Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Contraception: The 'Root' of Abortion

Here's the link to the video of a talk I gave last Saturday night at Immaculate Conception Church in Westerly.  It's entitled, "Contraception: The 'Root' of Abortion."

Click on this link to view and listen to the talk:

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Importance of Helping Other Members of the Body of Christ

(Third Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on Sunday, January 27, 2019 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Nehemiah 8:1-12; Psalm 19:8-15; 1 Corinthians 12:12-30; Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Third Sunday 2019]

On the website of the New York Times, there’s an interesting article from May of last year.  It’s entitled, “Broke your Right Arm?  Exercise Your Left.  It May Help, Really.”  The article begins with these words:

If you sprain an ankle or break a wrist this summer and cannot use one of your limbs, the muscles there will weaken and shrink—unless you exercise those same muscles in your other limb.  According to a fascinating new study, working out the muscles on one side of our bodies can keep the muscles on the other side strong and fit, even if we do not move them at all.  The finding has implications for injury recovery and also underscores how capable and confounding our bodies can be.

If one part of your body is injured, another part of your body can help to restore it to health—or at least give you the ability to deal with the injury or handicap.  That was the core message of this article.  And this is something we all know by experience.  When you get an infection in your body, for example, your immune system immediately kicks in to try to get rid of it.  When you get a cut on your leg, your hands come to the rescue, since you use them to clean the wound and put a BAND-AID on it.  When you lose your sight, very often the abilities of your other senses are heightened to compensate for your inability to see.

That’s the way it is in the physical world: One part of your body helps other parts of your body.

So why should we expect anything different in the spiritual realm?  In today’s second reading from 1 Corinthians 12, St. Paul talks about the body of Christ—the Church—reminding us that we’re all part of it through our baptism: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons.”  We’re all different—we all have different talents, gifts and abilities—but we’re one Church.  And we need each other!  As Paul says there, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I do not need you.’”

And one of the things for which we need other members of the body of Christ is to help us when we’re injured (spiritually speaking)—because the weaknesses and sins of one member of the body affect to some extent every other member of the body.  This was what Paul was getting at when he said, “If one part of the body suffers, all the parts suffer with it.”

This, in fact, is why Christians are called to “admonish” one another.  Paul tells us specifically to do that in Colossians 3.  Just as one part of your physical body can help to heal another part, so too one member of the body of Christ can help another member find the forgiveness and spiritual healing that he or she needs.

A great example of this is found in the open letter that the bishop of Albany, Edward Scharfenberger, wrote to the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, this past week.  It was the case of one member of the body of Christ trying to help another member avoid making a big mistake and putting his eternal salvation in jeopardy. 

This happened because the pro-death crowd in New York is running scared these days.  (They’re worried that the new Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade.)  So they recently put forth a bill in the state senate that will legalize baby killing right up to the moment a child is born.  It will be the most radical pro-abortion law in the country.  This means a woman will be able to go into a New York hospital on a Monday afternoon, be scheduled for a C-section the following morning, and then decide Monday night (or Tuesday morning!) that she doesn’t want the baby, but rather wants an abortion—and the hospital will be required by law to do it.

Now if that’s not infanticide, I don’t know what is.

So as a concerned member of the body of Christ, Bishop Scharfenberger wrote to Governor Cuomo (also a body of Christ member—at least he claims to be) to admonish him lest he make a serious mistake—and commit a heinous sin.

I won’t read the whole letter to you—just a few of the more important parts.

Dear Governor Cuomo, 
Although in your recent State of the State address you cited your Catholic faith and said we should “stand with Pope Francis,” your advocacy of extreme abortion legislation is completely contrary to the teachings of our pope and our Church. Once truth is separated from fiction and people come to realize the impact of the bill, they will be shocked to their core. By that time, however, it may be too late to save the countless lives that will be lost or spare countless women lifelong regret. …  
Contrary to what its proponents say, the [so-called Reproductive Health Act] goes far beyond Roe vs. Wade in its aggressive extremism. Granting non-doctors permission to perform abortions does nothing to advance the security and health of women. Condoning coerced or involuntary abortions by repealing criminal sanctions even in cases where a perpetrator seeks to make his partner “un-pregnant” through an act of physical violence does not represent any kind of progress in the choice, safety or health of women. Removing protection for an infant accidentally born alive during an abortion is abject cruelty, something most people of conscience would deem inhumane for even a dog or cat. Finally, allowing late-term abortions is nothing less than a license to kill a pre-born child at will.
It is very difficult to understand how you can align yourself with Pope Francis and so vehemently advocate such profoundly destructive legislation. …
As a society, we can and must do better. The teaching and intuition of our common faith readies us to help. It is an essential part of our mission to support the lives of all, especially the voiceless, the most vulnerable and marginalized, as Pope Francis always reminds us to do.
Let’s not bequeath to our children a culture of death, but together build a more humane society for the lives of all of our fellow citizens. 
Mr. Cuomo, do not build this Death Star.
That’s one member of the body of Christ desperately trying to help another member of the body of Christ: a good arm desperately trying to help a broken arm. 

You know, I wanted to be able to end my homily by saying, “May the governor have the good sense to accept the help.”  But then, on Wednesday, he signed the bill into law.

So please pray for his repentance—and for God to have mercy on him.  And pray also for our state, because they’re going to try to pass the same kind of law here in Rhode Island in the very near future.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Following in the Footsteps of the Wise Men

(Epiphany 2019: This homily was given on January 6, 2019 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Isaiah 60: 1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3: 2-6; Matthew 2: 1-12.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Epiphany 2019]

These three questions will test how well you were paying attention to the Gospel text I just read to you . . .

According to the details given to us in this passage from Matthew, chapter 2:

1.      There were three wise men.  True or False?
2.      The wise men were kings.  True or False?
3.      The names of the wise men were Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar.  True or False?

The correct answers, believe it or not, are false, false and false again.  Matthew does not tell us the exact number of astrologers who came to offer homage and gifts to the infant Christ.  The tradition that there were three comes from the fact that three gifts were offered to the Lord: gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Nor does Matthew ever tell us that they were kings!  That tradition comes from the prophecy of Isaiah 60 (which we heard in our first reading) and Psalm 72 (which was today's responsorial psalm).  From early on, Christians saw a foreshadowing of the Epiphany event in these two passages from the Old Testament.  And as for their names being Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar—that idea is rooted in a tradition that goes back at least to the sixth century.  But it was not a part of Matthew's description of the Magi as found in his Gospel.  Now please don't get me wrong, I'm not saying there were not three Magi; I'm not saying they were not kings, and I'm not saying their names were not Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar.  I'm simply saying those details come to us from other sources—not from the Gospel of Matthew itself.

If, perchance, you didn't do too well with those three questions, I'll give you a chance to redeem yourself with two others:

1.      The Magi were Gentiles.  True or false?
2.      The Magi submitted themselves to Jesus.  True or false?

In this case, the correct answers are true, and true.  And here we see why Matthew made the decision to include this particular story in his account of the life of Christ.  He included it to teach a very important lesson to his community (and, by extension, to all of us).  The Magi were Gentiles like most (if not all) of us are.  Why is that important?  It's important because the prevailing mindset among the Jews was that only they were special to the Lord.  And so by telling us about these non-Jewish astrologers who came to see Jesus at his birth, Matthew is telling us that everyone, without exception, is included in God's plan of salvation.  This was also St. Paul's message to the Ephesians in that text we heard in our second reading today—as those who took our Bible study class this Fall would be happy to tell you.  Listen again to his words (this, remember, would have shocked many of the Jews of Paul's day):
God's secret plan, as I have briefly described it, was revealed to me, unknown to men in former ages but now revealed by the Spirit to the holy apostles and prophets.  It is no less than this: in Christ Jesus the Gentiles are now co-heirs with the Jews, members of the same body and sharers of the promise through the preaching of the gospel. 
(That’s a slightly different translation from the one we heard a few minutes ago, but I like it better.  It a lot clearer.)

Many of the Jewish men and women who first heard those words must have gasped in disbelief!—"You mean those unclean, vile, heathen Gentiles have the same spiritual potential as we do?!"

Yes, they do—thank God!

But there's another crucial fact to note about these men from the East: they submitted themselves to Jesus!  St. Matthew says that when they came into the Lord's presence, "They prostrated themselves and did him homage."  In this regard, have you ever noticed that in almost every crèche scene, at least one of the wise men is portrayed on his knees?  (Look at ours before you leave Mass today.)  And the other two are usually hunched over, as if they're preparing to kneel and prostrate themselves before the Savior.  Despite the fact that they might have been kings, the Magi came to the Lord in submission and in humility.

And that's how we must come to Jesus--if we want to experience the fruits of his redemptive work.  Thus, if the Magi were standing here at this pulpit this morning, they would say to us: "Yes, everyone is included in God's plan of salvation--Jew and Gentile alike.  That means that every person can be saved.  But, regardless of who you are, you must be willing to bend your knee to Jesus like we did.  If you want to experience the gift of salvation that he came into the world to bring, you must follow our example and be willing to submit to him in humility and in repentance.  Otherwise you cannot be included in his kingdom."  That, of course, is a very difficult message for some modern-day Christians to accept: Christians who think that pretty much everybody goes to heaven, even if they never repent of their sins!  The Magi would disagree strongly!

A while back I heard the confession of a man who had not received the sacrament of Reconciliation in almost 20 years.  Without revealing any of the details, suffice it to say that this person made a great confession.  He had a lot to unload—and (as far as I could tell) he unloaded it all!  He was what St. John Vianney would have called "a big fish"--a big catch for the Lord.  Although he probably didn't realize it at the time, that man came into the confessional and did exactly what the Magi did in the cave of Bethlehem 2,000 years ago: spiritually speaking, he prostrated himself before Jesus, by humbly asking for his Savior's forgiveness.  And so it should come as no surprise that he left the confessional that day a "wise man"--a wise man filled with joy and gratitude.

May all of us in our lives learn to be equally wise. 

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

How to Imitate the First Adorers of the Body and Blood of Christ

(Mary, the Mother of God 2019: This homily was given on January 1, 2019 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67:2-8; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Mary, the Mother of God 2019]

When did Adoration of the Body and Blood of Christ take place for the first time?  And who were the first adorers?  Since Eucharistic Adoration as we know it today didn’t begin until the Middle Ages, many historians would probably say the first instance of men and women adoring the Lord’s Body and Blood took place sometime between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, in a monastery or convent somewhere in Europe.

But they would be wrong—by over a thousand years!  In reality, the very first time people adored the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ was on Christmas Day, in the hours after Jesus was born.  And the first adorers were none other than our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph—who were joined later on by the shepherds we heard about in today’s gospel.  And the adoration they engaged in was, at least in part, nocturnal—something we’re starting here at St. Pius on the first Friday of every month, beginning this Friday.

How timely!

Fr. Dean Perri came up with this insight, and he shared it with me the other day.  And it makes perfect sense, does it not?  In fact, isn’t this how we portray Mary and Joseph and the shepherds in many of our crèche scenes (like the one we have here at St. Pius)?  Jesus is there in the manger and his mother and foster father are kneeling beside him, their heads bowed in prayer.  Some of the shepherds are usually portrayed in that same pose. 

They’re all adoring the Son of God, the Savior, who has just been born into the world.

So here’s a way that we can all imitate our Blessed Mother, whom we honor in the Church on this New Year’s Day: We can resolve to make Adoration a part of our life (if it’s not already).  And we can begin this Friday, by coming here to church to spend some time (an hour if possible) in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, which will be exposed in the monstrance on the altar from 8pm until the Saturday morning Mass, which will begin at 8am.  We have all the hours covered by at least one person; so if you didn’t sign up for an hour already you can come anytime during that 12 hour period.

What do you do during Adoration—besides praise and adore Jesus (which would certainly be enough!)?  But what else can you do?  Actually, you can do many things.  I made a list the other day of some possibilities:

  • ·         You can read the Bible (which, generally speaking, Catholics need to do more often).   My suggestion is to start with the New Testament; it’s easier to understand.
  • ·         You can pray a Rosary
  • ·       You can tell your problems to the Lord, and then try to listen for his response—which   might come in a Scripture passage you read.
  • ·         You can pray the Liturgy of the Hours or some devotional prayers.
  • ·       You can intercede for all the people you’ve promised to pray for, or who’ve asked for   your prayers.
  • ·         You can read a spiritual book that will help you to grow stronger in your faith.
  • ·     You can reflect on your life and try to discern God’s will on some personal matter.  (That’s a very important thing to do in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.)

Or you can just sit quietly in the presence of your Lord and Savior and try to open your heart to his grace.  This is something my grandfather, Nick Suriani, used to do.  My grandparents’ house was located directly in back of Holy Angels Church in Barrington, and my grandfather would often walk over during the day and make visits to the Blessed Sacrament.  Well one afternoon Fr. Giudice happened to meet my grandfather as he was making one of his many visits, and he asked him, “Nick, what do you do when you come here to church during the day?”

My grandfather said, “I sit here and look at God, and God looks back at me.”

Contemplative saints like John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila couldn’t have said it any better!

My grandfather found strength in Adoration—which definitely helped him to deal with the crosses he experienced in his life, especially the deaths of three of his four children.  Both my grandparents lived well into their nineties, but they lost three children to cancer before the age of 60—including my father, who died at the age of 46.

Adoration of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ was good for my grandfather, as it was good for Mary and Joseph, and as it’s been good for millions of other believers throughout the centuries.

May it also be good for us—beginning this Friday.