Sunday, October 28, 2018

Tune Out the World; Tune In to Jesus; Tune Up Your Faith!

Thirtieth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on October 28, 2018 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126:1-6; Hebrews 5:1-6; Mark 10: 46-52.)

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

 Tune out the world; tune in to Jesus; tune up your faith.

I heard that advice at a prayer meeting once, and I never forgot it.  I never forgot it because it happens to be excellent advice, especially in this age of social media.

And here our great role model is Bartimaeus, the blind man who was healed by Jesus in today’s gospel story from Mark 10.  Notice what the last line of the text says.  It says that, after his healing, Bartimaeus “followed Jesus on the road”.  That means he became a disciple of Christ.  (The word “disciple” literally means “one who follows,” especially “one who follows for the purpose of learning.”)

Now Bartimaeus already had some faith in Jesus before he met him that day in Jericho.  That’s clear from how he addresses our Lord when he calls out to him from the side of the road.  He says, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.”
“Son of David” was a messianic title, which means that Bartimaeus already either believed—or at least strongly suspected—that our Lord was the Messiah.

But that initial faith he had in Jesus increased exponentially after he received his healing!—so much so that he began to follow our Lord as one of his disciples.

Clearly, Bartimaeus’ faith was “tuned up” in and through his personal encounter with Jesus—but that’s only because he made two crucial decisions before the encounter: the decision to “tune out the world,” and the decision to “tune in to the Lord.”

Tuning out the world, for Bartimaeus, primarily involved tuning out the dissenting voices of the many people in the crowd that day who were trying to get him to shut his mouth and stop crying out to Jesus.  As the text says, “On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth he began to cry out and say, ‘Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.’  And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.”

Bartimaeus tuned out those voices; he totally disregarded them; he completely ignored them—and, as the passage tells us, “He kept calling out all the more, ‘Son of David, have pity on me.’”

He responded to the rebukes by tuning in to our Lord even more passionately and intently!

Bartimaeus tuned out the world; he tuned in to Jesus—in spite of what the people around him were saying; and by the end of it all he had tuned up his faith—a lot!

If we want our faith to be similarly “tuned up” by God and his grace, we have to follow Bartimaeus’ example here.

First of all, we have to tune out the world—or at least our little corner of it.  Practically speaking, that involves (among other things) taking a break from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter—and any other social media service we happen to be into.  It involves listening to voices that are going to build up our faith and not tear it down or undermine it.  That means we definitely will need to limit our exposure to the voices of people in the mainstream media—the pundits, the politicians, the actors, the musicians and all the rest.  Overexposure to these voices is, without question, toxic to a person’s spiritual life.  (I say that as one who has, at times, watched way too much cable news.  Way too much!  All it did was get me aggravated!  It definitely did not bring me closer to God!)

And we need to have a period of time EVERY DAY when we consciously do this, when we consciously and intentionally tune out the world.  And I do mean every day—not just once a week, or once in a while.

And we should spend that time (which I would say should be at least a half hour) “tuning in to Jesus” in some way: by simply calling out to him, as Bartimaeus did; by reading Scripture; by saying the Rosary; by visiting the adoration chapel at Immaculate; by coming to daily Mass—in other words, by doing something (or some things) that will bring us into personal contact with the Lord.

Aside from our family responsibilities, that should be our top priority every day: to tune in to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, in some fashion!

Who knows?—we might even experience a healing like Bartimaeus did!

But one thing is nearly certain: If we make the effort—the serious effort—to tune out the world and to tune in to the Lord every single day of our lives, we will grow stronger in our faith.  It may not happen instantaneously, but over time it will.

And that will make us good disciples—like Bartimaeus.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Re-defining ‘Service’ and Other Words

(Twenty-ninth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on October 21, 2018 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Isaiah 53:10-11; Psalm 33:4-22; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-ninth Sunday 2018]

Kermit Gosnell was an abortionist in Philadelphia for more than thirty years.  He’s been called “America’s #1 serial killer”—and with good reason.  He utilized some of the most gruesome procedures imaginable to perform late-term abortions.  (Abortions, incidentally, are illegal in Pennsylvania after twenty-three weeks of pregnancy—but that didn’t matter to Gosnell.) 

As for his clinic, it was a disgrace.  It resembled a pig sty more than a medical facility.  Investigators described it as a “house of horrors”.

In 2013 he was convicted of first degree murder in the deaths of three of his infant victims, and of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a 41-year-old woman, who died during a botched abortion.  He was also found guilty of twenty-one counts of illegal late-term abortions, as well as a host of other charges.

He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Even many who identify themselves as “pro-choice” were horrified at what went on in Gosnell’s abortuary.  Of course, science teaches us that human life begins at the moment of conception—which means that every abortion that takes place in every abortion mill is “horrific.”

A movie came out last week about all this which I highly recommend.  Unfortunately, it’s only playing in one theater locally—the Marquee Cinema in Westbrook (about a 40 minute drive from here).  The film is entitled “Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer.”  One of its stars is actor Dean Cain, who played Superman in the TV series, “Lois & Clark”. 

And it’s not filled with gore.  As one commentator has noted, the movie “stays true to the trial record without having to resort to gratuitous graphic imagery.”  Thus it’s rated PG-13 and appropriate for a younger, teenage audience. 

So if you’re looking for something to do in the next few days that will make you very glad that you’re pro-life, take a ride to Westbrook and see this film.  It will be time well-spent.

I thought of Kermit Gosnell and his tragic story when I was reflecting on the words of Jesus in this gospel text from Mark 10, especially where our Lord says, “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus came, as Scripture says, so that we might have life and have it more abundantly.  That’s why, as Philippians 2 tells us, “He emptied himself … and was born in the likeness of men … and humbled himself … accepting even death, death on a cross.”

Jesus came into this world to serve his Father and to serve us, by giving his life for us for the forgiveness of our sins.

Well, Kermit Gosnell also came to “serve”—at least that’s what he said.  He maintained many times that he ran his abortion business in order to serve women—especially poor, inner city women.

But his idea of service, and Jesus’ idea of service, are polar opposites!

Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, served by offering his own life; Kermit Gosnell served by taking lives (of babies—some of whom were already out of the womb, and of at least one woman in a botched abortion). 

To Jesus Christ, serving involved the giving of himself to others (and the giving of himself for others); to Kermit Gosnell serving involved taking from others—especially their money (the movie makes clear that he got filthy rich from the dirty deeds he performed in his abortion mill).

Jesus Christ came to serve others by giving his life as a ransom for them; Kermit Gosnell came for the service of himself, and to destroy as many innocent lives as he possibly could in the process.

Those are two very different understandings of what it means to “serve,” proceeding from two very different definitions of the word “service”.  One of those definitions is rooted in the truth, the other is rooted in a perversion of the truth—since it equates service with murder.

Kermit Gosnell, in effect, tried to legitimize his sin (the sin of killing babies) by perverting and re-defining a word. 

Which is something that happens a lot in our society these days, with a lot of words besides "service"!

Think of how people have tried to re-define the word “marriage” in recent years to justify certain sinful behaviors; or how they’ve tried to re-define the word “gender” to include 60 or more possibilities.

Think of the prevailing cultural notion of love—which involves the approval of another person’s actions, even if they’re objectively sinful.  As we all know, if you openly disapprove of certain activities in our society right now, you are immediately labeled a “hater”—as if “hatred” and “disapproval” are synonyms.  Well they’re not (as I said in a homily I gave a couple of months ago); neither are “love” and “approval” synonymous.  For example, all good parents love their children—but they certainly don’t approve of everything their children do.

Nor should they when their children do things that are wrong!  Love and approval are not synonyms—at least in the real world they aren’t.  But they’re being re-defined as such in the alternative universe that some people are trying to create for themselves and for the rest of us.

That’s the same universe that Kermit Gosnell currently lives in with his warped understanding of what it means to “serve” women.  I don’t know about you, but personally I’d rather live in the real world with Jesus Christ and try to serve others as he served them.

Because I know that that will help to make the world a much better place for me, for women, for unborn babies—and for everyone else.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

God, Sex and Gender

(Twenty-seventh Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on October 7, 2018 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 128:1-6; Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-seventh Sunday 2018]

One of the early Christian hermits of Egypt once said, “The time will come when people will be insane, and when they see someone who is not insane they will attack that person saying: You are insane, because you are not like us.”

The hermit who made that statement, a man known as Abba Anthony, said those words way back in the 4th or 5th century.  But I wonder—did he say them because God gave him a vision of life in the 21st century?

I think that’s a very good possibility, since we are definitely living in a time of cultural insanity!  And nowhere is that more evident than in the current controversies concerning sex and gender.  In today’s gospel reading Jesus says, “From the beginning God made them male and female.”  Sex according to Jesus—and the word of God—and good science—is binary.  Two X chromosomes make you female; one X and one Y chromosome make you male.  And yes, there are cases of people being born with birth defects that affect their genitalia and cause confusion, but these are medical disorders that are, thankfully, rare.

Well, needless to say, a lot has changed in recent years.  Now we are told by certain “experts” that when we classify human persons we should no longer make reference to the 2 sexes (male and female); rather, we should use the category of “gender”—which they consider to be a broader and much more “fluid” concept.  This basically means that, to those who believe and teach this stuff, your gender is whatever you say it is.  Objective reality doesn’t matter anymore. 

Neither does science.

In one article I read last week the author claimed there are at least 63 possible genders that a person can identify with.  I kid you not.  Here are a few examples: there’s the “masculine bisexual woman”; there’s the “masculine male-attracted hermaphromale”; there’s the “feminine homosexual andromale”; and, my personal favorite, the “androgine female-attracted hermaphrofemale".

This, my brothers and sisters, is insanity!  It’s pure, unadulterated lunacy.  But it’s lunacy that’s fast becoming mainstream.  Which means that your children and your children’s children will pay the price for it.  In fact, some young people already have paid a heavy price. They’ve being taught this garbage in school, and because they’ve believed it they’ve been led to make bad decisions—decisions that will have a negative impact on them for the rest of their lives.  And they’ve made these bad decisions, in most cases, with the support of medical doctors and psychologists.

I wrote about this in one of my editorials last week in the Rhode Island Catholic.  (That’s one of the things they’ve asked me to do in my “retirement”.  Every three weeks I write the two editorials for our diocesan newspaper.)  What prompted this editorial was an important policy statement that was recently issued by one of the largest associations of pediatricians in this country.  Consequently it’s a policy that will directly affect hundreds of doctors—and tens of thousands of children.

[Before I read this I want to publicly thank Dr. Michelle Cretella.  I had her proofread the editorial to make sure the medical information and statistics were accurate.]  So here it is …
 Two weeks ago the American Academy of Pediatrics published a policy statement in which it urged parents to accept the gender identity their children prefer, and to disregard their children’s actual biological sex.  This is just the latest step in the advance of “gender ideology”—something Pope Francis has condemned quite frequently in recent years.  Gender ideology maintains that everyone has something called a “gender identity” that does not always match his or her biological sex. Anyone experiencing this inner conflict (known as “gender dysphoria”) should be supported in “transitioning” from male to female, or vice versa.In children, this transition involves the use of puberty-blocking drugs (which are not FDA approved for this use) and cross-sex hormones.  Together these drugs often cause permanent sterility and increase the risk for many serious illnesses.  Youth may then opt for irreversible, mutilating surgical procedures to remove healthy body parts, such as double mastectomies at age 13 or genital surgeries at age 18.That’s a pretty big price for a confused young person to pay for a psychological disorder which, with some care and counseling, would eventually resolve itself in the vast majority of cases.  According to the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, as many as 98% of boys and up to 88% of girls with gender dysphoria come to accept their biological sex by late adolescence.
We must help wounded children heal and accept the biological truth about themselves.  We shouldn’t be treating them as pawns in a trendy social-engineering experiment by giving them unnecessary and dangerous drugs and surgeries.The leaders of the
American Academy of Pediatrics who published this statement should already know this—which should lead them to revise their policy.

I could have added “and reverse the insanity.”

When the Pharisees questioned Jesus about divorce, our Lord gave them a history lesson.  He took them back in time.  But not just to the time of Moses; that wasn’t far enough.   To clarify the Father’s will concerning divorce, Jesus took the Pharisees back to the beginning—to the beginning of human history; to God’s original plan for men and women. 

That’s what we need to do with respect to issues related to sex and gender—at least when we’re dialoguing with believers.

“From the beginning God made them male and female.” 

Accepting that clear and simple truth, and living our lives accordingly, is one of the best things we can possibly do for ourselves, for our society—and especially for our children.

Many people will say we’re crazy, that’s true.  But remember this: If everyone is running toward the edge of a cliff—a cliff with a 200 foot drop—and you’re the only one running in the opposite direction away from the danger, YOU look like the crazy one.

But you’re not!