Sunday, August 30, 2015

Make sure your traditions don’t violate the ‘Tradition'

One of many ways to live out the 'Tradition'

(Twenty-second Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on August 30, 2015 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Mark 7: 1-15.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-second Sunday 2015]

Make sure your traditions don’t violate the “Tradition”. 

That’s the simple message of today’s homily: Make sure your traditions don’t violate the Tradition (Tradition there has a capital T, and it means “God’s revealed Truth.”)  Traditions, customs, and religious practices are all acceptable, as long as they do not contradict or undermine the teaching of Scripture and the Church.  

Which brings us to today’s Gospel text from Mark 7.  Here Jesus encounters the Pharisees, who criticize his disciples for not following one of their “traditions” (small t) of ritual purification before eating.  Jesus uses the occasion to “let them have it” (as the old saying goes), pointing out both their hypocrisy and their warped philosophy.  Now I’m not one who normally criticizes the folks who put together the Lectionary, but I will today.  If you notice, the reference at the beginning of the Gospel text says Mark, chapter 7, verses 1-8 and verses 14-15.  Amazingly, they left out verses 9-13, which are extremely important!  Now since most of you don’t have your Bibles with you, I’ll read the missing verses. 

After saying, “You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition,” Jesus adds, “How well you have set aside the commandment of God in order to uphold your tradition!  For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whoever curses father or mother shall die.’  Yet you say, ‘If a person says to father or mother, “Any support you might have had from me is qorban,” (meaning, dedicated to God), you allow him to do nothing more for his father or mother.  You nullify the word of God in favor of your tradition that you have handed on.  And you do many such things.”  

The 4th commandment (“Honor your father and your mother”) was part of God’s revealed Truth (in other words, it was part of the Tradition with a capital T).  But the Pharisees were violating that precept of the Tradition, by supporting this tradition (small t)—this custom—of allowing children to “dedicate” money to God, and neglect their parents in the process.

Make sure your traditions don’t violate the “Tradition”.

I mention this today because we live in a world where it’s very easy for us to become just like these Pharisees if we’re not extremely careful.

For example: The second commandment says, “Do not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain.”  That precept, like the 4th commandment and the other commandments of the Decalogue, is part of the Tradition (capital T).  Now I know people (perhaps you do as well) who never, ever swear or take the Lord’s name in vain—unless they’re at work or with a particular group of their friends.  Why only in those places? Well simply because in those locations everyone around them is using bad language.  Consequently, they end up joining in. You see, at certain places of employment and in certain social settings using vulgar language has become a time-honored “tradition” (small t).  You’re not “one of the gang” or “one of the boys” unless every third word that comes out of your mouth has four letters in it.  That’s a perfect example of people laying aside the Tradition (God’s revealed Truth) for the sake of a foul-mouthed tradition.

Or how about the 3rd commandment: “Keep holy the Lord’s day”?  I know of entire families who give up Mass for the summer each and every year.  It’s become a tradition with them.  They say they have too many other important things to do.  We’ll be welcoming those people back with us in the next few weeks.  The Tradition (capital T) goes out the window for the sake of a tradition (small t) of laziness!

Or take the 5th commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.”  Since 1973, we’ve had a tradition of baby killing in this country, upheld by law.  I don’t think I need to go into great detail as to how that sordid tradition (small t) violates the Tradition (capital T) of Jesus Christ.

And now the people of Planned Parenthood want to add a new tradition to that 40-year-old one by selling the body parts of aborted babies for profit.

Homosexual activity is clearly forbidden by the sixth commandment—as are fornication and adultery.  But that didn’t stop our Supreme Court from establishing a new tradition (small t), whereby marriage has been completely redefined to include same-sex couples.  And so with one stroke of the pen they put in place a new “tradition” which clearly violates the 2,000-year-old Tradition of Christianity. 

The Lord calls us today to be different!  The Lord wants all of us to establish good, noble, loving traditions in our lives—traditions which will uphold and promote the authentic Tradition of Jesus Christ. 

Now some of you have already done this—and are doing it—although you might not realize it.  For example, it’s become a “tradition” (has it not?) for many of you on the first weekend of each month to bring food with you to church: food that will be given to the needy of our area.  That’s a tradition (small t) by which you are living out the Tradition (capital T) of the Gospel which says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Some of you have similar “traditions” at Christmas and Thanksgiving whereby you reach out to the poor and less fortunate.  Praise God.

Some among us pray the Liturgy of the Hours daily, which has special prayers and Scripture readings for various times of the day.  That’s a tradition (small t) by which you are living out the Tradition (capital T), which tells us to “pray always.”

Many of you (hopefully all of you) say Grace before meals—even meals that you take out in restaurants!  That’s a tradition whereby you live out the Tradition, which tells us to “give thanks always.” 

Some of you have a tradition of monthly or even weekly Confession.  Great! That’s an extremely important way to live out the Tradition, which tells us to “repent” of our sins!  That command is found throughout the Old and New Testaments.

Certain Christians think that Jesus attacked the Pharisees simply because they had “traditions”—as if all traditions are evil.  That’s not true!  Everybody has traditions (small t); that is to say, everybody has customs and activities which are a routine part of their lives.  The key question is: What kind of traditions are they?  Are they good or are they bad?  In other words, are our traditions violating the Tradition and leading us to hell, or are they upholding the Tradition and leading us a little bit closer to heaven? 

Let’s pray today that all of our personal traditions in this life will keep us where we should always want to be: on the road to God’s eternal kingdom.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Three Very Important Lessons that We Learn from the Eucharist

(Nineteenth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on August 09, 2015 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read John 6: 41-51.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Nineteenth Sunday 2015]

The title of my homily today is, “Three very important lessons that we learn from the Eucharist.”  These, of course, are not the only lessons we learn from this great Sacrament that Jesus instituted at the Last Supper 2,000 years ago, but I would say they are three of the more significant ones—especially in light of what’s going on in the world right now.

In today’s gospel we have, once again, an excerpt from the 6th chapter of the Gospel of St. John.  Here Jesus is giving the people he had fed with the loaves and fishes—and who had followed him the next day across the Sea of Galilee—a very challenging teaching on the “living bread from heaven” that he soon would give to the world.

And they’re understandably confused.

But notice that Jesus doesn’t back off; he doesn’t water down his teaching or soften it in any way because they don’t understand it and won’t say Amen to it.  Quite oppositely, as the people in the crowd object more and more to his words, our Lord becomes more and more forceful about the message.  In the passage we heard today, for example, the people say, in effect, “Who does this guy Jesus think he is?  He tells us that he’s ‘the bread that’s come down from heaven’.  Well, what’s that all about?  What does that mean?  We know this man’s parents; they’re not rich or famous or powerful.  They’re poor, ordinary people from Nazareth—not heaven!” 

Jesus then answers by ordering them to be quiet, and by making even more assertions about his uniqueness.  He tells them, among other things, “Look, I’ve seen the Father and you haven’t; I have a unique relationship with him.  And I have the power from him to give people eternal life—which is why you need me, and why you need to be united to me by consuming the living bread from heaven which is my very flesh.”

Obviously to Jesus, the Eucharist was serious business.  But it’s something we can easily take for granted, is it not? 

At least from time to time.

Jesus gives himself to us body, blood, soul and divinity, and we say, “Oh, it’s just Mass”; or worse, “It’s so boring.  What’s the big deal?”

Our difficulty in appreciating the Eucharist is rooted, I would say, in our difficulty in appreciating the Incarnation.  The fact is that it’s hard--very hard—for us to understand with our human minds just what it meant for God to become man in Jesus Christ.  The most meaningful analogy I ever heard is the one given by Bishop Fulton Sheen many years ago.

He said:

Imagine that you were very much concerned about the awful state of dogs in your town: they had become wild and unruly, they barked at postmen, they bit joggers, they refused to be housebroken—in short, they were leading incredibly rotten lives.  But you loved dogs very much.  And you were given the power to empty yourself of your humanity so that you could put your mind and soul into the body of a dog.  And you chose to do so.  This would mean, among other things, that even though you had a mind which far transcended your organism, you would no longer be able to use your reason—you would have to follow instinct.  You could no longer speak and sing—you could only bark.  And worst of all you would have to spend the rest of your life with dogs—endlessly looking for fire hydrants and trees.  And then, after you spend your entire life and all your energy trying to make these dogs better, in the end they turn on you and tear you to pieces.
Sheen added, “If it would be hard [and it would be hard] for us to imagine becoming a dog in order to teach dogs to be good, how much more must it have been for God to become a man?—making himself a zero, and being willing to suffer and die at our hands.”

And I would add, “If it would be hard for us to imagine becoming a dog to help and save dogs, how much more difficult would it be to become a dog biscuit?!”

How much MORE love would you need to have for Fido and his friends to become their food?!!!

To become a dog would be almost unimaginable (I don’t care how much you say you love dogs!); but to become dog food would be (at least from my perspective) doubly unimaginable!

And what’s interesting about Sheen’s analogy and what makes it even more powerful is that there really is a much smaller gap between us and dogs than there is between God and us.

So how much does God love us?

The answer is right there in the Eucharist—if we have the spiritual vision to see it.

When the priest holds up the consecrated host just before Communion and says, “Behold the Lamb of God …” Jesus is saying to us, “Behold, this is how much I love you.  I love you enough to die for you and to become your spiritual food.”

So that’s the first lesson we learn from the Eucharist: we learn about the depth of God’s love for us.

The second lesson concerns our value as human persons.  Provided that we are baptized, and in the state of grace, and properly prepared and disposed, Jesus invites us to the sacrificial banquet of the Eucharist because we are human beings: human beings who are created in the image and likeness of God, who have immortal souls—and who hence have a dignity far beyond anything else in the material universe.

Of course you’d never know this truth about the dignity of the human person from watching the nightly news on ABC, NBC or CBS in recent weeks, would you?  You’d never know that we human beings were special and unique and the high point of God’s creation here on this earth.

If you relied exclusively on the major news networks for your information on these matters, you would think that spot was occupied by a lion named Cecil!

This is sick.  Here’s how one writer, Katie Yoder, described it:

Even after three weeks, the broadcast news shows are choosing to cover the death of one animal before the story of countless babies torn apart by a taxpayer-funded organization.  In the three weeks since the release of the first video exposing Planned Parenthood July 14, ABC, NBC and CBS spent 20 minutes, 21 seconds on the videos during their morning and evening news shows.  In contrast, since July 28, the nets devoted 1 hour, 32 minutes, 56 seconds to Cecil, the famed African lion shot by an American dentist.  In other words, the three broadcast networks covered Cecil four times more than the trafficking of baby parts by Planned Parenthood.
That’s a very sad commentary on a very sick culture!  Yes, we should be good stewards of God’s creation and not abuse it (as Pope Francis reminds us in his latest encyclical); but to almost completely ignore the murder of innocent children and the selling of their body parts in order to focus four times as much on the death of a dumb animal—an animal who would have torn any one of us to pieces if he had had the chance—is disgraceful.

Well, let’s be clear about it today: no lion, no tiger, no elephant, no dog, no cat, no aardvark—or any other animal for that matter—will ever be invited to the table of the Lord here at Mass.


That privilege is for HUMANS only!  And if the people at ABC, NBC and CBS don’t like that they can start their own church and then invite all their lion friends to the first service.

That, of course, will also be the last service that church will ever have!

“Yum, yum,” said the lion!

Which brings us, finally, to the third lesson we learn today from the Eucharist (which I will only mention in passing, because of time.  I’ll focus on it more, I’m sure, in a future homily.)  The lesson is this: To love is to make a gift of oneself to another.

Now that might sound strange to some of us because we’re all given the exact opposite message in our pop culture all the time.  We’re given the message that real love is about getting and using: it’s about getting what we want and using other people to get what we want, be it sex, money, power, pleasure—whatever. 

How different Jesus was—and is!  During the meal in which our Lord instituted the Eucharist, he said, “Greater love nobody has, than to lay down his life for his friends.”

There Jesus makes it clear that real love is selfless, self-sacrificial—and Eucharistic!  Jesus gives himself to us in the Eucharist body, blood, soul and divinity.  In other words, he gives himself to us totally and completely—out of perfect love …

“This is my body which will be given up FOR YOU.”

“This is my blood …which will be poured out FOR YOU for the forgiveness of your sins.”

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, the crowd in John 6 was confused when you told them that you were the bread that had come down from heaven.  Help us, today, not to be confused.  Help us to understand these 3 lessons you teach us in and through the sacrament of your body and blood: that you love us with a perfect love; that we are incredibly valuable in your sight; and that real love is about giving, not taking or using.  And then Lord help us not to leave these lessons in church today, but to take them with us when we leave, and then to apply them to our lives. Amen. 

Sunday, August 02, 2015

‘Futility of Mind’ as Evident in the People of Planned Parenthood and in the Editors of the New York Times

(Eighteenth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on August 2, 2015 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Ephesians 4: 17-24.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Eighteenth Sunday 2015]

I’m sure you’ve all heard about it—but probably not nearly as much as you should have!

I’m talking about the recent scandal involving Planned Parenthood—an organization, incidentally, that receives millions and millions of taxpayer dollars every year to finance its dirty work of killing innocent babies in their mothers’ wombs.

The controversy began when an undercover video was released which shows Planned Parenthood’s Senior Director of Medical Services, “Doctor” (put Doctor there in quotes) Deborah Nucatola, describing how her organization sells the body parts of aborted children (which is illegal in this country), and admitting that she uses partial-birth abortions when her customers want intact body parts.  She does it very matter-of-factly—with all the coldness of a Dr. Mengele—as she’s enjoying her lunch at a nice restaurant in the L.A. area with some prospective buyers from a human biologics company.

Or so she thought.  The people she met with that day were actually actors who were secretly recording and videotaping the entire event.  And God bless them for doing that!  God bless them for helping to reveal the truth to the world!

And they really must have been great actors, because I don’t know how anybody with a well-formed conscience could sit there and listen to Nucatola’s graphic descriptions of what they do to these little babies without throwing up!

Don’t worry, there won’t be any “graphic descriptions” in this homily.

Now what has sickened me even more than this video is the way some pro-choicers have publically defended what Planned Parenthood has done!  The editors of the New York Times, for example—who are not my favorite journalists on planet earth—wrote this in an editorial the other day:

A hidden-camera video released last week purported to show that Planned Parenthood illegally sells tissue from aborted fetuses.  It shows nothing of the sort.  [That assertion has me wondering what the editors of the Times smoke before they write their editorials!]  But it is the latest in a series of unrelenting attacks on Planned Parenthood, which offers health care services to millions of people every year.  The politicians howling to defund Planned Parenthood care nothing about the truth here, being perfectly willing to undermine women’s reproductive rights any way they can.

Ah yes, the “war on women” card!  They love to play that one whenever they have the opportunity.

Then, of course, they go on to tell us about the great medical advances that are sure to come from fetal tissue research—which clearly demonstrates that the Times’ editors need to go back to college and take a course in basic ethics, where you learn that the end doesn’t justify the means.


Which brings us to our second reading today—this text from Ephesians 4.  St. Paul talks here about what he calls “futility of mind.”  That’s such a great expression.  Listen again to this passage (and here I’ve added a few of the verses which were not included in the Lectionary):

I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; darkened in understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance, because of their hardness of heart, they have become callous and have handed themselves over to licentiousness for the practice of every kind of impurity to excess.  That is not how you learned Christ assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus, that you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.

Futility is uselessness.  Our minds were made to know truth (that’s their purpose)—like the truth that human life begins at the moment of conception. But when our minds reject the truth—in this particular case a scientific truth—they do become, in a very real sense, useless!  They don’t do for us what they’re supposed to do for us.  Instead of guiding us toward heaven by leading us to live lives of virtue rooted in truth, they point us toward “the other place” by leading us to commit acts of vice which are rooted in lies!

Or at least to support and condone acts of vice, as is the case here with the editors of the New York Times.  By the way, I wonder if the Times’ editors realize that, according to their line of thinking, we should all lend our support to many of those bad priests who’ve been convicted of doing horribly evil things with children.  Did you realize that?  The editors tell us, in effect, that we should ignore the gross moral evils committed by the people of Planned Parenthood because of all the good things they’ve done for people over the years.  Well, many of those bad priests did a lot of good things too—they helped many people in many different ways during their priestly ministries.  So does that mean we’re supposed to ignore all the horrific things that they also did?  Are we supposed to pretend that those crimes never happened?

I don’t think so!  But that’s the logical conclusion that you must come to if you honestly follow the line of reasoning the Times indicates that you should follow with respect to Planned Parenthood.

This is the kind of thing that happens, my brothers and sisters, when you have otherwise intelligent people who are writing editorials and doing other things “in the futility of their minds”; whose understanding, as St. Paul says in Ephesians 4, is “darkened”; who are “alienated from the life of God” because of what Paul calls “their ignorance” and their “hardness of heart.”

In chapter 4 of Ephesians, St. Paul has a lot to say about sinful behavior.  But before he speaks in that chapter about sins like lying and slander, he focuses on thoughts; he focuses on what goes on between people’s ears—that is to say, in their minds. 

Paul did that because he understood that every sin, every vicious action in this life, begins with a thought.

But if that’s true (and it is!), then the good news is that the opposite is also true.  If sinful and vicious actions begin with the thoughts that pass through people’s minds, then so do virtuous, loving actions.  They also begin with what goes on between our ears.

So obviously the key for us as Christians is to cultivate good thoughts—holy thoughts—thoughts that proceed from faith and right reason—thoughts, in other words, that are rooted in truth!

This is what St. Paul is telling us in the last few verses of today’s second reading.  After he speaks about futility of mind and the actions that follow from that way of thinking, Paul encourages us to allow God to renew our minds so that we will think clearly and rightly.  Referring to the way people like the editors of the New York Times think, Paul says:

That is not what you learned when you learned Christ.  I am assuming, of course, that he has been preached and taught to you in accord with the truth that is in Jesus: namely that you must lay aside your former way of life … and acquire a fresh, spiritual way of thinking.  You must put on that new man created in God’s image, whose justice and holiness are born of truth.  (New American Bible, 1971 edition)

If you are renewing your mind by praying daily—especially with the Scriptures; if you are renewing your mind by actively participating when you’re at Mass (not just sitting there with your mind somewhere else, but truly listening and praying with an open heart); if you’re renewing your mind by exposing yourself to the truth as often as you can by good conversations with other Christians, by good spiritual reading, by listening to good music, and by seeking out healthy forms of entertainment, then you are putting St. Paul’s words into practice.

And that will (or at least it should) make a big difference in the way you think: in the way you think about God, and others, and yourself—and the issues of the day.

Have you ever noticed that whenever they do a poll of Catholics on a particular issue, there’s always a difference—sometimes a huge difference—between the way practicing Catholics respond and the way non-practicing Catholics respond?  Practicing Catholics always support the right causes in far greater numbers than non-practicing Catholics do: they’re more pro-life; more of them support traditional marriage and family living; and more of them oppose evils like euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.

Is that a coincidence?

I don’t think so.

To me the difference can be explained very simply and very easily: it all comes down to renewed minds versus futile minds.

Dear Lord, today we pray for minds to be renewed: in us, in the members of our families, in all Catholics—and especially in the people who work for organizations like Planned Parenthood and the New York Times.