascension Thursday 2013: This homily was given on May 9, 2013 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Acts 1: 1-14.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Ascension 2013]


In a homily he gave on the Feast of the Ascension back in 2007, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the papal household, made a very important distinction.  The distinction was between “a disappearance” and “a departure.”  Listen to his words:


If we do not want the Ascension to be a sad “farewell,” but rather a true feast, then we must understand the radical difference between a disappearance and a departure.  With the ascension, Jesus has not departed, he has not become absent; he has only disappeared from our sight.  Those who leave are no longer here; those who only go out of our sight, however, can still be near us—it is only that something prevents our seeing them.  Jesus does disappear from the apostles’ sight at the ascension, but he does so to be present in another more intimate way.

That’s a great insight!  And it means that Jesus can still make himself present in a visible way in this world.  We know, of course, that he’s present in a hidden way at Mass—in the Eucharist (under the appearances of bread and wine), and in the proclaimed word.  We know that he’s present in a similar way in the other sacraments.  

But there’s another presence of Jesus Christ that actually makes him visible to those who have the eyes of faith.  I’m talking here about his presence in his disciples, and his presence in the acts of charity and self-sacrifice performed by those disciples—and at times even by unbelievers.

I’ll give you two timely examples.

Roughly 24 hours after the terrorist attack in Boston on Patriots’ Day, a very distraught man sent me an email in which he wrote the following: “Fr. Ray, it is becoming harder and harder to believe that there really is a God!  Where was he yesterday when these people—young kids that never even got the chance to experience life—had their lives completely destroyed or devastated?  Where was he?  Answer me, Fr. Ray, where was he?”

The following Thursday night I shared those words with the teenagers who were present here in church for youth group, and I asked them how they would respond to that man’s question.  One of them raised his hand and said, “Fr. Ray, God was there.  He was there in the people who helped!  He was there in the people who went in to help the injured and those who were dying.”

That teenager, I would say, was absolutely correct.  I know that I was moved—as I’m sure many of you were—as I watched the news footage of the medical and rescue personnel (and the ordinary citizens) who rushed into the area where the bombs had just exploded.

How did they know there weren’t more bombs there that were about to go off?

The answer, of course, is that they didn’t know that all the bombs had exploded!  They didn’t know the area was safe; they didn’t know, for sure, that they themselves would not be killed or seriously injured like the others.

But they went in anyway!

Whether these men and women were conscious of it or not, it was the grace of God that moved them to perform those acts of courage and compassion for others.

In a very real way, they made Jesus Christ visibly present in what they did for their brothers and sisters in the human family.

The second example I’ll share with you today occurred a few days before the Boston Marathon bombing—on April 11, to be exact.  On that day, President Obama awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor—our nation’s highest military award—to a Catholic priest: Fr. Emil Kapaun, an Army chaplain who died in a prisoner-of-war camp in North Korea in 1951, during the Korean War.

Many of those who served with Fr. Kapaun had been calling for this award to be given for over 60 years.  Listen now to some of what the President said at the ceremony:


[The] Chinese forces entered the war with a massive surprise attack—perhaps 20,000 soldiers pouring down on a few thousand Americans. In the chaos, dodging bullets and explosions, Father Kapaun raced between foxholes, out past the front lines and into no-man’s land—dragging the wounded to safety.
When his commanders ordered an evacuation, he chose to stay—gathering the injured, tending to their wounds. When the enemy broke through and the combat was hand-to-hand, he carried on—comforting the injured and the dying, offering some measure of peace as they left this Earth.
When enemy forces bore down, it seemed like the end—that these wounded Americans, more than a dozen of them, would be gunned down. But Father Kapaun spotted a wounded Chinese officer. He pleaded with this Chinese officer and convinced him to call out to his fellow Chinese. The shooting stopped and they negotiated a safe surrender, saving those American lives.
Then, as Father Kapaun was being led away, he saw another American—wounded, unable to walk, laying in a ditch, defenseless. An enemy soldier was standing over him, rifle aimed at his head, ready to shoot. And Father Kapaun marched over and pushed the enemy soldier aside. And then as the soldier watched, stunned, Father Kapaun carried that wounded American away. 
[That man he saved, by the way, is now in his 80s—and was there at the ceremony!]
This is the valor we honor today—an American soldier who didn’t fire a gun, but who wielded the mightiest weapon of all, a love for his brothers so pure that he was willing to die so that they might live.
[The following remarks by the President were not included in my homily, but are added here to provide further reflection on the extraordinary witness of this great priest.]

And yet, the incredible story of Father Kapaun does not end there.
He carried that injured American, for miles, as their captors forced them on a death march. When Father Kapaun grew tired, he’d help the wounded soldier hop on one leg. When other prisoners stumbled, he picked them up. When they wanted to quit—knowing that stragglers would be shot—he begged them to keep walking.
In the camps that winter, deep in a valley, men could freeze to death in their sleep. Father Kapaun offered them his own clothes. They starved on tiny rations of millet and corn and birdseed. He somehow snuck past the guards, foraged in nearby fields, and returned with rice and potatoes. In desperation, some men hoarded food. He convinced them to share. Their bodies were ravaged by dysentery. He grabbed some rocks, pounded metal into pots and boiled clean water. They lived in filth. He washed their clothes and he cleansed their wounds.
The guards ridiculed his devotion to his Savior and the Almighty. They took his clothes and made him stand in the freezing cold for hours. Yet, he never lost his faith. If anything, it only grew stronger. At night, he slipped into huts to lead prisoners in prayer, saying the Rosary, administering the sacraments, offering three simple words: “God bless you.” One of them later said that with his very presence he could just for a moment turn a mud hut into a cathedral.

The soldiers who served with Fr. Emil Kapaun in Korea would find it very easy to understand the point of today’s homily: that Jesus Christ, although he has disappeared through his ascension, has not departed from the earth.  They know that because they actually experienced the presence of our Savior in a powerful way through the words and the deeds of this very holy priest.  Let’s pray at this Mass that the people with whom we share our lives will also experience the presence of the risen and ascended Christ—through us!