Sunday, October 25, 2020

If You Love Someone With ALL Your Heart, How Much Love Do You Have Left To Give To Others?

(Thirtieth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on October 25, 2020 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Exodus 22:20-26; Psalm 18:2-4, 47, 51; 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10; Matthew 22:34-40.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirtieth Sunday 2020]

I begin this morning with a spiritual math question:

If you love someone with ALL your heart, how much love do you have left to give to others?

Some?  A lot?  None?

If you love someone with ALL your heart, how much love do you have left to give to others?

The answer is: It depends on who the “someone” is.

If the “Someone” is God, then to figure out how much love you have left, you’ll need to MULTIPLY.

However, if the “someone” is anyone other than God, then to properly compute the amount of love remaining in you, you will be forced either to subtract or to divide.

Let me explain . . .

In today’s gospel passage from Matthew 22, Jesus proclaims the two fundamental commandments: the commandment to love God, and the commandment to love your neighbor.

But even though they are both commands to love, there’s a crucial difference between the two—a difference that’s often missed or ignored when people read these well-known verses of Scripture.

Notice that it says you are to love God with your whole heart; it does not say that you are to love your neighbor in that way.  “Neighbor” here, incidentally, is a very broad term.  It does not refer exclusively to the wonderful people who live next door to you (although it does include them!).  The word “neighbor” in this text signifies all the human beings with whom you share your life—even your spouse and your children and the members of your extended family.

And yes, it even includes your enemies!

Thankfully, all it says is that you must love these human beings as you love yourself.  Backing up for a moment, this means that, from a Christian perspective, it’s okay to love yourself!  That may sound strange to some of us, but it’s true nonetheless.  Too much self-love, of course, is not a good thing: they call that narcissism and pride; but too little self-love is equally bad!  Contrary to popular belief, self-hatred is not a Christian virtue!

There’s obviously a balance that needs to be achieved here, which is something we should pray for: “Dear Lord, help me to love myself as you want me to love myself—not too much, but not too little either!”

This is key because if a person doesn’t love himself rightly, he won’t be able to love anyone else rightly!  The proper love of self is the necessary pre-condition for the proper love of neighbor, according to Jesus Christ.  Notice the wording of this verse: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

But what happens when you try to love your neighbor with your whole heart—which, according to Jesus, is the way you’re supposed to love God and God alone?

Let me answer that question with a story.  I knew a woman many years ago, whose husband died very suddenly of a heart attack.  She was a daily communicant at her home parish (which was in another part of the state).  As a couple, she and her husband had been almost inseparable: they were blessed with 3 or 4 children as well as several grandchildren; they had a great marriage; they spent most of their free time together.  And so you can imagine how I and many others felt when, 3 months after her husband died, this woman tried to take her own life!  (Thankfully she failed!)  I was a newly ordained priest at the time and I remember being stunned—absolutely stunned—especially since this woman was at Mass every single day!  It didn’t make any sense to me—until I thought about it in light of the gospel passage we just heard.

It was then that I realized that this lovely lady had made the fatal mistake of loving her husband with her whole heart!  And so, when he was gone, so was most of the love in her life—including, it seems, her love for God.

If you love someone with your whole heart—and that someone is anyone other than God—then to calculate how much love you have left to give others you have to subtract or divide.

This is why there are two commandments in this passage, and not one!  You know, Jesus could have easily said, “You shall love the Lord your God—and your neighbor—with all your heart,” but he didn’t.  That’s because Jesus understood human nature a lot better than we do.  He knew that we need to love and to be loved, but he also knew that even the person on earth who loves us the most—and whom we love the most—will sometimes let us down and fail to be there for us.  They might even stop loving us for a time, or refuse to forgive us for something we’ve done to them.  That’s to be expected, because this person—as good as he or she might be—is only human.

Only God is divine—which means that only God can always be there for us with his mercy and strength and comfort! 

But it even goes beyond that.  I said earlier that if you try to love God with your whole heart, you will have to MULTIPLY in order to figure out how much love you’ll have left to give to others. 

In other words, when you try to love God the most, he responds by multiplying the love within you (since he himself is love!).  And that leaves you with more than enough love to show to others (including your enemies).

This is what we see in the lives of holy people, and especially in the lives of the great saints of the Church.

Because St. Maximilian Kolbe, for example, tried to love God with his whole heart, he had plenty of love left in him for others, including the prisoner that he died for in the concentration camp at Auschwitz during World War II.

Because Mother Teresa tried to love God with her whole heart, she had plenty of love left in her to share with the poorest and most destitute souls on planet earth.

Because my mother tried to love God with her whole heart, she had more than enough love left in her for my father, for my sister, for me—and for everyone else in her life.

“You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart; you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

May the Lord help us to be faithful to these two great commandments AS THEY ARE WRITTEN down for us in THE BIBLE—so that we will have all the love that we need for the Lord, for ourselves and for other people.


Sunday, October 18, 2020

How to ‘Give Caesar His Due’ On Election Day

Cyrus the Great of Persia


(Twenty-ninth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on October 18, 2020 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; Psalm 96:1-10; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5; Matthew 22:15-21.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-ninth Sunday 2020]


“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

Based on a quick reading of the gospel story we just heard, you might think that this is simply a command to pay your taxes.  But that’s too narrow an interpretation of the text.  Yes, the passage does teach us that we should honor all legitimate civil authority and obey the tax laws and other laws of our nation (unless, of course, those laws command us to do something contrary to God’s eternal law).  But giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s also includes other things—like participation in the political process.  In fact, paragraph 2240 of the Catechism explicitly states: “Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country.”

All that having been said, today is a perfect day to reflect on how we, as Catholics, are supposed to ‘give Caesar his due’ by voting in this year’s national election.

What are the ideas and principles that should guide us, as Catholics, in our choice of candidates?

That, I would say, is the key question we need to ponder.

That question was answered for many Catholics this past week, with a YouTube video that went viral.  The video was of a homily that was given last weekend by Fr. Edward Meeks, a Catholic priest from Christ the King Church in Towson, Maryland.

I’ll read a small portion of it to you this morning.  This is what every Catholic voter needs to know and understand (so make sure you spread the word to others between now and Election Day!).  Fr. Meeks said:

For us faithful Catholics, the starting point of our choice of whom to vote for needs to be that we intentionally think with the Church—something that too many Catholics have failed to do for far too long: a fact that has largely contributed to the dire condition of our culture today. The Church has clearly and consistently based her teaching on the Sacred Scriptures and on the living Tradition embodied in 2,000 years of her Magisterium.  That teaching has led to an array of foundational principles when it comes to us as Catholics and our moral and civic responsibilities. 

It’s not always easy to sift through the myriad of issues at play in presidential politics.  So it becomes crucial then that we properly prioritize those issues, because some are clearly more important than others.  We can respectfully disagree and we can have differences in prudential judgment and opinion on issues like the economy, taxation, immigration, national defense, trade, health care, climate change and so on.  But don’t get sidetracked by the spurious “seamless garment” theory espoused by many in the Church that asserts that issues like immigration and the environment are of equal weight with abortion—because there is a set of issues upon which Catholics must not disagree. 

Pope Benedict XVI specified those issues in his 2012 apostolic constitution, entitled, “Sacramentum Caritatis,” in which Benedict defined what he called our “non-negotiable values”—a concept which he repeated countless times in his pontificate.  Among the list of non-negotiable issues that he identified, chief among them are the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, the sanctity of marriage as the lifelong sacramental union of a man and a woman, and the preservation of religious liberty.  They are non-negotiable because they are of paramount importance in Catholic moral theology.  They are the moral principles where the Church draws a clear line in the sand. And in all of the fog and the confusion and spin that surrounds every political season we must, as faithful Catholics, conscientiously vote in such a way that best upholds and protects these non-negotiable values.  Again: the sanctity of life, the sanctity of marriage, and religious liberty. Not that other issues are unimportant, but these 3 are foundational to who we are as human beings and to what kind of society we are constructing.

I couldn’t have said it better myself!

In conclusion let me add one more point: Remember as we approach Election Day that not every candidate who calls himself a Catholic is with the Church concerning those most important matters mentioned in Fr. Meeks’ homily!  In fact, sometimes non-believers actually support the things of God a lot better than believers do. 

Think, for example, of Cyrus.

Cyrus was the civil leader mentioned in today’s first reading.  He was the King of Persia, who ruled from 559-529 B.C.  He was also a pagan, a Gentile, an unbeliever.  And yet, he is called “God’s anointed” in this text we just heard from Isaiah 45!

Why?  Because he allowed the people of Israel to return to their homeland and rebuild their sacred Temple after they had spent several decades in exile in Babylon. 

He conquered the Babylonians, and then he let the Israelites go home.

Even though he was a pagan, Cyrus of Persia did something that was morally righteous, and that made him a better civil leader than many of the Israelite kings of the past had been!  Thus the Hebrew Scriptures call him the “anointed” of the Lord.

May Almighty God help us to recognize the Cyruses of our generation—as well as the believers of our generation—who deserve our votes.  And may he help us to ‘give Caesar his due’ by actually casting our ballots for these candidates this November—and in every election thereafter.

Sunday, October 04, 2020

In a World of Moral Confusion, There Can be no Peace

(Twenty-seventh Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on October 4, 2020 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:9-20; Philippians 4:6-9; Matthew 21:33-43.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-seventh Sunday 2020]


In the movie, Schindler’s List, Amon Goeth, the commandant of the Nazi labor camp, took a young, Jewish girl to be his personal maidservant.  At one point in the film, this girl had a private and very disturbing conversation with Oskar Schindler.  With deep fear in her voice she said to him, “I know that someday my master will shoot me.”  Schindler, at first, couldn’t believe it, and he tried to assure her that the commandant was really quite fond of her.  But she insisted, “No, someday he will shoot me.”  She then spoke of what she had seen the previous day.  She said that she had seen him walk out of his quarters, draw his gun, and shoot a Jewish woman who was walking by with a bundle in her hand. 

Listen, now, to her description of the woman—and her very insightful comment.  She said, “Just a woman on her way somewhere.  No fatter, or thinner, or slower, or faster than anyone else; and I couldn’t guess what she had done [to provoke him].  The more you see of the commandant, the more you see there are no set rules that you can live by.  You can’t say to yourself, ‘If I follow these rules, I will be safe.’”

That girl was absolutely correct: In a world of moral confusion, there can be no safety, and, consequently, no peace.  She understood that in the “world” of that Nazi labor camp, right and wrong had been blurred to such an extent, that she couldn’t determine what was “right” in the mind of the commandant.  What pleased him at one moment might not please him in the next.  And if he happened to have a gun in his hand when he wasn’t pleased, she knew she could easily end up like the woman with the bundle in her hand.

In today’s world, most people say they want peace, do they not?  And yet, many of them also want their moral relativism: that is to say, they want to be able to define right and wrong for themselves.  But you cannot have both.  It’s not—and it never can be—peace and moral relativism; it’s either peace or it’s moral relativism. 

Consider, for example, terrorism.  Terrorism—which has been undermining efforts for peace all over the world for decades now—is a practice rooted in moral relativism.  The terrorist does not accept the objective, moral truth that the direct killing of innocent people is always wrong.  In his moral relativism, he’s convinced himself that killing innocent men, women, and children is acceptable—and sometimes even virtuous.

The people at Planned Parenthood think the very same way with respect to unborn babies.  So do many of the people who’ve been inciting riots and attacking the police in major cities all over the country since the horrible killing of George Floyd.  A lot of these rioters are professed Marxists—like the founders of the Black Lives Matter Movement—who want to literally tear our society and culture down and try to create their own socialist utopia.  They don’t want to reform the culture we have (which is what we should all want), rather they want to REPLACE the culture—ultimately, with chaos!  Defund the police?  Are they nuts?  Most African Americans in this country want MORE POLICE on the streets of their communities, not less!

If there’s ever going to be peace, the terrorists of the world (and that includes the domestic terrorists on our city streets) have to accept the objective, moral norm that innocent human life is always to be respected.

In a world of moral confusion, there can be no safety, and, consequently, no peace.

Please remember this when you go and vote in November.  If you vote for people who reject objective, moral standards, and support things like abortion, sexual immorality, violence and the like, then you are indirectly undermining world peace—whether you realize it or not.

Now I know this message about objective morality is not a popular one these days.  But the fact of the matter is it never has been!—as today’s Gospel text from Matthew 21 makes very clear.  Here Jesus tells a parable about a landowner who leased his vineyard out to tenants and then sent servants to the tenants at harvest time.  Those “servants” were the Old Testament prophets, who preached the Ten Commandments and “objective morality” to the people of Israel.  And what kind of reception did these prophets receive from the moral relativists in Old Testament Israel (of which there were many!)?  Jesus told us, using the imagery of the parable.  He said, “The tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned.  Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way.”

What a comforting thought to those of us who continue to preach this message!

I’ll give the final word today to St. Paul, who also knew and taught that objective morality is the only path to happiness and peace.  What he said to the Philippians in this second reading, he says to all of us this morning:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about THESE things.  Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me.  Then [and I might add ONLY then] will the God of peace be with you.