Sunday, June 18, 2017

The 'Eucharistic' Love of a Good Father

(Corpus Christi 2017 (A): This homily was given on June 18, 2017 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read John 6: 51-58.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Corpus Christi 2017]

 Professor Anthony Esolen, in his book “Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture,” writes the following:
What is the single condition of a boy’s life that correlates most strongly with whether he will turn criminal?  Not income, not by a long shot. It is whether he grew up in the same home with his father.  Our prisons are full to bursting with fatherless boys who never became the men and fathers that God meant them to be.
This is something that many people are not aware of.  They think that poverty is the major reason why many young men (especially from our inner cities) end up in prison, but it’s not.  It’s a factor in the equation, for sure, but it’s not the major factor.  The major factor is the absence of a father (or at least a father-figure) in a young man’s life.

After I read this in Anthony Esolen’s book the other day, I went online to do some further research on the matter, and these are some of the statistics I came across:

·         90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes
·         63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes
·         85% of all children who show behavior disorders come from fatherless homes
·         71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes
·         75% of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes

You get the picture.

The point here is simple: FATHERS MATTER!  Their love matters; their encouragement matters; their presence matters; their discipline matters; their forgiveness matters—and their example in every dimension of life (including the spiritual dimension) matters!

Our role model in all this is God, our heavenly Father.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a spiritual father like me, or a natural father as so many of you are, the heavenly Father is to be our standard.  In other words, when we want to know what a father is supposed to be like, first and foremost we are to look to him.  His Fatherhood is perfect; ours is imperfect.  That’s extremely important to remember, because very often people make the mistake of judging God according to their own experience of earthly fatherhood.  And so, if their father was not very kind or loving or forgiving, they project those qualities onto the Lord.  They have trouble relating to God as “Father” because they’ve made their human father their standard of fatherhood—which is the exact opposite of what they should do.  The Catechism puts it this way in paragraph 239:
The language of faith thus draws on the human experience of parents, who are in a way the first representatives of God for man. But this experience also tells us that human parents are fallible and can disfigure the face of fatherhood and motherhood. We ought therefore to recall that God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard: no one is father as God is Father.

Which brings us to the feast we celebrate in the Church this weekend: the Feast of Corpus Christi (the Body and Blood of Christ).

This is a moveable celebration, which means that it doesn’t fall on the same Sunday every year.  This year it happens to coincide with Father’s Day—which I think is extremely providential, because you could say that an earthly father’s love for his children is supposed to be “Eucharistic.”

Think, for a moment, about how the Eucharist came to us.  It all started with the heavenly Father.  In the Creed we say that God the Son was eternally begotten of the Father.  This means, quite simply, that from all eternity the heavenly Father gave his “best” to his Son.  He shared his divine life in its fullness with him.  As the Catechism says in paragraph 246 (and here I quote):  “The Father has, through generation, given to the only-begotten Son everything that belongs to the Father, except being Father.”

The Son, in turn, came to this earth 2,000 years ago, was born of the Virgin Mary, and gave his “best” to all of us.  He did that by suffering and dying for us on the cross, and by giving us a living memorial of that event in the Holy Eucharist. 

The Eucharist is, therefore, the best the Lord has to give: it’s his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.

May the Lord help us to appreciate this gift more and more each time we come to Mass.

Jesus ties it all together in this gospel text we just heard from John 6 when he says, “Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.”

The Father gave his best to his only begotten Son in eternity; the Son gives his best to us in the Holy Eucharist, and we fathers are supposed to give the same thing—our best—to our children.

That’s why I said a few moments ago that an earthly father’s love for his children is supposed to be “Eucharistic.”

And so, dads, when you receive Communion today, ask for that grace.  Say, “Lord Jesus, you gave your very best to me when you died on the cross for my salvation, and you continue to give your best to me by coming to me in the Holy Eucharist.  By the grace I receive in this sacrament today, help me to give my best—my very best—to the children you’ve entrusted to my care.  Amen.”

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Aaron Hernandez and the Misuse of Religion

(Trinity Sunday 2017 (A): This homily was given on June 11, 2017, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read John 3: 16-18.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Trinity Sunday 2017]

John 3: 16

That’s a biblical reference which even many non-Christians know, because for years people have held up signs at professional sporting events with “John 3: 16” written on them in very large print.

I mention this this morning because the very first line of today’s gospel text is none other than John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

This is a line of Scripture that we should always associate with hope and life, not despair and death.  But, unfortunately, some have done the latter since April 19 of this year.  That was the day that former NFL star Aaron Hernandez, who was serving a life sentence for murder, killed himself in his prison cell.  However, before he committed suicide by hanging himself with a bedsheet, he wrote “John 3: 16” on his forehead with red ink and on the wall of his cell with blood.

Exactly why he did it, no one knows.  Joseph Price, a professor of religious studies at Whittier College, said (and here I quote), “it might have been ‘an ultimate protest,’ a final act of defiance to use such an affirming verse at the culmination of such a violent life.”

Others have gone so far as to call it “an act of faith”—although if it was an act of faith it was definitely a perverse and misguided one, because in his teaching Jesus Christ always connected faith and love to obedience: “If you love me you will keep my commandments.”  One of those commandments, of course, is “Thou shalt not kill,” which forbids you to murder other people—or yourself!

But in either case—whether it was an act of defiance or a misguided and perverse act of faith—Aaron Hernandez’s suicide was yet another example of something we’ve seen far too much of in recent years: THE MISUSE OF RELIGION.

Religious beliefs that are rooted in truth move people to love God and one another.  They give birth to what we refer to as “the fruits of the Holy Spirit”:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness and self-control.  And because of that, religious beliefs rooted in truth are, without question, the most powerful force for good that we have in the world—despite what atheists will tell you.

But religious beliefs that are rooted in lies and half-truths can be used (and are often used) to motivate people in the opposite way—as we see with the radical Islamic terrorists who are wreaking havoc all over the world at the present time.

Atheists, of course, will say the problem here is “religion”.  They’ll tell you that religion itself is bad because it motivates some believers to do horrific things.  But that’s wrong.  The fact that the misuse of religion motivates some people to do morally heinous acts actually is an indication that religion itself—that is to say, true religion—is good.  You see, when something really good is perverted and becomes bad, it doesn’t just become “a little bit bad,” it becomes really bad—really, REALLY bad!

The best example of this is the devil himself.  Remember, the angel who eventually became the devil was created “good” by God.  He didn’t start off as Satan.  His name at his creation was Lucifer (which means “Light-bearer”), and he was one of the most brilliant and powerful angels the Lord made.  Consequently, when he rebelled and was thrown out of heaven by St. Michael, he didn’t just become a bad angel who had fallen from grace—he became the worst angel of all, and the leader of all the lesser angels who followed him into rebellion.

So don’t buy into the lie that religion itself is the problem.    

And, by the way, if an atheist ever does tell you that religion is (and always has been) responsible for most of the evils—and especially the murders—in the world, advise him not to keep score.  Because if he does, he’ll lose!  In the last century, for example, the most horrific atrocities against innocent human life were not committed by Christians, or Jews—or even Muslims.  In the 20th century the most evil mass murderers were either atheists or ex-Christian pagans. 

Here are three of them: Hitler, Stalin and Mao-tse Tung.

Millions—actually it’s more accurate to say tens of millions—died because of the actions of those three scoundrels alone.

Religion is not the problem, but its misuse is.  Here we have to be honest enough to admit that in the past 2,000 years some Catholics and other Christians have also been guilty of this.  They’ve twisted the message of Jesus and his Church for their own political or financial gain, or to try to justify some immoral activity that they were involved in.

By the grace of God, may we never be guilty of that kind of misuse in our lives.

I’ll leave you today with the words of a saint—Pope St. John Paul II—who addressed this issue a number of times during his long pontificate.  Too bad more people didn’t listen.  The world would be a much better place today if they had.  For example, in an address he gave to a group of Muslims in Syria way back in 1979, our former Holy Father said this:
It is crucial for the young to be taught the ways of respect and understanding, so that they will not be led to misuse religion itself to promote or justify hatred and violence. Violence destroys the image of the Creator in his creatures and should never be considered as the fruit of religious conviction.

And then in 1998 (almost 20 years later) the pope gave a similar message to a group of Muslim leaders in Nigeria.  He said:
Religion can be misused, and it is surely the duty of religious leaders to guard against this. Above all, whenever violence is done in the name of religion, we must make it clear to everyone that in such instances we are not dealing with true religion. For the Almighty cannot tolerate the destruction of his own image in his children.

St. John Paul II pray for us and pray for our world, that this destruction will finally come to an end, and that true religion and its fruits will ultimately prevail.  Amen.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

The First Outpouring of the Holy Spirit: for Forgiveness

(Pentecost 2017 (A): This homily was given on June 4, 2017 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Acts 2: 1-11; John 20: 19-23.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Pentecost 2017]

I’m sure that many of you remember the great comedian, Red Skelton.  He performed back in the days when most comics didn’t feel the need to use 4-letter words in their comedy routines.

Ah, the good old days.

I read an interesting story about Red this past week.  It seems that, one day back in 1951, he was on a plane that was headed to Europe, where he was scheduled to perform in a show.  But on the way, as the plane was flying over the Swiss Alps, three of its engines failed and the plane began to go down.  The situation looked rather bleak (to put it mildly!), and many of the passengers quite naturally began to pray.  As for Red Skelton, he responded to the situation by doing what he did best: he went into a comedy routine—to try to distract the passengers from the impending disaster.  He was like the orchestra on the Titanic that played music as the ship slowly sank into the North Atlantic.

Well, thankfully, at the last moment, the pilot spotted a large field between two of the mountains there in the Alps, and he was able to land the plane safely in that field.
When the ordeal was finally over, Red stood up and—in typical Red Skelton style—said, “Now, ladies and gentlemen, you may return to all the evil habits you gave up twenty minutes ago.”
Which brings us to this morning’s gospel reading from John, chapter 20.  Today, as I mentioned at the beginning of Mass, we celebrate the feast of Pentecost, which was the event we heard about in our first reading from Acts, chapter 2.  This was the moment when the promise Jesus had made to his Apostles at the Last Supper was completely fulfilled.  This was the moment of the first Confirmation, when the Holy Spirit descended on these men and gave them power—new power: the power to live the truth of the Gospel, and speak the truth of the Gospel, and defend the truth of the Gospel.  This was the moment when they received gifts—the spiritual gifts they would need to carry out the mission Jesus had given them to convert the world: first and foremost, the gifts of faith, hope and charity; but also the seven gifts mentioned in Isaiah 11 (wisdom, understanding, knowledge, etc.); as well as the charismatic gifts like tongues, prophecy and healing.
The Spirit empowered them through this spectacular event, and they were transformed.  Suddenly they were no longer afraid of their own shadows.  Suddenly they were not intimidated by the godless culture they were living in.  Instead, they made the decision to use the gifts the Spirit gave to them that day, and change their culture in a positive way from within—which is exactly what we’re supposed to do in our culture today with the anointing we receive at our Confirmation. 
But it’s not magic!  Notice, I said that the Apostles made the decision to use the gifts of the Spirit to work for positive change.  The fact is, you can receive the gifts of the Spirit at Confirmation (as many of our young people do today) and do absolutely nothing positive with those graces.  In that case, you most certainly will be intimidated by the culture we’re currently living in, and eventually overpowered by it.  This, unfortunately, happens more often than not these days.  If you need some proof, just get hold of some statistics on how many confirmed Catholic young people support things like abortion and transgenderism and so-called gay marriage.
At this point, I’ll bet it’s way over 50%.
But as important as it is to receive—and use—the gifts of the Holy Spirit in our lives, there is something even more basic that the Spirit brings to us, which is why Jesus didn’t wait until Pentecost to begin pouring out the Spirit on his first priests.  As we heard in today’s gospel, Jesus first sent the Spirit to his Apostles way back on Easter Sunday (a full fifty days before Pentecost).
So that they could forgive sins in his name!
The Spirit was given first so that sins could be forgiven—which should make perfect sense to us because, if a person is steeped in sin, any spiritual gifts he may have won’t matter. 

They won’t matter at all.
Forgiveness is primary—and necessary.  This is something, by the way, that Red Skelton definitely understood.  It’s why he said what he said on that plane back in 1951.  Red knew that when the passengers on that aircraft thought they were about to die, most of them were not especially interested in how much wisdom and knowledge they possessed, or whether they could pray in tongues or not.  What they were most concerned with at that decisive (and scary) moment was where they stood before God!  And it was that concern which led them to want to give up what Red called their “evil habits”—that is to say, the sins they had committed but had not yet repented of.
Red knew.
“[Jesus] breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’”
This is where priests get the power to forgive sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation.
And so, if you want to determine how active the Holy Spirit is in your life at any given time, the first question you should ask yourself is not, “What spiritual gifts do I have?”  No, no, no.  The very first question you should ask yourself is, “How repentant am I—how repentant am I for my sins—and how often do I express my repentance humbly and sincerely and honestly by bringing those sins to Jesus in the confessional?
It’s my simple prayer today that in the future the Holy Spirit will be very, very active both in your life and in mine.