Sunday, December 27, 2020

Why Practicing Your Catholic Faith is Good for You and Your Family

(Holy Family 2020 (B): This homily was given on December 27, 2020 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalm 128:1-5; Colossians 1:12-21; Luke 2:22-40.)

 [For the audio version of this homily, click here: Holy Family 2020]


On the first Sunday after Christmas—even in a pandemic year—there are definitely many people in church for Mass who were also there on the Sunday before Christmas.  I’m sure most of you fit into that category.  But, hopefully, on the very first Sunday after December 25th there are at least a few people in church for Mass (here and in other places) who were NOT there on the Sunday before December 25th—or on the Sunday before that; or on the Sunday before that; or on the Sunday before that!

These are the souls who were touched by God’s grace in some way during the celebration of Christmas, and who made the decision to start practicing their Catholic faith again.

Well, if you’re one of those people, I want to reinforce your decision today in and through this homily.  And if you’re not one of those people—that is to say, if you’re someone who was in church last Sunday and has been faithful all along—I want to increase your level of dedication to your Catholic faith through what I say this morning, on this Feast of the Holy Family.

And so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the title of my homily today is: “Why practicing your faith is good for you and your family.” 

It’s very clear from today’s gospel reading that Jesus, Mary and Joseph—the members of the Holy Family—were Jews who took their religion very seriously.  Jesus was consecrated to God in the Temple in obedience to the Law of Moses, which stated that “every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord.”

We heard that a few moments ago.  And notice it says that the members of the Holy Family did not go back to their hometown of Nazareth until (and here I quote) “they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord.”

Later on we read in Luke that Mary, Jesus and Joseph traveled to Jerusalem every year to celebrate Passover, the most sacred feast in Judaism.  Our Lord attended synagogue regularly—not just on the High Holy Days.

They were a family of practicing Jews.  And practicing their religion was good for them: it gave their lives the right center; it gave their lives meaning and direction; and it taught them how to love and serve God and one another. 

That, of course, was 2,000 years ago.  We live in a different time, and in a different culture.  But I believe the truth still applies: When you go to church and practice your religion, it makes a positive difference in your personal life and in the life of your family—especially if your religion is Catholicism (which teaches the fullness of God’s revealed truth)!

And this is something that even honest secular researchers will acknowledge.  If they’re researching deviant behavior, for example, and they divide people into two groups: people who practice their religion, and people who don’t, there will almost always be a huge difference in the numbers!  The amount of lying, and cheating, and stealing, etc., will almost always be much greater in the “non-practicing” group.

The other day I made a short list of some practical benefits that I’ve observed in families that practice their Catholic faith.  (This is not an exhaustive list; you could probably name many others.)

#1 When a family practices its Catholic faith, parents have another authority—the Ultimate Authority—to appeal to in dealing with their children!  “Do it because I say so” can only get you so far, parents.  If that’s the only weapon in your arsenal, sooner or later your children will say (or at least think), “And who are you, mom?  And who are you, dad?  With all due respect, you’re just an imperfect human being like me.”  But if you can say, “Do it because Almighty God wants you to do it; do it because it’s HIS will”—that carries a lot more weight.

#2 When a family practices its Catholic faith, everyone learns the importance of forgiveness.  And let’s face it, no family—no marriage—no friendship—no interpersonal relationship—survives for very long without forgiveness.

And beyond that, practicing your Catholic faith also provides you with concrete examples of how to forgive (especially in Jesus).

#3 As was the case for Jesus, Mary and Joseph, practicing your religion presents everyone in the family with the right set of priorities—the right “center,” so to speak.

#4 When a family practices its Catholic faith, everyone learns to be accountable and responsible for their actions—which apparently is not a lesson that most high school students are learning in their classrooms (or online) these days! In a well-known study by the Josephson Institute several years ago, almost 30,000 students were surveyed: 64% of them admitted they had cheated on a test in the past year; 30% had stolen from a store; 42% had lied to save money—but 93% said that they were satisfied with their personal ethics and character.

Not a lot of responsibility and accountability there, unfortunately.  I don’t think much has changed since that study was done.  If anything, it’s probably gotten worse.

What I wonder is how many of those young people went to church every week.  That’s a question they didn’t ask in the survey—but they should have!

#5 When a family practices its Catholic faith, everyone learns the importance of thinking of others; everyone learns the importance of helping others.  That’s another benefit.  As Jesus said, “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me.”

And finally, #6 when a family practices its Catholic faith, every family member has the opportunity to get on—or to stay on—or to get back on—the road to heaven, which is the ultimate goal of our existence here on earth.

So aren’t you glad you’re here at Mass today—or watching it online?  You should be!

Hopefully this will motivate you to come back (or at least tune in) next Sunday and every Sunday thereafter—and to practice your faith on the other six days of the week as well—for your own good, and for the good of your family.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Christmas Lessons from COVID-19

(Christmas 2020: This homily was given on December 25, 2020 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98:1-6; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-14.)

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


What is it?  See if you can figure out what “it” is; see if you can figure out what it is that I’m talking about here. 

  •         You can’t see it with your naked eye, but you can definitely see the effects of it;
  •          You can have it and not know that you have it;
  •          It affects everyone in some way;
  •          You have to take it seriously if you want to stay healthy;
  •          You can do some things to protect yourself from it;
  •          It can be deadly;
  •          It directly affects your relationships with other people;
  •          However it is possible for you to be restored to health even if you have a serious case of it.  That’s the good news.

So, what is “it”?  Well, I’ll give you all a hint … it is NOT the coronavirus!  It is NOT COVID-19—although all these points do apply in some way to COVID-19.

The “it” I’m talking about here is “sin”!  Sin.  Think about how these 8 points apply to sin.

  •  Point number 1: You can’t see it with your naked eye, but you can definitely see the effects of it.  That’s true.  You can’t see sin per se with your eyes like you see physical objects in the world, but you can—and do!—see the effects of sin, in your own life and in the lives of others.   We all saw the effects of sin, for example, on the streets of some of our major cities this past summer with all the rioting and looting and violence against the police.
  • Number 2: You can have it and not know that you have it.  You can have sin on your soul—serious sin on your soul—and mistakenly think that you’re in perfect health spiritually.  Think of how many people today have convinced themselves that certain sins are not sins.  Sins like hatred, unforgiveness, abortion, illicit sexual activity outside of marriage—either with yourself, with someone of the opposite sex, or with someone of the same sex.  These things are not considered to be sins anymore by a growing number of people.  But they are.
  • Point number 3: It effects everyone in some way.  In other words, we’re all sinners.  What I preach to you I have to preach first to myself, because I’m a sinner too.
  • Point number 4: You have to take it seriously if you want to stay healthy.  Just as we have to take the coronavirus seriously to keep our bodies healthy, so we need to take our sin seriously if we want to stay spiritually healthy.  That’s why it’s important to examine your conscience at some point every day.
  • Number 5: You can do some things to protect yourself from it.  We can protect ourselves from the virus through things like wearing masks and practicing social distancing; and we can protect ourselves from sin through prayer and the sacraments, by cultivating healthy friendships, and by trying to avoid the near occasion of sin in our daily lives.
  •  And we need to do these things because, as we see in point number 6, it can be deadly!  What COVID-19 can do to your body, mortal sin can do to your soul—which is even worse in the grand scheme of things.  It’s worse because the mortal body you have right now will not last forever, but your soul will.
  •  But that’s not the only reason that we need to repent of our sins.  We also need to do it because, as point number 7 reminds us: It directly affects our relationships with other people!  Think of how this virus has affected our relationships!  It has not been good.  It has physically distanced us from other people—even our loved ones, even members of our own families.  Well, that’s precisely what sin does to us in the spiritual dimension of things—it alienates us from others.  It puts a barrier between spouses, friends, family members, and others.  It destroys relationships.

Happily—and thankfully—there’s one more point on my list, which is why we’re here today.  It applies to the coronavirus (praise God), but even more importantly, it applies to sin: any sin, every sin, ALL SIN!  Number 8 reads: However, it is possible for you to be restored to health even if you have a serious case of it.  That’s the good news.

Thankfully, many do recover from COVID-19, even after having a serious case of the disease.  They may have to experience some time on a ventilator and/or in ICU—but, if they get the right treatment, they do get better.

Well, the same is true of sin!  If you get the right treatment, you can be freed from it.  If you get the right treatment, even the worst of your sins can be forgiven.  But that forgiveness is only possible because of what God did for us in sending his Son into the world 2,000 years ago.  As Bishop Sheen used to say, we are all born into this world to live, but Jesus was born into this world to DIE.  He came to free us from the eternal consequences of our sins and reconcile us to God the Father.  It was impossible for us to do that for ourselves, because we’re only human—hence our actions only have relative value.  The only man who could reconcile the whole world to God was Jesus Christ, since he was both human AND DIVINE!  That’s why Christmas is so important!  The divine Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  As man Jesus could represent all of us and every human person before the Heavenly Father, and as God all his actions had infinite value.  Hence his one act of atonement, his one act of dying on the cross on Good Friday, has made God’s mercy and forgiveness available to the whole human race.

That’s what we celebrate today; that’s what we celebrate (or at least that’s what we’re supposed to celebrate) every Christmas.

And, really, it’s all there in Jesus’ name.  His name literally means, “Savior”.  His name reveals his identity; his name reveals the purpose of his coming into the world.  That’s why the angel told St. Joseph, “[Your wife Mary] will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.  It’s also why the angel said to the shepherds, “I proclaim to you news of great joy …today in the city of David a savior has been born to you who is Christ and Lord.”

A savior!  The angel didn’t call him a great teacher, or a great moralist, or a great miracle worker (although Jesus was all of those things and much, much more); rather, the angel called him a “savior”, because, first and foremost, that’s what our Lord was.

Which is good news, because the fact of the matter is that we all need to be saved from our sins—constantly.  And if we don’t think we do—if we don’t think that we sin—then spiritually I would say we’re just like those people who have the coronavirus but are asymptomatic.  We have the condition, but we’re not aware of it—which, as we all know, with the virus can be a very dangerous situation for us and for those around us.

The same is true spiritually.

Let me conclude my homily today by saying that I believe the Lord is extending an invitation to us this Christmas.  He’s inviting us to learn some important SPIRITUAL lessons from the coronavirus and our experience of the past nine months—because this virus acts on our bodies a lot like sin acts on our souls.  Hopefully I’ve made that clear in the last several minutes.  Now, unfortunately, there is no vaccine against sin—that’s one big difference between it and the virus.

But God has given us an effective “treatment” for our sins.  It’s called “mercy and forgiveness”.  For serious sins that treatment comes to us primarily through the sacrament of Baptism and the sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession).  That’s why we should go to Confession regularly.  When was the last time you went?

Many people will get the COVID-19 vaccine in the next several months, praise God!  But I wonder how many of those people will go to Confession in the same time frame. I would say that it’s foolishness—it’s absolute foolishness—to get a vaccine to keep your body healthy while at the same time rejecting or ignoring God’s treatment for your soul.  Your body will last, at most, another century or so.  Your soul, on the other hand, will live forever.

Let me leave you now with this thought.  Remember:


  • The vaccine for COVID-19 is good, but God’s treatment for sin is better.
  • The vaccine for COVID-19 is important, but God’s treatment for sin is much more important.
  • The vaccine for COVID-19 is optional, but God’s treatment for sin is not optional.
  • The vaccine for COVID-19 will hopefully give you more years of life here on this earth, but God’s treatment for sin will give you eternal life in heaven.

So consider getting the COVID-19 vaccine, by all means!  But never, ever neglect to get God’s treatment for your sins whenever you need to.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Joy and ‘Circumstances’

(Third Sunday of Advent (B): This homily was given on December 13, 2020 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11; Luke 1:46-54; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28.)

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

Most people would probably say that the opposite of joy is sorrow.

But I would say that the opposite of joy—at this time of the year, at least—is not sorrow; rather it’s “circumstances.”

I say that because our sorrow at this time of year, during these 4 weeks of Advent, is usually rooted in circumstances—negative circumstances—challenging circumstances—discouraging and depressing circumstances—either in our own families and personal lives, or somewhere out there in the world.

I’m sure we all can remember bad things that have happened in years past just before Christmas.  When I was a student at Providence College, for example, they had a terrible dorm fire in Aquinas Hall one night in mid-December, which killed ten young women.  I think of that tragic event every year at this time.  It’s one of the negative circumstances I have to deal with annually during Advent.  Getting diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease two days before Christmas in 2010 is another one I have on my list.

We all have our lists, don’t we?  At or near the top of almost everyone’s list this year are the restrictions and inconveniences and aggravations that COVID-19 has brought into our daily lives.  But it even goes beyond that.  Perhaps some of you lost a loved one this December, or in a December of the past; maybe you lost your job this month—or maybe you lost it this month a year ago and have been unemployed ever since.  Or perhaps it’s just the moral decline and growing secularization of our society that’s getting you discouraged—or the latest goings-on in the world of politics.

That’ll get you depressed really quickly! 

And then we come to Mass on this Third Sunday of Advent and the Church tells us to “Rejoice!”  In our first reading Isaiah says, “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul!”  In the responsorial psalm we say (or sing), “My soul rejoices in my God.”  And then St. Paul tells us in this text from 1 Thessalonians 5 to “Rejoice ALWAYS”—not just sometimes, not just when things are going well, not just in good circumstances on sunny days in July—but ALWAYS!

Today is Gaudete Sunday.  It’s the Sunday when we light the pink candle on the Advent wreath, signifying that Advent is more than half over and that Christmas is fast approaching.  Gaudete in Latin literally means, “Rejoice!”  It’s an imperative; it’s a command—from Jesus, through his Church.

But it’s a tough command for many of us to obey as much as we might like to, because of those negative circumstances I mentioned earlier.  Now to some extent, these realities are always present in our lives and in our world; however they do seem to have more of a negative impact on us at this time of year.  I think that’s because (in a normal, non-pandemic year) with all the festivity and celebration that goes on around us, it can seem like everyone else is perfectly happy and having a great time.

But that’s an illusion.  As I indicated a few moments ago, everyone has a list of circumstances—circumstances that threaten to undermine their joy.  Even if they don’t seem to have a list, trust me, they do!

So here’s the situation we find ourselves in during this holy season (and to some extent throughout the year): Either our negative circumstances will overcome our joy, or joy will overcome our negative circumstances.

It’s either one or the other.

If circumstances win out in us, we will be miserable; if joy wins, then we’ll be able to rejoice in the way that our Scriptures today tell us to.  We’ll be able to do that in spite of all our problems.

In a homily he gave several years ago, Fr. Roger Landry, who’s a priest from the Diocese of Fall River, made a list of 4 things that can rob us of our joy (4 things, in other words, that can cause negative circumstances to win the victory in us).  See if you can identify with any of these:

The first is self-pity: “Oh woe is me—I have so many problems; I have so many more problems than other people have.  I have more cooking to do than anyone else.  I have more shopping to do than anyone else.  I have more aches and pains than anyone else.  I have to go and listen to Fr. Ray every week at church.  Poor, poor me!”

You know the kind of litany I’m talking about.   

The second is worry.  Worry and joy cannot co-exist, just like self-pity and joy cannot co-exist.  In his homily, Fr. Landry mentioned Pope John XXIII, who, as you might imagine, had an awful lot to worry about as the leader of the Church at the beginning of Vatican II.  But he conquered his worry through prayer—by consciously and consistently putting his own life and the life of the Church into God’s hands.  Fr. Landry wrote, “Pope John XXIII, who had responsibility for the whole Church, used to go in to visit the Lord in his private chapel each night and give the problems back to [God], saying, ’It’s your Church, Lord, I’m going to bed.’”

Sometimes the simplest prayers are the best!

The third thing that can undermine joy happens, Fr. Landry says, “When we place our happiness in something other than God, on acclaim, advancement, promotion, recognition, fame, prestige, power, money, anything.”  And this is exactly what the world encourages us to do at this time of year, is it not?  No wonder so many people are miserable!  The cultural message we get every December is, “Buy this, and you’ll be happy”; “Drink this, eat this, get this game, have this at your party and you’ll have Christmas joy in your heart.”

It’s a lie, but it’s a lie that many people believe—or at least they act like they believe it.

Which brings us to the 4th reality that can ruin joy: complaining.  Chronic complainers are fixated on the negative, and being fixated on the negative makes rejoicing almost impossible.  As Fr. Landry put it, “We lose our joy by complaining.”  He then added, “Some of us would have complained about the menu at the Last Supper.”

I’m sure that’s not true of anyone here in our parish, but apparently it was true of some people in his.

The final point that needs to be made in all this concerns the alternative.  Yes, self-pity, worry, focusing on things other than God and complaining all rob us of joy—that’s true.  But what’s the alternative?  What is it that will deepen our joy in December and in every other month of the year?  What will give us the ability to rejoice always, as St. Paul tells us to in today’s second reading?

The answer is simple, but very hard to put into practice: We need to focus on what we know, by faith, to be true.  In other words, we need to reflect and meditate on what we believe about God and about life—and about ourselves!  This, not surprisingly, is where Isaiah the prophet found his joy.  Notice what he says here.  He says, “I rejoice heartily in the Lord (not in things—not in other people—not in the good circumstances of life—IN THE LORD!), in my God is the joy of my soul!”  The psalm refrain (which is a direct quote from Mary in her Magnificat) has the same message: “My soul rejoices in my God.”

Mary and Isaiah understood this principle.

So the bottom line is this: God created you in his image and likeness.  He loves you, perfectly, completely and unconditionally.  He sent his Son into this world 2,000 years ago to save you from your sins and to give you a kingdom that will last forever.  He will never abandon you, and will always provide for your needs.

Those are some of the foundational truths of our Catholic faith.  They were true yesterday; they’re true today; they will always be true. 

That means they will be true in the best circumstances of our lives and in the absolute worst of circumstances of our lives!  So we can always rejoice in them, because they are unchanging!  They’re timeless!  My health may change, my family may change, my friends may change, my job situation may change, I may test positive for the coronavirus tomorrow—but the truth of who God is and what he has done for me will never, ever change. 

So that’s where my focus and yours needs to be, in December—and always.


Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Friendship with Mary


(Immaculate Conception 2020: This homily was given on December 8, 2020 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Genesis 3:9-20; Psalm 98:1-4; Ephesians 1:3-12; Luke 1: 26-38.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Immaculate Conception 2020]


It’s a very interesting phenomenon—a phenomenon that’s been observed many times on battlefields all over the world.  When soldiers are severely wounded in battle and on the threshold of death, the person they usually call out for is not their spouse; it’s not one of their children; it’s not their best friend.  The person they most often call out for is their mother!  Perhaps it’s because when children have problems in their young lives the person they normally go to first—the person who seems to have all the answers and can make them feel safe and secure in a difficult situation—is their mother.

Everyone needs a mother, and everyone needs a mother’s love.  Jesus, of course, knew that—which is why he gave us his Mother—the Blessed Virgin Mary—to be our heavenly Mother.  He did that when he hung on the cross on Good Friday and said to the Beloved Disciple (who represented all of us): “Son, behold your Mother.”

We’re all the children of Mary, whether we realize it or not.  Pope St. John Paul II, as many of you know, was someone who took his status as Mary’s child very seriously.  His earthly mother died when he was only 9-years-old.  After her death, encouraged by his devout father, John Paul began to look more and more to Mary as his mother.  I read an article this past week, in which it said that the future pope and his dad visited a nearby shrine not long after his mom’s passing, and at one point his father pointed to a portrait of the Blessed Mother and said to him, “Your mother is dead.  This is your mother now.”

Young Karol Wojtyla (the future John Paul II) needed a mother—and he had one, provided for him by God.  And so do we.  But for our heavenly Mother to do for us what she wants to do for us we need to build our relationship with her, we need to grow in our love for her.  We do that, first and foremost, by meditating on the Scriptures and on what the Scriptures tell us about our Blessed Mother.  The Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit—so what the Bible says to us about Mary is what the Holy Spirit says to us about Mary.

And then, of course, we need to pray the Rosary (or at least part of it) every single day without exception.  The Rosary is an extremely powerful prayer.  Almost every canonized saint in the last 8 centuries has told us that.  And I believe the whole world has seen the power the Rosary firsthand in some recent historical events (more about that in a minute).

There are also other prayers we can say and other of things we can do (above and beyond reading the Bible and praying the Rosary) that can help us develop our relationship with the Blessed Mother.  I’ll only mention two of them today—specifically because Pope John Paul II mentions these in his book, “Crossing the Threshold of Hope”.

One is sacred images.  We can develop our relationship with Mary by meditating on sacred images of her. John Paul said that in his childhood he would often go to his parish church and pray before an image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.  Later on in his life he prayed a number of times in the presence of the Black Madonna in Czestochowa, Poland.  Sacred images helped him connect with the Blessed Mother in a deeper way.

So did pilgrimages—which is the second point he makes in his book that I’ll highlight today.  I said earlier that John Paul’s father told him that Mary was his mother after his own mom had died.  That happened at a local shrine to the Blessed Mother.  John Paul learned other important lessons at other shrines.  We know how very important the shrine at Fatima in Portugal was to him.  He credited Mary with saving his life on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima (May 13) in 1981 after he was shot in St. Peter’s Square.  As he later said, after they told him that it was miraculous that the bullet missed all his vital organs, “The gunman fired the gun, but Mary guided the bullet.”

Having a relationship with Mary—being a close friend of our Blessed Mother—can literally save your life (sometimes here on earth—as was the case with John Paul II, but most certainly for eternity).

It can also bring us greater peace.  In fact, I believe that Mary is a key figure in what God wants to do in our world right now to make peace more of a reality for everyone.  She’s the instrument God wants to use to bring people together—even people of different faiths.

Now you might say, “But, Fr. Ray, every Protestant I know says Mary is the problem, not the solution!  They say that Mary divides us and takes us away from Jesus.”

I realize that, but in most cases that’s because they don’t understand what the Church actually teaches about her.

For many years we’ve bought into the false idea that Mary is to be ignored in our dealings with people of other faiths because Mary somehow drives a wedge between us; but I’ve come to realize that the exact opposite is true!  Mary is actually the key to greater unity—even with Jews and Muslims.

Did you know, for example, that Muslims have a deep regard for the Blessed Mother?  She’s mentioned over 30 times in the Koran.  No other woman is mentioned even once!  There she’s described as “Virgin, ever Virgin.”  Imagine, the very doctrine certain liberal Christians reject—the perpetual virginity of Mary—is accepted by Muslims!

Concerning his daughter Fatima, Mohammad—the founder of Islam—said this: “She has the highest place in heaven AFTER the Virgin Mary.”

Is it a coincidence that in 1917 Mary appeared to 3 children in a place which was named after a Muslim convert to the Catholic faith: a woman who at birth had been named after Mohammad’s daughter?  I don’t think that was a coincidence, I think it was a God-incidence!  In fact, many Muslims today actually make pilgrimages to the Catholic shrine of Mary located there in Fatima, Portugal.    

This means that as we speak, Mary is already bringing Christians and Muslims together in peace.

And don’t you think that Mary can also be a bridge between Christians and Jews?  What better way to share the Good News with someone of the Jewish faith than to speak to them about the greatest human person who ever lived: a Jewish mother!—one of their own who was faithful to the Mosaic Law, as St. Luke clearly indicates in his infancy narrative.

Today’s feast, of course, reminds us of this; it reminds us of our Blessed Mother’s holiness and greatness.  Today we celebrate the feast of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception, which refers to Mary’s conception in the womb of her mother, St. Ann—not to the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary at the Annunciation (many people get those two events mixed up).  The Immaculate Conception prepared Mary to be the mother of Jesus, but the Immaculate Conception itself refers to the fact that Mary, by a special grace from God, was preserved from original sin from the moment of her conception in her mother’s womb.

And then, of course, she never committed a single sin in her entire life—which is why she was the greatest human person who ever lived.  (Jesus, remember, was a divine person, so he’s in a different category.)

And what about our Protestant brothers and sisters?  It’s been my experience that once devout Protestants understand what the Church really teaches about Mary, many of them fall in love with the Blessed Mother, and they realize that she’s a great Biblical role model for them.  Why?  Because committed Protestants are devoted to God’s written Word (which is great!), and they want to obey Jesus.  Well guess what?  Mary was also devoted to God’s Word and wanted people to obey Jesus!  This is illustrated in her two famous lines from Scripture: “Be it done unto me, O Lord, according to your Word,” and, “Do whatever he [i.e. Jesus] tells you.”

So you see, Mary is not a barrier as many have mistakenly believed all these years, she’s actually a bridge—the bridge I believe God wants to use to bring greater peace to our world in the third millennium.

And we have a precedent for this.  We’ve already seen historically how Mary can have a decisive role in bringing peace to a potentially cataclysmic situation.  (I alluded to this earlier.) Remember the Cold War?  Remember the threat that Soviet Communism was to the security of this nation?  Remember the fallout shelters?  Remember the threats of nuclear annihilation? 

If I had told you forty years ago that the Berlin Wall would someday be torn down, and that the Soviet Union would come to an end without a major military conflict of some sort, how would you have responded?

Let’s be honest about it, you probably would have laughed in my face and said, “Sure, Fr. Ray.  That’s a really nice thought—a really nice idea—but that’s all it is, an idea.  It will never, ever happen that way.” 

But it did.

And even secular historians admit that one of the major players—if not THE major player—in this peaceful collapse of the Soviet bloc was John Paul II.  And many of them maintain that the collapse began in June of 1979, when the pope went to his native country of Poland for the very first time.  Do you remember the news footage of the Polish Communist leader, General Jaruzelski, visibly trembling in the presence of the Holy Father?  Historians tell us that that papal visit sent shock waves throughout the Communist world, and ignited a “revolution of conscience” among the people, because for the very first time someone had publicly confronted a Communist leader on his own turf and had lived to talk about it!

At Fatima in 1917 the Blessed Mother had told the world to pray the Rosary for the conversion of Russia.  I believe that God combined the grace from all those rosaries that were said for more than seventy years (and from all the Masses that were said during that time) with the actions of a pope intensely dedicated to the Blessed Mother, to put an end to an oppressive, godless form of government in eastern Europe that had been responsible for the murder of millions of people in the 20th century.

As Peter Cetera once put it in an old 1980s song, “Just goes to prove what one good woman can do”—especially when the woman in question happens to be the Mother of God.

So the bottom line is this: If you really want peace, increase your devotion to the Blessed Mother!  Be more like John Paul II!  Love Mary; go to Mary; pray to Mary.  Pray the Rosary—or at least one decade of it—every day, asking our Lady’s special intercession for peace with the Muslim world, for peace with people of all other religions and with people who have no religion—and for greater peace here in our own country.

Because, Lord knows, we need it.


Sunday, December 06, 2020

The Incredible and Awesome Patience of God

(Second Sunday of Advent (B): This homily was given on December 6, 2020 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:9014; 2 Peter 3:8-15; Mark 1:1-8.)

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

Rev. Martin E. Pike, Jr. wrote the following about an experience he once had at a restaurant:

Three minutes had passed since I had taken my seat at the counter.  Waitresses passed me by; two cooks and a busboy took no notice of my presence.  My ego was soothed only because the truck driver seated next to me was ignored as well.  “Maybe this counter is off limits,” I said to him.  “Maybe they’re short of help,” he responded.

“Maybe they don’t want our business,” I said.  “Maybe they’re taking care of those at the tables,” was his reply.  The hands on the clock continued to move.  “Maybe they don’t like us,” I insisted.  “The air conditioning feels so good I don’t mind waiting,” he said.

At this point a harried waitress stopped to tell us that the water had been cut off, and the dishwasher was not functioning.  My nameless compatriot smiled and thanked the waitress and left.  I did not like him.

Three times I had sought his support for my obnoxious attitude, but he had let me down.  Only later did I realize that he had chosen to practice what I preach.


Whenever we struggle with patience (as Reverend Pike did in that restaurant, and as many of us do many times every day), it would be good to reflect on the incredible and awesome patience of God.  Yes—as Reverend Pike finally realized—the anonymous truck driver exercised a great deal of patience that day in the crowded restaurant.  In all honesty, I have not done as well in similar circumstances.  I can identify with Reverend Pike.

And yet, as great as it was, the patience of that truck driver was incredibly small, compared to the patience of our heavenly Father.  In fact, if we compared the truck driver’s patience to a single grain of sand, then we’d have to say that God’s patience is like the whole Sahara Desert!

To drive home this point, ask yourself this question this morning: If I were God, how patient would I be? 

·         If you were the Almighty (a scary thought, I know!) and you looked down from your heavenly throne, and you saw your creatures blaspheming your name constantly, using your name and the name of your Son as curse words, how patient would you be?

·         If you saw your creatures misusing the talents and gifts which you gave them: artists who create blasphemous images and call it “fine art”; talk show hosts and other celebrities who attack religion and especially Christianity whenever they can; lawyers and politicians who go after groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor to try to force them to violate their consciences and pay for medical procedures that are immoral.  If you saw all these things as God, how patient would you be?

·         If you saw your beloved sons and daughters holding grudges against relatives and friends, slandering each other, hating each other, cheating each other, killing each other, how patient would you be? 

·         If you saw them burning their cities down and looting honest businesses, how patient would you be?

·         If you saw people whom you created in your image and likeness misusing their precious gift of sexuality through every type of perversion imaginable from pornography to artificial contraception to adultery to pre-marital sex—and marketing it all over the world, how patient would you be? 

·         If you created the souls of millions and millions of babies, and those babies were brutally murdered in the womb by doctors who are supposed to defend life and preserve it, how patient would you be? 

·         If you saw your creatures selling the body parts of aborted babies to get rich (like Planned Parenthood has done in the past), how patient would you be? 

·         If you saw your children doing all these things, in spite of the fact that you have given them everything they need to know the truth and live it, how patient would you be?


“Not very, Fr. Ray.”  That’s exactly right.  And if we think otherwise, then we obviously don’t know ourselves very well.  The fact is, God is far, far more patient than we can even imagine—which is actually good news for us and for everyone else in the world! 

Why do I mention this today?  Because this is St. Peter’s message to us in our second reading.  This passage, which we heard a few moments ago, is taken from the third chapter of his second letter.  He says there, “The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard ‘delay,’ but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”  Why is the Lord so unbelievably patient?  According to what St. Peter tells us in this text, it’s because the Lord is infinitely merciful.  The Lord wants all of us to be saved, and so he patiently gives us every opportunity to repent and change our lives.  As Peter says later on in verse 15 of this chapter, “Our Lord’s patience is directed toward salvation.” 

And so it’s not a coincidence that St. Paul—a good friend of St. Peter—wrote the following when he was speaking about his own conversion: [This is from his first letter to Timothy, chapter one] “You can depend on this as worthy of full acceptance: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  Of these I myself am the worst.  But on that very account I was dealt with mercifully, so that in me, as an extreme case, Jesus Christ might display all his patience, and that I might become an example to those who would later have faith in him and gain everlasting life.”

The very same St. Paul tells us in Romans 15:5 that God is “the source of all patience.”  From what I’ve said thus far, that fact should be crystal clear.  But the follow-up question to all this is: Will it ever run out?  Yes, the Lord’s patience is infinite, but, if we’re in the state of mortal sin, will there ever come a moment when our access to this infinite fount of patience will be stopped? 

The answer, of course, is yes.  Simply put, the Lord’s patience will run out for us, whenever time runs out for us.  Which is precisely why St. Peter begins to talk about the day of the Lord immediately after he gives us this insight about God’s patience.  He says, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief” (reminding us that we do not know the moment of our death: the moment when our access to God’s patience will come to an end); and then he exhorts us to holiness, saying “be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.” 

I suppose you could say that the only difference between the saints and the damned is that the saints were wise enough to take advantage of God’s great patience.  They didn’t allow it to go to waste.  When they needed to repent, they did; when they needed to go to Confession, they didn’t put it off.

Is it a coincidence that this reading from 2 Peter is followed by this text from Mark’s Gospel which tells us about John the Baptist and his ministry?  No way.  Those who were baptized in the Jordan River by John as they confessed their sins were men and women who were trying to take advantage of the superabundant patience of Almighty God.  While they had time, they reached out to their heavenly Father seeking his mercy.  That same patient, merciful Lord waits for us to do the very same thing during this season of Advent.