Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Blessed Trinity in the Life—and Death—of St. Isaac Jogues

The Eight North American Martyrs

(Trinity Sunday 2018: This homily was given on May 27, 2018 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Deuteronomy 4: 32-40; Psalm 33; Romans 8: 14-17; Matthew 28: 16-20.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Trinity Sunday 2018]

As many of you know, last Saturday (May 19) we took 50 people on a one-day pilgrimage to the shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville, New York (which is about 30 miles west of Schenectady just off the New York Thruway).

Many Catholics are not aware of the fact that there are actually canonized martyrs in the Church who shed their blood for Jesus Christ on North American soil.  But there are!  Eight of them, to be exact.  Three died in what is now Auriesville; the other five died at another mission site in Midland, Ontario (which is about 2 hours north of the city of Toronto).  They were all Jesuits—or at least in some way associated with the Jesuit religious order.

They came from France in the early part of the 17th century and worked primarily with the Huron Indians, who were a relatively peaceful group—at least compared to the Iroquois, with whom the Hurons were at war.  They came because they heard and took seriously the words of Jesus in today’s gospel: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

And they were tough!  These eight men were tough, strong men of God.  The tortures and sufferings they went through, especially when they were being martyred, are almost beyond belief.  (You’ll be happy to know that I will spare you most of the gory details in this homily.)  Incidentally, the reason we know so much about these missionaries and about their martyrdoms is because the Jesuits were required to write to their superiors back in France, to keep them updated on what was going on in the missions.  So we know about the brutal living conditions they faced, and the pagan culture they were trying to evangelize: a culture that was marked by things like war, promiscuity, cannibalism and superstition—which was an especially big problem.  For example, whenever something bad happened, like the outbreak of a contagious disease that spread through the settlement, the Indians would say that it was because the Jesuits—the “Blackrobes”—had put a curse on them. 

It’s very hard to defend yourself against that kind of superstition.

And yet, despite all the sufferings and challenges they had to deal with, these missionaries loved the Indians, and they were willing to pay whatever price was necessary—even the shedding of their own blood—to bring these native North Americans to Christ.  In fact, at times they even longed for it!  As one of them, Jean de Brebeuf, wrote in his diary, “I vow to you, Jesus my Savior, that as far as I have the strength I will never fail to accept the grace of martyrdom, if someday you in your infinite mercy would offer it to me, your most unworthy servant.”

As I indicated earlier, these were extraordinary—and strong—men of God.

My personal favorite among them is St. Isaac Jogues.  For six years, beginning in 1636, Fr. Jogues ministered to the Hurons.  However, in 1642, while on a canoe trip to get some supplies, he was captured by the Iroquois, who proceeded to torture him mercilessly.  I won’t go into all the gory details, but let’s just say that, among other things, they cut off his thumb, tore out his fingernails, and gnawed off the ends of his fingers until the bones were visible.  That meant he could no longer say Mass, because, as some of you will remember, in the old Liturgy a priest could only touch the Eucharist with his thumb and forefinger.

About a year later, with the help of the Dutch, he escaped and eventually sailed back to France.  There he was received as a hero (remember, people in France knew what was going on in the missions because of the reports sent home by the Jesuits).  Jogues was honored by royalty; he was called a “living martyr” by the pope at the time, Urban VIII.  The Holy Father even gave him a special dispensation to say Mass with his mangled hands.

And Fr. Isaac Jogues lived happily ever after, right?

Well, not quite.  All the attention and all the accolades proved to be too much for him, and so, only a few months later, he asked to go back to the missions—knowing that, in all likelihood, he would never return to France again.

And he didn’t.

He was martyred a few years later, on October 18, 1646.

Now you might say, “Well, Fr. Ray, that’s a very nice story, but today is Trinity Sunday.  What does that story have to do with the Blessed Trinity?”

The answer is: Quite a bit!

The Catechism tells us that the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is “the central mystery of Christian faith and life.”  (CCC, 234)  It reminds us that God is a “family” of Persons united in an eternal bond of love.  The Catechism puts it this way: “We firmly believe and confess without reservation that there is only one true God, eternal infinite … and unchangeable, incomprehensible, almighty and ineffable, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit: three persons indeed, but one essence, substance or nature entirely simple.” (CCC, 202)

Now that sounds really theoretical, doesn’t it?

But what about on the experiential level?

Is it possible for people to experience the Blessed Trinity in the ordinary events of their daily lives?  Is it possible for people to experience the Blessed Trinity even in the midst of trial and suffering? 

I would say yes!  And we find a great example of this in St. Isaac Jogues!

People (whether they realized it or not) actually experienced the Blessed Trinity in and through the ministry and martyrdom of this extraordinary man.  First of all, they experienced through Isaac Jogues the merciful love of God the Father.  Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.”  In his unending mercy, the heavenly Father gave us his Son to save us from sin and Satan and eternal death, and to bring us eternal life.  Well, Isaac Jogues and the seven other North American martyrs came to our shores to do the same thing for the Huron Indians—and everyone else who would give them a hearing.  They came to bring these people mercy and salvation through Jesus Christ.

But it doesn’t stop there.  People (especially the Huron Indians) also experienced the sacrificial love of God the Son through the ministry of Father Jogues.  Jesus said, “Greater love than this no one has, than to lay down his life for his friends.”  The love of God the Son went the distance (unto death)—and so did the love of Isaac Jogues for the Indians he served in the New World.  And, like Jesus, he sacrificed himself willingly.

And, finally, people experienced the abiding love of God the Holy Spirit in Isaac Jogues.  At the Last Supper Jesus said to his Apostles, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate [the Holy Spirit] to be with you always.”  The love of the Holy Spirit is an abiding love.  It doesn’t waver.  It’s not greater on Sunday than it is on Tuesday and Wednesday.  It’s constant.

Which is precisely how Isaac Jogues’ love was for the Indians—including the Iroquois.  Despite all the suffering and torture they put him through, he still loved them.


The merciful love of God the Father;
The sacrificial love of God the Son;
The abiding love of God the Holy Spirit—

All of these were experienced by people through the words—and through the deeds—of Isaac Jogues and the other seven North American martyrs.

Of course the real question of the day is: Are the people in our lives having a similar experience of the Blessed Trinity through us?

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Confirmation and ‘Conformation’

(Pentecost 2018 (B): This homily was given on May 20, 2018 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Acts 2: 1-11; Psalm 104; Galatians 5: 16-25; John 20: 19-23.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Pentecost 2018]


Each of those words has twelve letters, eleven of which are the same.  But the tiny change that we find in the second word—the change of the “i” in Confirmation to the “o” in conformation—makes a huge difference.  So much so that it actually takes a work of the Holy Spirit and transforms it into a work of Satan.

Confirmation, of course, is one of the seven sacraments.  As such, it’s one of the Holy Spirit’s greatest works.  It’s also our personal participation in the event of Pentecost, which we heard about in today’s first reading from Acts 2.  Pentecost, which occurred fifty days after Easter, was what you might call a spiritual “game changer”.  Prior to that event, the Apostles were weak and fearful, unsure of themselves and unsure of the truth.  After the Spirit descended on them, they were exactly the opposite.

And they were not only different as individual persons; they were also different from other persons (from other persons who had not been anointed with the Holy Spirit in the way that they had been).  That’s clear from today’s first reading.  When the people in Jerusalem on Pentecost Sunday heard the Apostles preaching and speaking in tongues, they took notice, did they not?  They said, in effect, “Hey, these guys are different!  Something’s happened to them!  Each of us hears them speaking in our own native language!”

The Catechism says this about Confirmation: “It is the sacrament which gives the Holy Spirit in order to root us more deeply in the divine filiation, incorporate us more firmly into Christ, strengthen our bond with the Church, associate us more closely with her mission, and help us bear witness to the Christian faith in words accompanied by deeds.”

We receive the Holy Spirit for the first time when we’re baptized.  Through the sacrament of Baptism original sin is taken away, we’re born again of water and the Spirit, and we receive sanctifying grace into our souls. 

So why do we receive the Spirit again? 

We receive this second outpouring of the Spirit in the sacrament of Confirmation to help us live out our baptismal commitment to Christ and his Church by “bear[ing] witness to the Christian faith in words accompanied by deeds”—as the Catechism tells us in that text I just quoted to you.

And this is where, for many young people who are being confirmed these days, Confirmation gets overshadowed.  It gets overshadowed, it gets usurped, by what I would call “conformation”—which is basically the desire to conform and be like everybody else (instead of trying to be the person that God wants you to be).

These young people need to hear and take seriously the words of St. Paul in Romans 12.  There the Apostle says this: “I beg you through the mercy of God to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, your spiritual worship.  DO NOT CONFORM YOURSELVES TO THIS AGE, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may judge what is God’s will, what is good, pleasing and perfect.”

“Do NOT conform to this age!”

“Don’t live your lives,” in other words, “in conformation to the ungodly ideas of the world in which you live.”

But many of our CONFIRMED young people are doing just that!  As Fr. Besse would say, they’re allowing the world to “squeeze them into its mold.”  This comes home to me every time one of our faithful teenagers (and thankfully we do have a number of them) says to me things like, “Fr. Ray, we had a discussion in class today about abortion, and I was the only one who said abortion is wrong.”  “Fr. Ray, I was talking with a group of my friends recently and they said that they all believe in gay marriage.”  “Fr. Ray, one of the other teens who works with me said he doesn’t see anything wrong with living together before marriage.”

And on and on it goes.

Now I could understand it if these faithful teenagers who come to me were going to school and working and hanging around with a bunch of atheists and devil worshippers, but most of the kids they’re talking about here are baptized—and confirmed—Catholics!

And yet, they believe all these things that are contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

That’s “conformation.”

The grace of Confirmation, my brothers and sisters, is the grace to live the Faith and defend the Faith and spread the Faith.  It’s a gift from Almighty God himself.  But it’s a gift that we have to freely accept and freely put to use.  Have you ever received a gift from another person that you haven’t ever used?  I have.  A number of times!

The gift is yours—you have it in your possession—but it doesn’t do you any good whatsoever, because you aren’t using it.

Well, that’s precisely the way many young people—and many not-so-young people—respond to the grace given to them at their confirmation.  They receive that grace into their souls, yes, but they don’t allow it to change them and strengthen them in the way the Apostles allowed the Spirit to change them and strengthen them at Pentecost.

Many of them don’t even go to church anymore!

We had almost 60 young people confirmed here in Westerly a couple of weeks ago.  I wonder how many of them have been to Mass since then.  I hope and pray they ALL have—but I definitely wouldn’t “bet the farm on it”.

I wouldn’t even bet half the farm.

Is it any wonder, therefore, that so many of our youth are depressed and confused these days?  I don’t think it is.  In today’s second reading from Galatians 5, St. Paul contrasts “the works of the flesh” with “the fruits of the Spirit.”  The works of the flesh he mentions there are some of the activities that flow from a life of conformation: “Immorality, impurity, lust, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies and the like.”

The kinds of activities, in other words, that eventually lead to depression and confusion—and a lot of other bad things.

Then Paul mentions the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which, happily, are some of the realities which are found in the life of somebody who is living in the grace of his or her confirmation: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

Confirmation/conformation: two similar words with two very different meanings, signifying two very different lifestyles that take people in two very different directions—both in this life and in eternity.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful on this Pentecost Sunday, that we will say yes to the grace of our confirmation every day, and no to the constant temptation we face to conform our lives to the world and its ways.  And may our young people follow our example and do the same thing.  This we ask through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Ascension Thursday:'Mission Accomplished!'

(Ascension Thursday 2018: This homily was given on May 10, 2018 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Acts 1: 1-14; Psalm 47: 2-9; Ephesians 1: 17-23; Matthew 28: 16-20.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Ascension Thursday 2018]

“Mission accomplished!”

Those words capture Jesus’ message to his heavenly Father (and to the world) on the day of his ascension 2,000 years ago.

The mission he had been given—the mission to reconcile the world to the Father—was, finally, completed.

Of course that overall mission of reconciliation with God the Father consisted of many smaller, daily missions that Jesus fulfilled.  Every day of his earthly ministry, in other words, Jesus did what his Father wanted him to do.  That was the focus of his life.  That was his purpose.  As he said in John 6: 38, “I have come not to do my own will, but the will of the one who sent me.” 

And doing his Father’s will involved service.  Service to others: service to his friends and even service to his enemies!  Jesus said, “The Son of Man has come to serve not to be served and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Our Lord’s service included his preaching and teaching and healings and exorcisms.  And, on Good Friday, it involved his passion and death.

Applying this now to ourselves …

Each of us has an overall mission from God, just like Jesus did.  Ours, not surprisingly however, is a little different from his.  His overall mission was to reconcile the world to the heavenly Father.  Our overall mission on this earth, as the Baltimore Catechism puts it, is to “know God, and love God, and serve God.”

And we fulfill that overall mission by striving to do what Jesus did: by discerning how God wants us to serve him today, and then by carrying out that service—that daily mission—as best we can. 

This, incidentally, is one of the biggest keys to finding happiness, meaning and fulfillment in our lives.  As Catholic author Matthew Kelly puts it in one of his talks:

One of the things I think most people can spend their whole lives ignoring or their whole lives and never really discover, is that human beings are made for mission. You and I, we’re made for mission. We’re not made to be served. We're made to serve.  When we ignore [the fact that we’re made to serve others in this life], at best we get frustrated, [and] at worst we become really, really miserable … Because any time you use something for something that it wasn't intended for, something it wasn't created for, then it's like using a lawnmower as your dishwasher. It just isn't gonna work. You’re made for mission.  And what does that mean? It means that God has placed you on this earth for some specific reason, for some specific mission, and he wants you to carry out that mission. When we think of that, we [might say to ourselves], "Whoa, that's heavy, that’s big. How am I gonna work that out?" You work it out little by little. You work it out by taking the step that's in front of you today. You work it out by realizing, "OK, how can I serve other people today, even in small ways?" And the more we serve other people, the more our mission becomes clearer to us.

So, what is your mission today?

Think about that.  Pray about that at this Mass—especially after Communion.

If you’re on your way to school or work, that’s part of it—although it can’t end there.

On this Ascension Thursday we pray for the grace and the ability to discern and carry out our missions every day, so that when we meet the heavenly Father at the end of our lives we will be able to say to him what Jesus said to him on the first Ascension Thursday: “Mission accomplished!”

Sunday, May 06, 2018

’Love’ and ‘Approval’ are NOT Synonyms!

(Sixth Sunday of Easter (B): This homily was given on May 6, 2018 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Acts 10: 25-48; Psalm 98: 1-4; 1 John 4: 7-10; John 15: 9-17.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Sixth Sunday of Easter 2018]

In modern-day America, love and approval are synonyms.  They basically mean the same thing.  Now please don’t misunderstand me here; I’m not saying that love and approval actually are synonyms.  What I’m saying is that they’ve become synonymous in the minds of many Americans today (maybe even the majority)—although most of them are probably not aware of it.

Jesus talks about love—real, genuine love—in today’s gospel.  St. John does the same thing in today’s second reading.  To love another human being is “to desire the good” for that person, and then to do what you can to help the person attain that good in his or her life.  Which explains why Jesus Christ came to this earth 2,000 years ago and died on the cross!  It was out of this kind of love: “Greater love than this no one has, than to lay down his life for his friends.”  Jesus Christ loved us and so he wanted us to experience the greatest “good” that we could possibly experience as human beings, namely heaven!  But he also knew that we couldn’t merit and attain that eternal life on our own.  So he did what only a God-man could do.  He made the ultimate sacrifice of love, so that through his eternal merits we could attain the ultimate good: unending life in his kingdom.

St. John summarizes it perfectly in today’s second reading when he says, “God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.  In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.”

God loves every human person, and he demonstrated that fact by sending his Son to die for us all.  But at the same time God does not APPROVE of everything that we do in our lives.  That’s because we’re all sinners who commit sins every day.  (I hope this is not a revelation to anyone; it certainly shouldn’t be.)  He approves of some of the things we do, for sure: acts of kindness, mercy, forgiveness, etc.  But not everything.  This is clear from today’s gospel reading when Jesus says, “IF you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love.”  Well, if that statement is true (and we know it is, since Jesus said it!), then so is the opposite true: “If you DON’T keep my commandments, you will NOT remain in my love.”

Obviously Jesus does not approve of sin—ours or anyone else’s.

Nor are we supposed to approve of sin!  That message comes through in the very next paragraph of the text when Jesus says, “Love one another as I love you.”  Jesus loves us—he desires the good (the best!) for us—but he does not say “Amen” either to the sins that we commit in our lives or the sins that others commit in their lives.

And neither should we—if we want to love as he loved.

Does this make sense to you?

It should.


As I said at the beginning of my homily, in the minds of all-too-many Americans today love and approval are synonyms.  That means if you say you love somebody, you MUST approve of EVERYTHING they do!  That includes the sins they commit in their lives.

And it you don’t believe me, just read the newspaper or watch the evening news.

In 21st century America, if you don’t approve of abortion, for example, then many people will say that you hate women.  That’s why a lot good pro-life organizations have been labeled “hate groups”.  If you don’t approve of homosexual activity, then you hate homosexuals.  If you support securing the border with Mexico and don’t approve of illegal immigration, then you hate immigrants.  If you don’t approve of people mutilating themselves and taking potentially harmful drugs in order to deal with their gender dysphoria, then you hate transgendered people.

If you don’t approve of certain sins—certain socially-acceptable sins—you are immediately called “a hater” in 2018.  Now that’s an illogical position to hold—hatred does NOT necessarily follow from disapproval—but an awful lot of people have bought into the lie that it does.  And many of those who’ve bought into the lie are teaching your children and grandchildren in schools and universities all over this country.

This really hit home with me one day a couple of years ago when a college student came to see me at the rectory.  (I mentioned this incident in a homily I gave at the time.  Some of you may remember it.)

This young man came to see me because he was struggling with his faith.  He said to me, “Fr. Ray, I’m not sure I want to be Catholic anymore.”

I said, “Why not?”

“Well,” he said, “my family all goes to church; and I did too, when I was in high school.  But when I went away to college I became friendly with some people who are gay, and I know that as Catholics we’re supposed to hate gays.  But I don’t hate these people; I like them.”

I said, “As Catholics, we’re not supposed to hate anybody.  We may not approve of some of the things they do; but even then, as the old saying goes, we’re supposed to ‘love the sinner, and hate the sin’.”

We talked for a while longer.  I tried to explain the teaching of the Church—that it’s not a sin to experience same-sex attraction; that the sin comes with certain actions that follow from the attraction (something he should have already known since he had come to my youth group when he was in high school).  I also reminded him that so-called ‘straight’ people can commit sins that are equally serious if they act on their sexual impulses in the wrong way.  I even said to him, “I know people who experience same-sex attraction—and I don’t hate them.  In fact, I consider some of them to be my friends.  Now if they’re committing a serious sin and I find out about it I certainly don’t approve of it.  (I don’t approve of anyone’s sin, including my own!)  But I definitely don’t hate them—or anyone else for that matter.”

Well, he still had some difficulty getting his mind around this idea of loving the sinner and hating the sin, so I finally said to him, “Let me ask you a question.  Do your parents love you?”

He said, “Of course they do.”

“You’re sure of that?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Well,’ I said, ‘do your parents approve of everything you do?”

He smiled a little, and said, “No.”

I said, “Then they must hate you!  You’re saying to me that Catholics hate gays because they disapprove of some of the things that gay people do.  Well, according to that logic, your parents must hate you, because they sometimes disapprove of some of the things that you do.”

At that point, I think a ‘light bulb’ finally got turned on, and he left with a promise to reflect on what I had said.

That young man, my brothers and sisters, is not alone in his perspective.  In fact, I would say that many (maybe even most) college students right now approach contemporary moral issues with the same erroneous ideas about love and hatred in their minds that this young man had in his.

And so I have a homework assignment for you.  (Fr. Najim gave you one last week, so I’ll give you one today.) 

It’s very simple, but very important.  Recall the core idea of today’s homily, which can be expressed in one line: “Love” and “approval” are not synonyms; neither are “hatred” and “disapproval”.

Your assignment is to remember that fact and then to share it with others, especially your children and your grandchildren—who need to know it (and believe it!) long before they go to college.