Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Importance of Knowing the WHOLE Truth

Stills from the Doritos Super Bowl Commercial

(Second Sunday of Lent (C): This homily was given on February 21, 2016 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Luke 9:28-36.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Second Sunday of Lent 2016]

When people take an oath in a court of law, they swear that they will tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”  They do not swear to tell some of the truth, or half of the truth or even most of the truth.  When it comes to giving testimony in a courtroom setting, it’s either “tell the whole truth” or it’s “commit perjury”.  There’s no middle ground.

Nor should there be!

It’s like this because lawyers and judges understand that even ONE lie told in a courtroom can completely alter the result of a trial!  One lie—one little, itsy-bitsy, teeny-weenie lie—can lead a jury to make the wrong decision in a given case, either by convicting an innocent person or by allowing a guilty person to go free.

In order to make a correct judgment in a court of law, a jury needs to know the WHOLE truth.

And in the spiritual and moral dimensions of life, my brothers and sisters, so do we!  We need to know the FULL truth: the full truth of who God is, and what he’s done for us in and through his Son, Jesus Christ, and how he expects us to live, and what’s at stake in this mortal existence.  Because if we only know some of the truth—some of the truth mixed in with a lie here and there—we will definitely make a lot of wrong decisions in our lives.

And some of those wrong decisions may have eternal consequences.

Which is precisely why Jesus gave Peter, James and John the experience we heard about in today’s gospel passage from Luke 9.

At the time of the Transfiguration event, Peter, James, John and the rest of the Apostles knew Jesus as a man.  They already recognized, in other words, our Lord’s humanity.  That much was clear to them.  Jesus walked like a man and talked like a man and ate like a man and slept like a man.  He had a human nature—and they could verify that fact with their own eyes.

But that was only HALF the story!  That was only HALF THE TRUTH!  The FULL TRUTH was that Jesus was also divine: a divine Person with both a human nature and a divine nature—the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity who had taken on flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

That, unfortunately, they did not yet understand.

But Jesus knew they needed to—at least to some extent!  Jesus knew that these three men—who were the leaders among the Twelve Apostles—needed to understand that he was not just a great prophet and rabbi and exorcist and miracle worker (although he was definitely all those things).  They also needed to understand that he was GOD—the Lord—the eternal Word—the divine Son of the heavenly Father.

That’s because Jesus knew what was going to happen to him in the very near future.  He knew that he was going to be rejected by his own people, and condemned to a shameful death, and crucified by the Romans—and he knew that when those things happened these men would be tempted to give in to fear and lose their faith in him.

And so he gave them a little peek at his divinity on Mt. Tabor that day in the Transfiguration.  He did that so that they would know the WHOLE TRUTH about him!  He took off the “veil” (so to speak) of his humanity and gave them a brief glimpse at his divinity, so that, when the heat did get turned up on Holy Thursday and Good Friday, they would remember the glorious, transfigured Jesus they had seen on the mountain and make the right decision—the decision to remain faithful to him.

Well, as we all know, that’s not quite the way it worked out.  In the midst of the chaos and confusion of that first Holy Week, these three men forgot what they had seen, and ran away when Jesus got arrested in the garden.

But eventually they did remember—because eventually they all repented and came back, as did the other Apostles, with the exception (of course) of Judas.

The Apostles initially made the wrong decision, because they forgot the whole truth about our Lord.  Members of a jury will often make the wrong decision when they don’t know the whole truth about the court case they’re hearing.

And that’s the way it is with many situations and circumstances in this life.  If we don’t know—or if we choose to ignore—the whole truth about something, a wrong decision is very likely to follow.

Case in point: the response of the people at NARAL (that’s the pro-abortion group) to the Doritos Super Bowl commercial two weeks ago.

In my view (and in the view of many other people) the Doritos ad was the very best commercial that aired during the big game this year.  But that’s not the way the folks at NARAL saw it.  For lack of a better expression, the commercial caused them to have a corporate “hissy-fit”!

For those who might not have seen it, the commercial shows a young mother in the late stages of her pregnancy undergoing an ultrasound procedure.  Her baby’s moving image is clearly visible on the ultrasound machine that’s next to her.  The female technician looks at the image and says to the mother, “There is your beautiful baby.  Any day now!”  Mom smiles lovingly and then looks over at dad, who, unfortunately, is more concerned with the Doritos that he’s munching on than he is with his own child.  Mom says to dad, “Really?  You’re eating Doritos?”  She then turns to the technician and says, “He’s eating Doritos on my ultrasound.  Do you see what I have to deal with?”  The technician, who’s obviously seen this kind of behavior before, wearily replies, “I know.”

Meanwhile dad has made a discovery—his baby likes Doritos as much as he does!  As he moves a Dorito back and forth in front of him, he notices that his baby is following his movements and keeps reaching out for the chip.  (You see this on the ultrasound screen.)  Finally mom has had enough.  She says, “Give me that!”  She then grabs the chip out of dad’s hand and flings it across the room, whereupon the Dorito-loving baby proceeds to eject himself (or herself) from the womb in pursuit of the chip—causing all three adults to freak out and scream.

That’s the commercial.

Most people thought it was funny—or at least mildly amusing.  But not the people at NARAL.  They called the commercial “anti-choice” and mocked it for—get this—“humanizing fetuses”.

To which I say, “How can you possibly humanize what’s already human?!

Someone needs to tell the people who work for NARAL—and Planned Parenthood—and every other death-dealing, pro-abortion organization out there—that they are all former “fetuses”!  Every single one of them is!

So are you!  And so am I!

We’re also former zygotes and former embryos!

By their response to that Doritos commercial the other day, the people of NARAL have made it clear that they know the truth.  However it’s only part of the truth. 

They know that the living entity inside a pregnant woman’s body is a fetus.

And they’re right.  That’s true.

But what they don’t know (or don’t care to know, or don’t want to admit) is that the fetus is human—as human as they are, as human as all of us are.

And because they only know (or are only willing to admit) part of the truth, they’ve made the decision that it’s okay to destroy an innocent human being before he or she is born into the world. 

It’s a perfect illustration of what I said a few moments ago: If we don’t know—or if we choose to ignore—the whole truth about something, a wrong decision is very likely to follow.

Dear Lord Jesus, help us to seek the truth; help us to seek the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth in ALL things, so that we will know what’s right and then make the decision to do what’s right in every situation.  Amen.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Theme Word for Lent: Mercy

(Ash Wednesday 2016: This homily was given on February 10, 2016 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read 2 Corinthians 5: 20-6: 2; Matthew 6: 1-18.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Ash Wednesday 2016]

Every year since 2010 I’ve asked the Lord to give me a “theme word” for Lent to share with you on Ash Wednesday—a word that can help to focus us and guide us in our Lenten disciplines. 

The theme words from previous years have been: cross, consistency, foundation, detach, perseverance and priorities.

Hopefully you remember at least a few of them.

This year, of course, there can be only one theme word for Lent (and I think Pope Francis would agree with me on this): MERCY!

Given the fact that the Holy Father has declared this to be an extraordinary Jubilee Year of mercy, it seems to me that God’s mercy should be our primary focus all year long—but especially during these 40 days.  Mercy is, after all, “the reason for the season”.  It was out of mercy that the second Person of the Blessed Trinity took on flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and then 33 years later gave his life on the cross for us and for our eternal salvation.  As St. Paul puts it in today’s second reading from second Corinthians: “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.”

To make this a true Lent of mercy, however, I think we need to do 3 things: reflect, receive and recycle.

First of all, we need to reflect on God’s great love for us—on the merciful and gracious love that motivated him to do what I just mentioned: the love that motivated him to send his divine Son into the world to suffer and die for the forgiveness of our sins.  How many people out there in the world right now are on the verge of despair because they don’t know that the Creator of the universe loves them?  Lots of them are!  Lent is a time to deepen our awareness of and our bond with this God who loves us with an eternal and unchangeable—and merciful love.

We can do that in any number of ways.  For example, by reading the New Testament every day for the next 40 days, or by coming to daily Mass, or by attending our parish mission.

But somehow, in some way, if we want to have a Lent full of mercy we need to take the time—and make the time—to reflect.

And then we need to receive!  It’s one thing to talk about or to read about mercy, it’s another thing to actually receive it.

But receive it we must—because we’re all sinners.  The best place for us to receive mercy, of course, is in the confessional.  And if we’ve committed a serious sin, it’s not only the best place to receive mercy; the confessional is also the NECESSARY PLACE to receive that gift!

So—make plans to go to confession this Lent!  What have you got to lose—except your misery and sin?

And then recycle it—mercy, that is.

Mercy is a gift that must be recycled (in other words, it must be shared) after it’s been received.  And the gospel today gives us 3 ways to do that.  We can do it through prayer: by praying that God will have mercy on others (especially our enemies and those who offend us); we can do it through fasting: by denying ourself food or some other legitimate pleasure, and offering that sacrifice up to God so that he will shower his mercy down upon us and upon the world; or we can do it by giving alms: by giving our time or talent or treasure to help those in need, and by giving forgiveness to those who have offended us.

Reflect; receive; recycle—that’s the formula for what you might call a “mercy-full” Lent.  Mercy-full is spelled there m-e-r-c-y—f-u-l-l.  May the ashes we receive on our foreheads this morning be a sign of our intention to make this a Lent that’s full of mercy, in the hope of then living a life that’s full of mercy.