Sunday, October 26, 2014

“Love Week” at St. Pius: October 13-20, 2014

(Thirtieth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on October 20, 2014 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Matthew 22: 34-40.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirtieth Sunday 2014]

It was “Love Week” at St. Pius.

I’m talking about the 7 days beginning on Monday, October the 13th and ending on Sunday, October the 20th.

Love Week.

To be sure, nobody actually called it that when it was happening; this is a name that I’m giving to those 7 days now in retrospect.

Because that’s really what the week was!

In today’s gospel reading from Matthew 22, a Pharisee asks Jesus a question.  He asks him which commandment of the law is the greatest.  Our Lord responds by saying that the greatest commandment is to love Almighty God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength.  But he doesn’t leave it at that; Jesus immediately makes reference to a second commandment which is just as binding as the first, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

And what does it mean to love your neighbor?

Here’s where many people in our modern world get things all mixed-up.  For example, to some men and women in our country right now to “love your neighbor” who is terminally ill means to give that person the drugs they want so that they can kill themselves.  Or it means to deprive a sick person of food and water, such that they actually die of starvation and dehydration and not the physical disease they were diagnosed with.

To some adults—even to some adults here in Westerly—to love our teenage “neighbors” means to put them in embarrassing and potentially dangerous situations with their peers in the restrooms of their high school.   I guess that’s what you call, “politically-correct love” (for lack of a better expression).  And that exists in many places; it’s not only here in Westerly.

To some people these days love of neighbor means allowing others—including one’s own children—to do whatever they want to do, whatever they “feel” like doing—even if they hurt themselves spiritually and emotionally in the process.

To a significant segment of our population “love of neighbor” actually means killing that neighbor in the womb before he or she is born—or AS he or she is being born (although, thankfully, according to the latest polls, this “significant segment of the population” is decreasing in size.  For once, I hope the polls are right!).

I use these four examples this morning for a reason.  It’s because each of them relates either to an event that took place here at St. Pius during the week of October 13-20, or to an event in our community that week which involved our parishioners.

And, in each instance—I’m happy to say!—our people stood up for and promoted real, genuine “love of neighbor,” and stood against one or more of the four FALSE versions of love of neighbor that I just mentioned.

Recall the first.  I said, “To some men and women in our country right now to “love your neighbor” who is terminally ill means to give that person the drugs they want so that they can kill themselves.  Or it means to deprive a sick person of food and water, such that they actually die of starvation and dehydration and not the physical disease they were diagnosed with.”

Which is precisely why our pro-life committee brought in Fr. Tad to speak about end-of-life decisions on the evening of October the 14th.  Fr. Tad is both a moral theologian and a man of science (he has his PhD in neuroscience from Yale), and because he’s so knowledgeable in both those fields he was able to teach those who were here that night a lot of things about love.  In fact, that’s really what his talk was about (although it wasn’t advertised as such).  He dealt with the issue of how to love yourself and your neighbors when either you or they are faced with a serious and/or terminal illness.

When is giving a certain medication or therapy the loving thing to do?

When is withholding a certain medication or therapy the loving thing to do?

When is discontinuing a certain medication or therapy the loving thing to do?

Those are some of the important questions he addressed.

The second example of false love I gave was this one: “To some adults—even to some adults here in Westerly—to love our teenage ‘neighbors’ means to put them in embarrassing and potentially dangerous situations with their peers in the restrooms of their high school.”  That, of course, was a reference to the proposed (and now tabled) policy that would have allowed so-called ‘transgender’ students to use the bathroom and locker room of the gender with which they identify, as opposed to the gender that they are biologically.

It was not adopted, thank God, in part because of the protests of some high school students—from our parish—who reminded the superintendent of schools and the school committee on October the 15th that it’s NOT an act of loving your neighbor to put a significant number of students in embarrassing and potentially dangerous situations.

As Angela Tafone put it, “As a student, I would feel unsafe with this policy.”

We don’t intentionally put people we love in situations where they could be seriously hurt.

Angela understands that; hopefully the superintendent and the members of the school committee now understand it as well.

The third example of false love of neighbor that I gave was allowing others—including one’s own children—to do whatever they want to do, even if in the process they hurt themselves emotionally and spiritually.

This is why we had Fr. Paul Desmarais here on the 16th of October to talk to our young people and their parents about the occult.

This was timely given the movie that just came out this weekend, “Ouija”—which is a film that I would recommend you do NOT see!

Many young people today are being drawn into the occult—sometimes with the support of their parents—by things like psychic readings and Ouija boards and tarot cards and horoscopes and séances at sleepovers.

Well, as Fr. Desmarais made clear in his talk, these kinds of activities can easily open the door to demonic forces: demonic forces which are beyond our ability to control with our limited strength and human resources.

And he shared several stories of young people he’s helped over the years who did open the door—and who lived to regret it.

His message that night, put in the terms of this homily, was that if you really love your neighbor, you will do your best to steer that neighbor away from the occult, not toward it.

And that’s especially true if the “neighbor” in question is your own child!

Which brings me to the final false love of neighbor that I mentioned earlier: the killing of the “neighbor” in the womb before he or she is born (or as he or she is being born).

That false version of love was addressed last Sunday (October the 20th) with our annual Walk for Life, through which we raised over $2,200 for local pro-life activities.

Thanks, incidentally, to everyone who either walked or donated or sponsored me.  And yes, I did walk the whole way (just in case there are any doubters out there!).

Contrary to what the pro-choice media would have you believe, the pro-life movement is about love: love for babies AND love for their mothers.

It’s about loving our infant “neighbor” in the womb; it’s about loving our infant neighbor’s mother (especially if she’s in a difficult situation); it’s even about loving those mothers who have made mistakes and aborted their children—because those mothers are also our “neighbors”: our neighbors in need of forgiveness and healing.

So now you know why I said that October 13-20 was “Love Week” at St. Pius X Church.

Of course, according to Jesus in this gospel, EVERY week is supposed to be a “Love Week” for us, his disciples.

That’s the Lord’s great desire.

By the grace of the Eucharist that we receive at this Mass, may God help each and every one of us to do all we can to make that desire of Jesus Christ become a reality.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Giving To God What Is God’s

(Twenty-ninth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on October 19, 2014 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I.  Read Matthew 22: 15-21.)

[For the audio version of this homily: Twenty-ninth Sunday 2014]

Bishop Tobin made headlines again a couple of weeks ago, when he publicly criticized a political candidate for governor in the state of Rhode Island—a candidate who on that day had proudly accepted the endorsement of Planned Parenthood (the nation’s largest abortion provider), and who had also announced her intention to try to repeal Rhode Island’s current law banning partial birth abortion (a procedure that even many pro-choicers admit is nothing short of infanticide).

Oh yes, and did I mention that this politician also claims to be Catholic?

All of this, of course, provoked the usual hysterical responses from those who, in one way or another, support the killing of babies in our country:

“The Bishop should mind his business.”

“Who is he to push his morality on the rest of us?”

“The Bishop should keep his nose out of politics.  Doesn’t he know about the separation of church and state?”

Now I wonder if these very same people are just as vocal in their criticism of guys like the Reverend Al Sharpton—who’s a commentator on a major news network in this country, and who also happens to be a Baptist minister!

I wonder how many of the Bishop’s critics have also sent letters to MSNBC recently, saying, “How can you allow a Baptist minister to do political commentary on your network?  Don’t you know about the separation of church and state?”

I’ll bet you not a single one of them has!  Because the truth of the matter is, my brothers and sisters, this critique only goes in one direction.  If you’re pro-life, and pro-traditional marriage, and a supporter of the Ten Commandments they say these things about you; if you’re of the opposite persuasion they say nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  And that’s especially true in the mainstream, liberal media.  You can make the most partisan political statements imaginable (which Sharpton does every day), and not a critical word is spoken.  Or written.

Hopefully you realize that all this public criticism is by design and has a very definite purpose.  Aside from being an attempt to violate the right to free speech of some American citizens, all of this public criticism is ultimately designed to intimidate!  It’s designed to try to intimidate into silence people like Bishop Tobin, and me, and all those who would take a public stand against the moral evils that are currently plaguing our society.

Haven’t they figured it out yet that it’s not going to work?

They must be slow learners!

But all of this is not really anything new, as we see in today’s gospel story from Matthew 22.  Here we have men whom I would describe as “some of the spiritual ancestors of the critics of Bishop Tobin”—the Pharisees and the Herodians—trying to find a way to accuse Jesus of either being disloyal to his religion (Judaism) or disobedient to the “state” (in this case, the Roman Empire).

The Pharisees were anti-Roman, while the Herodians to a great extent supported Rome, since the Romans kept them in power.  In many respects, the beliefs of these two groups were at opposite ends of the political and religious spectrums.  But they were united on one issue: their hatred of Jesus.

So they asked our Lord a question that they thought would trap him: “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”

Had Jesus said, “Yes, it is lawful,” the Pharisees would have accused him to his fellow Jews of being disloyal to his religion; had he said, “No, it is not lawful,” the Herodians would have denounced him to the Roman authorities.

Jesus, of course, didn’t take the bait.  Instead, he gave the perfect response (which shouldn’t surprise us in the least because Jesus was—and is—the divine Son of God!).  He asked to see a Roman coin; then he asked his questioners to identify the person whose image was on the coin.  When they responded by saying, “Caesar’s,” Jesus answered with his famous line, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but give to God what is God’s.”

Which immediately raises a very interesting question: What is “God’s”?  What is it, exactly, that belongs to the Lord?

Well, in the interest of time, let me give you the short list of the things that DON’T “belong to God”: sin; evil; death—and all the bad things that follow from those realities.

Like hell.

Which means that EVERYTHING ELSE IS THE LORD’S!  Everything that is genuinely good belongs to God; everything that is true belongs to God; everything that is rooted in love and that proceeds from love belongs to God.  It all belongs to God because it’s all the gift of his grace!

The problem with the Catholic candidate for governor that Bishop Tobin criticized the other day is that she doesn’t understand this (and perhaps she doesn’t care to understand it, as is the case with all-too-many Catholic politicians these days—on both sides of the aisle).

If you’re a human being—and especially if you’re Catholic—your politics “belong to God” (in the sense that you’re supposed to be guided by HIS DIVINE LAW in forming your political views!).

I hope you realize, my brothers and sisters, that the whole reason we had slavery in this country for so many years is because a lot of Christian, white Americans acted like their politics and their business practices DIDN’T belong to the Lord!  Consequently they disregarded his divine Law in dealing with people of a different skin color.

And they thought that was perfectly acceptable.

Well it wasn’t.

Actually this idea that everything which is good and true and loving “belongs to the Lord” is contained in the Lord’s Prayer, which was given to us by Jesus himself, and which is supposed to be the model for every other prayer we utter.

In that prayer, we say these very important words: “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

There’s no sin, or evil—or death—in heaven.  We all know that.  Well, if those are the only things that don’t “belong to God”—and those things are not to be found in God’s heavenly kingdom—that means that EVERYTHING in heaven belongs to the Lord!

And if the situation in heaven is supposed to be the model of the way things should be on earth (which is what we’re saying in that line of the Our Father!) then that means God’s will and his divine Law are supposed to be our reference points for EVERYTHING in this life!

The way we conduct ourselves in public; the way we conduct ourselves in private; the way we conduct ourselves in the bedroom; the way we do business; the way we raise children; the way we treat the sick; the way we treat the dying; the way we treat the elderly; the way we act at work; the way we act at school; the way we act with our friends; the way we treat our enemies; the way we speak; the way we form our opinions—and yes, the way we form our political viewpoints: it ALL belongs to the Lord!

Dear Lord, help US to believe that.  Dear Lord, help all candidates for public office in our country to believe that.  And, dear Lord, help us all to live our lives accordingly.  Amen.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Talk on the Occult

This evening Fr. Paul Desmarais, pastor of St. Mary's Church in Carolina, gave an excellent talk on the occult to our young people and their parents.

To listen to Fr Desmarais' talk, click on the following links:

The Occult Part 1

The Occult Part 2

Sunday, October 12, 2014

How Your Soul Is Like Your Cell Phone

(Twenty-eighth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on October 12, 2014 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I.  Read Philippians 4: 12-20.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-eighth Sunday 2014]

Do you realize that your soul is a lot like your cell phone?

That’s probably not a question you’ve pondered deeply in recent years—or ever!—which is one of the reasons I’m addressing it at this Mass.  My hope is that when you look at your cell phone in the future, you’ll think of your soul and your relationship with God.

I’m presuming here that you have a cell phone—or at least use one from time to time.  (Never in church, of course!  Did I really need to say that?  Yes, I probably did.)

First of all, it needs to be noted that there are many ways that your soul is NOT like your cell phone.  Your cell phone, for example, is a material object, while your soul is immaterial.

Your cell phone (even if it’s a really good one) will last only a few years; your soul, on the other hand, will last forever.

And you have the possibility of eventually upgrading your cell phone, if you don’t like the one you currently have.  That’s not the case with your soul.  Your soul is unique, and your soul is irreplaceable.  The one you have right now is the one you’ve had from the very beginning of your earthly life, and it’s the one you will continue to have unto eternity!

And yet there are many ways that your soul is like your cell phone.  But before I mention some of those, let me focus your attention on the verse of today’s second reading which prompted me to address this subject in my homily this morning.  It’s one of my favorite verses of the New Testament: Philippians 4: 13: “I can do all things in him [that is to say, in Christ] who strengthens me.”

That’s a very hopeful verse; that’s a very encouraging verse.  Here Paul applies it specifically to himself.  But the good news is that it also has an application to each and every one of us. 

Notice that Paul doesn’t say in this text that he’s had it easy since becoming a Christian.  Quite oppositely, he indicates that there have been times since his conversion when he’s been hungry and in need.

On some level, I think, we can all relate.

But he also makes it clear that he’s learned how to deal successfully with every situation he’s faced—good and bad.

And this ability to deal with trials and challenges and temptations he attributes to his relationship with Jesus Christ!

He says, “I can do all things IN CHRIST who strengthens me.”

Not “on my own”; not “by picking myself up by my bootstraps”; not “by sheer human willpower”—but by the inner power and strength that comes through faith in Jesus.

Which means that this verse of Scripture (“I can do all things in him who strengthens me”) will only apply to us as it applied to Paul IF we have a relationship with Jesus Christ that’s like the one St. Paul had!

And that brings us back to a consideration of our souls and our cell phones. 

A soul that’s alive in Christ—in other words, a soul that’s residing in a person who has the kind of relationship with Jesus that Paul had—is like a cell phone that’s functioning as it should.

Now think about what’s needed for a cell phone to function and operate properly.

First of all, it needs a live battery!  Without a live, fully-functioning battery there will be no phone calls, no emails, no text messages, no anything!

Well our soul is like our cell phone in the sense that if it’s going to make the spiritual connection with Jesus that it needs to make, it must be in the state of grace.

That is to say it can’t be in the state of mortal sin.  Mortal sin is for the soul what a dead battery is for a cell phone!

So I suppose you could say that the confessional is like the cell phone store, because in the confessional our soul receives sanctifying grace again—which is akin to getting a brand new battery for a “dead” cell phone.

And yet, it’s not enough to have a battery that works; we also need to have a battery that’s “charged”!
And we need to charge that battery every day!  Once a week isn’t gonna cut it—if we use our phone regularly (as most of us do).

If we want to find our strength in Christ—if we want to be able to do all things in him—then we need to “spiritually recharge” every day!

In this regard, Sunday Mass and the Eucharist—which are necessary foundations for our relationship with Jesus—are not sufficient.  We need to “plug into Christ” every single day in other ways: through Eucharistic Adoration or Scripture reading or the Rosary or some other devotion—or all of the above.

And how about daily Mass?  That’s a great way to begin your day with prayer—if your schedule permits it.

The bottom line is that there’s no excuse for not praying and “recharging” our soul every day in some fashion.

No excuse.  Even if we have a very, very busy schedule!

For example, one of the things I do when I’m in my car for more than 20 minutes is to pray the Rosary (I have the Scriptural Rosary on CD.  In the Scriptural Rosary a brief verse of the Bible is read before each Hail Mary—which can really help you to stay focused on the mystery you’re supposed to be meditating on).

The reason I mention this in this context is because I also have a cell phone charger plugged into the cigarette lighter of my car, and 99.9% of the time when I get into my car to go somewhere I plug in my cell phone to charge it up a bit. 

So, you see, if we’re really pressed for time and have an extremely busy schedule, there’s actually a way to “charge up” our soul AND our cell phone at the same time.

Where there’s a will, there’s always a way—to pray!

Now if you have a smartphone like I do, you also know that you also need to keep it “updated” for it to work efficiently.  And that’s precisely the way it is for our souls.  This is why growing in the knowledge of our Catholic Faith is so important.  This is why studying the Scriptures and the Catechism in some fashion is so essential.

We can’t live what we don’t know.

It’s also important to protect your cell phone.  I have a screen protector on mine to keep the face from being scratched, and I have a rubberized case to protect it when I drop it (which I have on a few occasions!).

Well, our souls also need to be “protected” if we want them to be as open to the grace of Christ as St. Paul’s was.  That means we have to try to “avoid the near occasions of sin” as much as we can.  Which isn’t easy in our modern world—especially with the internet and TV and all the other sources of temptation that are out there at the present time.

But neither is it impossible.  And if we fail, well, we can always go back to the “cell phone store” known as the confessional!
“I can do all things IN CHRIST who strengthens me.”

St. Paul could say that because his soul was like a well-functioning cell phone in all the ways I just mentioned: it had a “live battery” (i.e., it was in the state of grace); it got “re-charged” every day through prayer and the Eucharist; it got “updated” constantly as he pondered the Old Testament Scriptures (his letters show that clearly—the man knew his Bible!); and it was “protected” through discipline (as he said in First Corinthians 9: “What I do is discipline my own body and master it …”).

Today let us ask the Lord to make our souls more like St. Paul’s—so that we will be able to cope with every circumstance of our lives and “do all things” in Jesus Christ, who strengthens us!