Sunday, February 28, 2021

Hold On—But Not Too Tightly


The Sacrifice of Isaac

(Second Sunday of Lent (B): This homily was given on February 28, 2021 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Genesis 22:1-18; Psalm 116; Romans 8:31-34; Mark 9:2-10.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Second Sunday of Lent 2021]

Hold on—but not too tightly.

This is one of the keys to doing God’s will on this earth.  It’s also one of the keys in helping others to do the will of God in their lives. 

“Holding on,” in the sense that I’m using the expression in this homily, is something all of us do every day, whether we are conscious of it or not.  Specifically, we hold on to other people.  That is to say, we rely on them; we develop bonds of friendship and affection with them.  We do that because we’re social beings.  As John Donne once said, “No man is an island.”  We grow up in families; we attend schools; we live in neighborhoods and communities.  This is how God created us.  In fact, it’s one of the reasons why his Son established a Church (a community of believers).  As we’re told in the very first paragraph of the Catechism: “[God] calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church.”

But there’s a danger that comes with “holding on” to other people in this life, and we need to be aware of it.  The danger is that we will hold on to them too tightly.  This happens whenever we try to control or manipulate someone for our own selfish ends—by putting them, for example, on a “guilt trip.” 

Have you ever heard something like this on your voice mail or answering machine?—“Hello, Johnny, this is your mother calling.  You remember me, don’t you?  I’m the lady who brought you into this world (after 3 horrible days of labor, as I recall!).  I’m also the one who made all those sacrifices for you for 25 years.  I hope you come to see me soon.  I’m so lonely, you know.  I just sit around here all day and stare at these four ugly walls.  And then I cry.  But don’t worry about me—I know you’ve got your own life to live.  Goodbye.  Have a nice day.”

Have you ever heard anything like that before?  That’s a perfect illustration of what it means to hold on too tightly.

Now if we’re being honest, we will admit that this is a state of mind that can affect any one of us—at least from time to time.  But I would say that parents are especially vulnerable to it, simply because of their great love for their children.  In fact, I think there are men and women in the world right now who actually married the wrong person because of interference from mom and dad or some other member of the family (in effect, because they held on too tightly); and there are others whose marriages have broken up for the same reason.

Whenever we try to control or manipulate another human being—even if we do it in the name of love!—we’re holding on to them too tightly.  Much too tightly.

This is also a tendency we have to battle when someone close to us passes away.  As many of us know by experience, “letting go” of loved ones who have died is sometimes extremely difficult.  Those of  you who were blessed to have your parents for 70 or 80 years; those of you who lost your spouse after 40 or 50 years of marriage—you know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you?  It was a struggle (and perhaps still is a struggle) to let go of them on an emotional level. 

I knew a woman many years ago who was deeply in love with her husband.  They had been married over 40 years, and they were constantly together.  He suffered a massive heart attack one day at work, and died shortly thereafter.  She was a woman who was in church every Sunday and sometimes even during the week, but in her grief she actually tried to take her own life a few months after her husband passed away.  Without a doubt, she was holding on to him much too tightly.  She needed to let go of him emotionally—even though it was extremely painful and difficult.

I mention this today because it’s exactly what Abraham had to do with respect to his son, Isaac; it’s also what Peter, James and John had to do with respect to Jesus. 

In asking Abraham to sacrifice his son on Mount Moriah, God was challenging him to “let go”.  In effect, the Lord was saying to him, “I know how much you love this boy.  He’s the child you waited 100 years to have; he’s the child through which my promises to you will be fulfilled.  And I have a marvelous plan for his life.  Will you, Abraham, allow me to fulfill that plan, or will you stand in the way?  Your job as a parent is to love and care for your son: to instruct him in the truth; to affirm him in the good he does; and to discipline him when necessary.  But you are not the Lord of his life, I am!  So do not cling to him too tightly!  Let go of him now, so that he will be free to do what I want him to do, and fulfill my perfect plan for his life.”

Something similar happens in the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus, which we heard a few moments ago in that Gospel text from Mark 9.  Remember, when this event occurred historically, Peter, James and John had been living with Jesus for 3 years.  In the process, they had come to rely on his physical presence with them.  And that’s completely understandable!  Whenever they wanted help, guidance, or direction, all they had to do was walk up to our Lord and ask him for it.  And they did.  We all would have done the same thing if we had been in their shoes. 

Well, within a few short weeks all that would change: Jesus would be crucified, and he would never again be with them in exactly the same way.  Yes, he would always be with them spiritually and sacramentally—but that’s different than the way he was with them during the 3 years he was walking around Palestine!  To prepare them for this radical change, Jesus allowed Peter, James and John to see him transfigured on Mount Tabor.  His message to them was, “Remember what you’re seeing here, my friends.  You have been holding on to me tightly for 3 years by relying on my physical presence with you.  But within a few weeks I will be crucified, and you will be forced to let go.  And yet, I will still be with you.  In fact, I’ll be with you always until the end of the world.  See me transfigured; see my divinity!  So you will still be able to hold on to me—but you’ll have to learn to do it in a very different way.”

Eventually, thank God, they learned the lesson.

So did Abraham, with respect to Isaac.  He held on to his son in love (as any good father would)—but not too tightly.

Let’s pray that in our relationships with other human beings on this earth—especially our relatives and close friends—we will do the same.


Sunday, February 21, 2021

Why the Holy Spirit Sometimes Drives Us into the Desert

"The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert"

(First Sunday of Lent (B): This homily was given on February 21, 2021 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm 25:4-9; 1 Peter3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15.)

 [For the audio version of this homily, click here: First Sunday of Lent 2021]

This short passage from chapter 1 of the Gospel of Mark begins with a very odd statement: “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert.”

“The SPIRIT drove Jesus out into the desert.” 

The desert was a barren, dangerous wasteland; it was a place of trial, testing, and loneliness.  Why would the Holy Spirit drive Jesus into such a place?   Did the Spirit make a mistake?  Was the Holy Spirit in a bad mood that day?  Well, of course not.  The Holy Spirit is the all-loving, all-perfect, all-holy Third Person of the Blessed Trinity: he never makes a mistake, and he’s never in a bad mood. 

But that still doesn’t address the issue.  How can we explain the fact that the Spirit propelled our Lord into this terrible situation?  The simple answer is: He did it for our benefit; he drove Jesus into the desert for our sake.  In the wilderness, Jesus overcame every temptation which Satan threw at him.  Thus he showed us that by HIS power we can overcome every temptation that Satan throws at us.  As St. John put it in his first letter, “Greater is He who is in us, than he who is in the world.” 

But there’s another lesson here, one that might not be so obvious.  As I just said, the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert for our sake.  And I would say that’s precisely why he sometimes drives us into the desert: he drives us into the desert (emotionally and spiritually speaking) for our own good; he does it for the sake of our spiritual growth and for the salvation of our soul. 

We all have “desert experiences” in this life, do we not?  Experiences of loss, loneliness, trial, sadness.  Or how about the experience of dealing with a pandemic for almost a year?  Sometimes these experiences are caused by our sins, and sometimes not.  But in both cases they’re very real, and they cause us great emotional and spiritual distress.  And we wonder where God is in the midst of it all.  Well, I would contend that very often the Holy Spirit allows us to feel our emptiness and helplessness in these situations, so that we will open our hearts more completely to God.  In that sense, he drives us into the desert, so that we will realize our need for the Lord and his grace.  Bishop Sheen put it this way in one of his books: “Today, people are looking for God, not because of the order they find in the universe, but because of the disorder they find in themselves.  They are coming to God through an inner disgust, a despair that may be called creative.  [As it says in Psalm 130,] ‘Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord.’”  (The Priest Is Not His Own, p. 57.)

How many people do you know who have come back to Christ and his Church, or grown stronger in their faith, not because everything was going smoothly for them, but precisely because their lives were coming apart, and they felt empty on the inside?  I think we’ve all known many people who have had that experience.  Perhaps it’s even happened to us.  It’s what Bishop Sheen called the experience of “black grace”: God allowing us to experience our inner darkness--our inner powerlessness--so that we will turn to him in repentance and receive his healing and strength.

“There’s something missing in my life.”  “I need something more.”  “My heart is restless.”  “I’m looking for unconditional love.”  “I don’t know why I’m here on this earth.”  “Life is overwhelming me.”  “I’m bored.” “Nothing ever satisfies me.  Even when I get exactly what I want, it doesn’t make me perfectly happy.” 

Those are the statements of men and women who are presently in the desert.  Now in the Gospel of Luke we are told that when Jesus came out of the desert after his battle with Satan, he returned to Galilee “in the power of the Spirit.” (Luke 4:14)  Which is precisely God’s desire for each of us whenever we undergo a “desert experience.”  The Holy Spirit leads us there not to make us despair!  The Holy Spirit would never do that; the Holy Spirit loves each of us with an eternal love!  Rather, he wants us to face the void within ourselves so that we will turn to God and allow him to fill it—so that we, like Jesus, might come to live our lives “in the power of the Spirit.”  God wants to fill us this Lent through the Eucharist and Confession, through prayer, through the Best Lent Ever videos, and through our other Lenten disciplines.  May we all give him the opportunity to do that, so that each and every one of us will be “out of the desert” by Easter Sunday. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The Theme Word for Lent: Permanent

(Ash Wednesday 2021: This homily was given on February 17, 2021 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Joel 2:12-18; Psalm 51; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-18.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Ash Wednesday 2021]

For several years when I was pastor, I would offer a “theme word” on Ash Wednesday—a theme word to guide people on their journey through the season of Lent.  I’ll do that again this year. The theme word that the Lord put on my heart for Lent 2021 is the word “permanent”.

I think for many Catholics (and I include myself here) Lent tends to be an isolated 40 days.  Even if we do actually follow through on our Lenten commitments to prayer and self-denial for the entire 40 days (which is a big “if” to be sure)—the tendency is for us to go back to our old ways once Lent is over.

That’s why the word for this Lent is permanent.  Ultimately Lent is about growing in our relationship with Jesus.  That’s the purpose of the extra prayer we engage in, the fasting and self-denial, the “giving up” of certain things we like, the almsgiving and works of charity, the repentance and the confession of our sins, watching the Best Lent Ever videos, etc.

All these good things are supposed to help us grow closer to Jesus and to change us.  But those changes are not supposed to end on Easter Sunday.  The positive changes that we experience through our Lenten disciplines are changes that are supposed to be “permanent”—or at least they’re changes that we should want to be permanent.

I’ll give you one very quick example of what I mean.  I’ve known many people over the years who decided at the beginning of the season of Lent to attend Mass every day.  And they did.  (Well, they might have missed Mass on a day or two, but for the most part they were faithful.)  Then when Lent was over, they thought to themselves, “You know, Mass is a great way to begin the day.  I got a lot out of that experience.  I think I grew closer to God.  Maybe I’ll keep going for a while.”  Well, “for a while” ended up becoming “for the rest of their lives”.

Those people experienced a change in and through a Lenten activity that had a permanent, lasting effect on their lives. 

This, by the way, is the kind of thing the canonized saints of the Church experienced—sometimes during the season of Lent; sometimes at another time of the year.  Like early September.  Right now I’m reading a book on St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa), and the author focuses quite a bit on a powerful spiritual experience that Mother Teresa had on September 10, 1946, while she was on a train traveling to her annual retreat.  On that day she experienced what she later referred to as her “call within a call”.  God called out of the religious order she was a member of at the time, to eventually establish a new religious order (the Missionaries of Charity), and to work with the poor, the sick, and the dying in Calcutta and other places.

That experience—that personal and powerful encounter with the Lord on that train in 1946—changed Mother Teresa’s life! It had a permanent, lasting, positive effect on all that she said and all that she did from that moment until the Lord called her home on September 5, 1997.  And it kept her on the road to becoming a saint.

It’s my prayer on this Ash Wednesday that our Lenten encounter with Jesus during the next 40 days will have the same kind of permanent, lasting, positive effect on us—and help us to become saints ourselves.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Funeral Homily: Rev. Francis J. Giudice


Rev. Francis J. Giudice


(This homily was given by Fr. Raymond Suriani at the funeral Mass of Fr. Francis J. Giudice at Immaculate Conception Church, Westerly, R.I.  Read 2 Corinthians 5:1-10; John 14:1-6.)

 [For the audio version of this homily, click here: Funeral Homily for Fr. Giudice]


I want to begin this morning by saying that it’s an honor to preach at Fr. Giudice’s funeral Mass today, as I’m sure it was an honor for him to preach at the very first Mass that was ever celebrated in this church building back in 1968.  I did not know that little fact until Fr. Capoverdi told me earlier this week—and I definitely wanted to mention it in my homily, because I think it shows just how much Fr. Giudice meant to the people of Westerly in general and to the people of Immaculate Conception Parish in particular. 

And speaking of homilies …

On February 20, 2016 Fr. Paul Scalia celebrated the funeral Mass for his father, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.  I’m sure many of you saw the event on television that day—or at least saw news reports about it afterward.   Fr. Scalia began his homily at that Mass with these words:

We are gathered here because of one man. A man known personally to many of us, known only by reputation to even more; a man loved by many, scorned by others; a man known for great controversy, and for great compassion. That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth.


I’m sure that was news to more than a few people in the congregation that day, but it was true nonetheless.  Jesus Christ was at the center of that funeral Mass in 2016, and he is at the center of every funeral Mass—including the one we celebrate today for Fr. Giudice.

Fr. Scalia then explained why this is the case.  He said,


It is He Whom we proclaim: Jesus Christ, Son of the Father, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified, buried, risen, seated at the right hand of the Father. It is because of Him, because of His life, death and resurrection that we do not mourn as those who have no hope, but in confidence we commend Antonin Scalia to the mercy of God.

This morning we do the same thing for Fr. Giudice: we mourn for him, yes, but we mourn IN HOPE; and at the same time we commend his soul in hope to the mercy of God.

Fr. Scalia then told that congregation that they needed to look in 3 directions:  

to yesterday, in thanksgiving; to today, in petition; and into eternity with hope.

That’s an example we also need to follow today.

 First, we need to look to the past with gratitude …


  •          To Jesus, for what our Lord did for Fr. Giudice and for all of us by his passion, death and resurrection, and for the share Jesus gives to all of us in the fruits of his redemptive work.  Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves (because we’re not divine): he atoned for the sins of the world; he made it possible to receive forgiveness for any and every sin, and he opened the gates of heaven to those who are united to him in this life through baptism, faith and charity.  Hopefully we all believe that.  Fr. Giudice certainly did.  That’s the Good News he preached for more than 60 years of his life to all who would listen.


  •          We also look to the past with gratitude to the Lord for all the gifts, talents and blessings he gave to Fr. Giudice in his life, and to others thru him.

The best way I can do this, I think, is by sharing with you a few of the things I said at Fr. Giudice’s 50th anniversary Mass back in 2006.  (Some of you were probably present for that celebration.)  There I mentioned 3 important lessons I had learned from him since the early 1960s, when I first met him as a little boy at Holy Angels’ Church in Barrington, where Father Giudice was serving at the time as the assistant pastor.

Those of you who were here in 2006 will remember that I began that day by mentioning 3 lessons that I (happily) did NOT learn from Fr. Giudice: #1—how to drive a car.  I used to call his car the “demolition derby mobile”—you can guess why.  If you want more information on that, speak to his nephew Richard.  Lesson #2 that I did NOT learn from Fr. Giudice was how to clean my room.  If you ever had the experience of seeing his quarters at the Cathedral or even at St. Pius you will never forget it.  You can ask his nephew Stephen about that.  And lesson #3 that I did NOT learn from Fr. Giudice was the lesson on how to turn off the alarm system at St. Pius X Rectory.  People in town who had police scanners when Fr. Giudice was living at St. Pius must have thought we were getting robbed every other day!

But, happily, there were other lessons—good and noble lessons—that I did learn from him: lessons that have helped to form me as a priest and as a person. 

Lesson #1: He’s worth it.  Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, is worth it: he’s worth investing your life in!

Fr. Giudice taught me that lesson from the very earliest days of his priesthood.  As he liked to tell people, I was his is altar boy at Holy Angels in Barrington in the mid-1960s.  Back then I looked up to him—literally as well as figuratively speaking.  And there was a good reason for that: he was a happy priest—a visibly happy priest—who clearly loved what he was doing.  Even as a small child I picked that up.  He understood the importance of his ministry; he found deep personal fulfillment in bringing Jesus Christ to people in word and sacrament.  Even as a little boy I could tell that Fr. Giudice was someone who really believed in the very depths of his heart that Jesus Christ was worth investing your life in. 

And 20 years later, after I was ordained a priest myself, I found out that he was right.

The second important lesson that Fr. Giudice taught me (and that I’m grateful to God for) is the very same one that St. James taught the world in his New Testament letter: Faith without works is dead. 

Anyone who knew Fr. Giudice, knew how much he cared for the poor and for those in need.  His faith was clearly evident in the many loving, charitable works he did on their behalf.  It’s not a coincidence that he was the first Vicar for Community Affairs here in our diocese, working even with state agencies to improve living conditions and give educational opportunities to the needy in Rhode Island. 

But his love was not provincial; as most of us know it extended far beyond the borders of our state to one of the poorest countries on earth, Haiti.  Through an organization he established, Providence-Haiti Outreach, Father Giudice worked to provide health care, education, food, shelter, and religious instruction to the poorest of the poor in that tiny nation.  It’s a cause that was near and dear to his heart.  And he didn’t just ask other people to support it financially (although he was really good at doing that!): he also did it himself.  For example, when we gave him checks for the Masses and services he provided for us at St. Pius (which is what you normally do when a guest priest helps you in your parish), those checks were never made out to him personally: they were always made out to “Providence-Haiti Outreach.”

Which, by the way, is an organization that’s still worth supporting.  (I know he’d want me to mention that today.)

The third important lesson I learned from Fr. Giudice concerns the crosses of this life.  Everyone has crosses, of course—they’re part of the human experience in a world tainted by original sin.  But for the disciple of Jesus Christ, the cross is never the final chapter of the story—as the cross was not the final chapter in the story of Jesus.  Every cross leads to a resurrection—even at times in this life.  Fr. Giudice taught me that.  Now it’s true—the actual resurrection of the body is a FUTURE reality for us; it will only happen at the end of time.  But if we trust in the Lord and are obedient to him right now—in the midst of our present earthly sufferings—we will have little “resurrection experiences” even on this side of the grave.  Like Fr. Giudice had in Barrington when I first met him over 5 decades ago. 

In case you don’t know the story, he had been sent away after ordination by the bishop to do graduate studies in hospital administration at St. Louis University.  Naturally, when he had finished his degree, he thought he’d be given a big administrative post in one of our diocesan hospitals—St. Joe’s or Fatima.  And he was excited about that; it’s what he’d been preparing to do.  Unfortunately, however, he made the mistake of running into Bishop McVinney on a day when the bishop needed to find a curate for a small, Italian parish in Barrington: a parish community that had no money, bad facilities and terrible morale.

It was the last place on earth he wanted to be assigned!  But he obeyed, took up his cross, and made the best of it. 

When he got there he soon realized that the people needed something to bring them together as a community and give them a sense of self-worth, so he proposed the idea of building a brand new church.  In doing that he almost gave the old pastor, Fr. Iannetta, a heart attack!  Fr. Iannetta didn’t think it could be done; almost nobody thought it could be done—the parish had a terrible track record of financial giving at the time—but it was built and paid for within a few short years. 

And Fr. Giudice not only helped to erect a new church in Barrington; even more importantly he helped to “resurrect” the faith of the people there, sowing the seeds of 4 priestly vocations in the process: Yours Truly; Fr. James Ruggieri; Fr. Angelo Carusi; and Fr. John Codega.

For Fr. Giudice, the cross was not the end of his story in Barrington.  I and the 3 other priests who’ve been ordained from Holy Angels since 1985 are living proof of that.

Today I thank God for teaching me these 3 important lessons of life—and I thank Fr. Giudice for being God’s instrument in that regard.

Some of you, I’m sure, have similar stories from your own lives.

After Fr. Scalia said we should look to the past with gratitude at a funeral, he said that we need to look to the present moment in petition. That means, quite simply, that today we need to pray for Fr. Giudice and for the repose of his soul.  Many people who die in the state of grace (probably most people—including most priests) need to experience a final purification before they can enter God’s eternal kingdom—and God provides that purification in what we call “purgatory”.  This is why we pray for the dead; this is why we have Masses said for our deceased relatives and friends.  Our Masses and prayers help them to pass through that purification process more quickly.

May this Mass—and our personal prayers today and in the future—help Fr. Giudice.  And if he doesn’t need the help, may they assist another soul who does.

And finally, Fr. Scalia said that we need to look to the future at a funeral; we need, as he put it, to look “into eternity with hope.”

This hope we’re supposed to have in the face of death was expressed beautifully in the first line of our second reading where St. Paul says:


For we know that if our earthly dwelling, a tent, should be destroyed, we have a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in heaven. 


And in the gospel, where Jesus says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”

We pray that Fr. Francis J. Giudice already is—or will soon be—occupying one of those dwelling places, the one Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior prepared for him.

And we pray that we will someday join him in the one God has prepared for us.

Since I began this homily with a quote from Fr. Paul Scalia, I will end with one more quote from him.  These were the final words of his homily at his father’s funeral Mass.  This morning I say them with Fr. Giudice in mind:


Jesus himself becomes present here today, under the form of bread and wine, so that we can unite all of our prayers of thanksgiving, sorrow and petition with Christ himself, as an offering to the Father. And all of this, with a view to eternity—stretching towards heaven—where we hope to enjoy that perfect union with God himself and to see Fr. Francis J. Giudice again, and with him to rejoice in the communion of saints.  Amen.


Sunday, February 07, 2021

‘The Pain Chain’ and How to Break It


(Fifth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on February 7, 2021, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Job 7:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 147:1-6; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fifth Sunday 2021]

You’ve probably never heard of “the pain chain”.

That’s because I made up the term for this homily!

But, in all likelihood, you have experienced it—many times.

Pain, of course, is a fact of life.  We can’t escape it totally, no matter how hard we may try.

And there are various types of pain.  There’s physical pain; there’s mental or emotional pain; there’s even what might be called “spiritual pain”—which often results from physical and/or emotional pain.  For example, we contract a disease or we experience a broken relationship, and we wonder if God still loves us; we wonder if the Lord is with us and cares about what we’re going through.

And that wondering causes spiritual pain.

Job, in today’s first reading, is clearly a man who’s in the process of experiencing all 3 of these types of pain—TO THE MAX!  And it all stemmed from one bad day—one very bad day!

Most of us know the story.  The Bible makes it clear that Job was a good, pious, devout, righteous man.

And then, during the course of one 24 hour period, he lost everything: all his animals were either stolen or killed; all his children died when the house they were in collapsed during a terrible windstorm, and he himself was afflicted with a horrible skin disease in which painful boils appeared all over his body.

He was in physical pain; he was in emotional distress—and he wondered why God had allowed him to be afflicted in that way.

He finally got to the point where he said those words we heard in our first reading:

Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?  Are not his days those of hirelings? … So I have been assigned months of misery and troubled nights have been allotted to me. … My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle; they come to an end without hope.  Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.

Here we have a perfect example of a man who was shackled by what I would call “the pain chain.”  The pain chain has 3 links in it: one is “the past”; one is “the present”; and one is “the future”.

Job was experiencing pain in the present moment as he sat there in sackcloth and ashes.  The problem was that he wasn’t only experiencing the pain of the present moment!  He was also, in a certain sense, experiencing pain from his past and pain from his future life—which made the situation much worse.

Notice his first statement: “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?”

Job’s life was not a drudgery before he had his “bad day”!  It was anything but a drudgery!  It was awesome!  He had good health, and a loving family, and lots and lots of earthly possessions.  From a strictly worldly perspective, the guy had it all!

And yet, in the midst of his present suffering, the only things he was conscious of from his past were the bad things: the sufferings, the trials, the pain (however minimal it might have been).

And then he proceeded to project his present suffering on the future, saying, “I shall not see happiness again.”  [By the way, I think that’s something some people have been saying during this pandemic.]

How, in heaven’s name, did Job know that?  How did he know that he would never, ever, ever experience a single moment of happiness for the rest of his days on planet earth?

The answer is, he DIDN’T know it!  [Just like we don’t know what the post-pandemic world will be like.]

But once again, in the midst of his present suffering and pain, all Job could imagine for his future was more suffering and more pain.

Pain in the present moment (link #1), added to pain from the past (link #2), added to anticipated pain in the future (link #3).

That’s “the pain chain”.

It shackled Job, and it can also shackle us at various points in our lives—as most of us (if not all of us) know from personal experience.

So how are we supposed to deal with it?  How do we go about breaking the pain chain?

This is very important to know because if the pain chain does not get broken, it can eventually lead us to despair.

From my perspective—and from my experience—there are 3 realities that will break the pain chain, especially when we experience them together.

Those realities are faith, hope and love (which should make them pretty easy to remember!).

By faith we know that “For those who love God all things [including our pain and suffering] work together for good”—as St. Paul tells us in Romans 8.  By faith we know that God will not allow us to be tested beyond our strength—as St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10.  And, as today’s responsorial psalm reminds us, God “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

Faith—real faith that’s rooted in truths like these—breaks the pain chain.

So does hope.  Hope focuses us on the reality of eternal life—which means that every problem, every suffering, every pain that we have in this life is ultimately only temporary.  Understanding that makes a difference!  Notice that Job lacked this hope when he spoke those words we heard in our first reading.  There he said, “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle; they come to an end without hope.”

And when we experience the love of God—either directly or through other people—that, too, breaks the pain chain.

A woman who was battling a very serious form of cancer said to me one day, “Fr. Ray, I know now why God allowed me to get this illness.  He allowed me to get it because, without it, I never would have gotten as close to him as I am right now.”

In the midst of her physical, emotional and spiritual pain, that woman had faith, hope and love: faith that God was at work in her life and still loved her, and hope that God would continue to draw her closer to himself unto eternity.

Faith, hope and love were breaking her pain chain—at least for the moment.  The challenge she faced was the challenge to continue to seek those gifts of faith, hope and love, so that her pain chain would remain broken—even if she was never physically healed.

Jesus once said, “Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”  Put in the terms of this homily that means, “The pain of today is enough for us to deal with.  We don’t need to add any real pain from our past or any imagined pain from our future—like Job did.”

Which is one of the most important reasons why we should ask the Lord to fill our hearts with faith—and with hope—and with love EVERY DAY!