Sunday, March 28, 2021

Make a Holy Week Schedule and Set a Holy Week Goal—like Jesus did!

(Palm Sunday 2021 (B): This homily was given on March 28, 2021 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22; Philippians 2:6-11; Mark 11:1-10; Mark 14:1-15:47.)

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


Jesus began the very first Holy Week with a schedule and a goal.  He didn’t begin the week by saying, “If I have some extra time during the next several days, I suppose I’ll give it to my heavenly Father.  I’ll see what the week brings, and, if it’s convenient, I’ll do his will and save the world.”  No!  As he was riding that donkey into the city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jesus knew exactly what he planned to do on Holy Thursday and Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  It was already written into his schedule!  He knew that he would celebrate the Passover with his disciples on Thursday night.  He knew where it would happen.  He knew he would institute the Eucharist and the Priesthood at that meal—his “Last Supper.”  He knew he would spend time later that night in the Garden of Gethsemane, and take upon himself the sins of the whole world.  He knew he would bring those sins to the Cross the next day, and pour out his precious blood so that they could be forgiven.  And—happily—he also knew he would rise from the dead three days later!  We know this because he had predicted it a number of times during his ministry.

Catholics and other Christians will tell you that they want to imitate Jesus in their lives.  That, of course, is a most-worthy ambition.  I wholeheartedly approve!  To signify this desire some will even wear bracelets and other assorted objects with WWJD written on them.  (WWJD stands for “What would Jesus do?”)  Well, when it comes to Holy Week, my brothers and sisters, we don’t have to wonder what Jesus would do, because we know exactly what he did do!  He made a schedule, followed it perfectly, and attained his goal—the salvation of the human race.

Today I offer a simple challenge: imitate your Savior in your approach to Holy Week.  If you’re really serious about following Jesus Christ and growing stronger in faith and charity, then do what he did on Palm Sunday: make a schedule and set a goal—a spiritual goal for yourself.  The goal may be to come to a deeper understanding of God’s love for you; it might be to find the strength you need to carry your cross; it might be to find the grace to be more charitable or patient.  The ceremonies of Holy Week are designed to help you attain this goal, so make every effort to put them into your schedule now!  In this regard, we will have our usual daily Masses on Monday through Wednesday.  We’ll also have Mass at 6 PM on Wednesday, preceded by confessions at 5.  We will have Morning Prayer Thursday through Saturday at the usual Mass times.  We will have adoration on Tuesday (as usual), and Stations Tuesday evening.  The Easter Triduum begins with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday at 7 PM, followed by adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the church hall until 11 PM.  On Friday we will have Stations of the Cross twice: once outside at noon; then, at 3 PM, here in church.  The celebration of the Lord’s Passion will take place on Friday evening at 7; and the first Mass of Easter—the glorious celebration of the Easter Vigil—will be held at 7:30 PM on Saturday night. 

That’s our St. Pius Holy Week schedule.  I give it to you today so that you can make your personal Holy Week schedule today!  Please, please, please: don’t wait to see what the week will bring before you do so!  If you make the mistake of waiting, other things will get in the way for sure.  And with the help of the risen Christ, may all of us who do make time for the Lord during these sacred days attain our goals by Easter Sunday—as Jesus attained his. 

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Lent: A Time to Get Right with the Family


(This homily was given on March 21, 2021 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:3-15; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33.)

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


Lent is a time to “get right with the family”—and here I’m not alluding to the Mafia!  Nor am I referring directly to our blood relatives; although the process of “getting right with the family” certainly involves our getting right with our blood relatives.  But it doesn’t only refer to them.

Fr. Ray, what are you getting at?”  Well, if someone asked you the question, “What is a covenant?” how would you respond?  I think that many people, perhaps most people, would answer by comparing a covenant to a contract.  But actually, from a biblical perspective, that would be a very poor comparison to use.  Why?  Because a contract is a legal transaction between two individuals who may have little or no personal commitment to one another.  For example, you can have a contract with someone you don’t even know.  Some of you may have contracts with people whom you’ve never met personally.  You can even have a contract—a legal, binding agreement—with someone you strongly dislike.  A covenant is different.  A covenant goes much deeper.  The best definition of a covenant that I ever heard was from Dr. Scott Hahn of the Franciscan University of Steubenville.  He described a covenant as a “family-like bond.”  That means that when you’re in a covenant with another person you’re in a committed relationship—a deeply committed relationship; the kind of relationship that we’re supposed to have with members of our biological families.

Throughout the Old Testament, as most of us know, God made covenants with his people.  He made a covenant with Noah.  He made a covenant with Abraham.  He made one with Moses.  But all of these covenants—all of these family bonds—were imperfect.  And they were broken quite often; not by God, of course, but by his people. 

This is why, by the way, the Old Testament constantly uses the image of marriage to describe the Lord’s relationship with Israel.  Marriage is a covenant bond between a man and a woman.  It’s not simply a legal contract.  This also explains why Israel’s unfaithfulness in the Old Testament is always compared to adultery.  As we all know, there’s no more serious sin against the covenant of marriage than the sin of adultery.

Thankfully God, in his great love, was not content with these imperfect family bonds between himself and his people.  So even though we didn’t deserve the perfect family bond with the Lord, he gave it to us anyway—through his son, Jesus Christ.  All this having been said, listen once again now to today’s first reading, because this is the covenant that Jeremiah is prophesying about:

The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers the day I took them by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt; for they broke my covenant, and I had to show myself their master, says the Lord.  But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days says the Lord.  I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  No longer will they have need to teach their friends and kinsmen how to know the Lord.  All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the Lord, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.

This new covenant in Jesus Christ brings us the gift of eternal salvation.  Yes, it’s a covenant that we can still break by committing serious, mortal sin.  If we do that, and then die without repenting, we do forfeit God’s marvelous gift.  But, as St. Paul tells us in his first letter to Timothy, even when we are unfaithful in this life, God still remains faithful.  And so, unlike the people in the Old Testament, if we want forgiveness for our serious sins, we don’t have to sacrifice bulls and goats and sheep.  The sacrifice of Jesus was sufficient to cleanse us of every sin.  So all we have to do is humbly admit the sin and accept his gift of mercy (admit and accept)—which is precisely what we do when we make a good confession.

That brings me back to what I said at the beginning of my homily: Lent is a time to get right with the family.  Hopefully, you see what I’m getting at: Lent is a time for reconciliation not only with God, but also with our brothers and sisters in God’s family.  And this is one reason why confession to a validly ordained priest is so important.  In the sacrament of Reconciliation, the priest not only represents Jesus Christ.  He also represents all our brothers and sisters in the family of God.  Therefore, when the priest absolves us, we are reconciled vertically and horizontally—in other words with God, and with others! Some people are fond of saying, “I don’t need to go to a priest.  I just go to the Lord.”  Well, that’s all very nice.  The problem is, our sins don’t just affect our relationship with God!  Our sins, even the ones committed in secret, affect our relationships with other people.  For example, I can sit in my room all by myself and have angry, hateful thoughts that nobody else is aware of.  But if that happens, I guarantee you that it will affect my relationships with others.  It will certainly affect the next unfortunate soul who calls me on the phone—”Gee, Fr. Ray, why are you yelling at me?  I just called to find out what time the next Mass was!”

So the real question for us to face today is this one: Am I willing to do what I need to do, to get right with my family (with my spiritual family)?  In practical terms, that means: Am I willing to look at myself honestly?  Am I willing to make a thorough examination of conscience and confess everything I need to?  Now that’s not as easy a task as it may appear to be, because as fallen human beings we all have a tendency to rationalize and sweep things under the rug.  Some sins we can face and confess easily.  But others are much more difficult to come to terms with.  For example, statistics show that the majority of Catholic couples today use artificial contraception.  I think most priests would tell you that this is a sin that they rarely hear confessed.  It’s become so socially acceptable, that’s it’s very easily swept under the rug. 

We can easily rationalize sexual sins like this by saying, “Oh, it’s not that bad.  A lot of people do things that are much worse.” 

We can easily rationalize sins of unforgiveness and hatred and revenge by saying, “Well, it only serves them right.  They asked for it!” 

We can easily rationalize a sin like stealing from an employer—stealing goods or stealing time—by saying, “My boss makes enough money, he’ll never miss any of this.”

We say that a covenant is a family-like bond.  Well, if there’s one thing that will ruin any family bond, it’s dishonesty; it’s the practice of sweeping things under the rug.  This is certainly the case in our biological families, and it’s also the case in our spiritual family.  For years I’ve told teenagers: “Do you really want to mess up your relationship with your parents?  Then lie!  That’s all you have to do.  Some night soon, tell them you’re going to the library, and then go out with your friends.  Some other night, when they go out, tell them that you’re planning to stay home to study; then have all your friends over for a wild party.  That’ll do the trick; just be deceitful.  But, if you want a good, solid, stable relationship with your mom and dad; if you want them to trust you more and give you more freedom—then be honest; be up front.  Don’t try to pull the wool over their eyes.  Sure, sometimes being honest will be difficult.  Sometimes being honest will be painful.  But, in the long run, it will pay off.”

And so it is in our relationship with God.  Sometimes it’s hard to be totally honest.  Sometimes it’s painful, and sometimes it can even be a little bit embarrassing.  But, my brothers and sisters, it really is the only way to get right—and to stay right—with the family.  It’s my prayer that all of us “get right” during this season of Lent.

Sunday, March 07, 2021

“I’ve fallen and I CAN’T get up”; “I’ve fallen but I WON’T get up.” Which of those best describes your attitude right now?

(Third Sunday of Lent (B): This homily was given on March 7, 2021 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19:8-11; 1 Corinthians 1:22-25; John 2:13-25.)

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


Our Bishop, Thomas Tobin, began a column he wrote several years ago in the Rhode Island Catholic with these words:

I’m sure you’ve seen the commercial. An elderly lady has fallen down the steps in her home, is seriously injured and unable to move to the telephone when she cries out, “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” The commercial promotes Life Alert Emergency Response, a medical alert pendant that’s used to notify dispatchers about someone’s health emergency.  Although I haven’t yet had any personal experience with Life Alert, I’m sure it’s a fine product and a useful service that has assisted many individuals, perhaps even saved some lives. But it occurs to me that the phrase “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,” serves well as a description of the human condition we need to confront during the Season of Lent.  It’s true—as a human family, and as individuals, we’ve indeed fallen, very far and in many ways, and a thoughtful, faith-filled person will quickly recognize that we need God’s help if we are to arise and walk again.

The majority of the rest of the Bishop’s column explores how we can access that help from the Lord, especially through our Lenten disciplines of prayer and self-denial and charity.

But there’s a presumption behind our Bishop’s words in this article.  He presumes that we actually WANT to “get up”!  He presumes that his readers are people who honestly examine their lives every day in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and then strive for perfection through repentance.  Put in the terms of today’s Gospel reading, he presumes that his readers are constantly working to keep their “temples” as clean as possible.

And that’s certainly a reasonable presumption with respect to readers of the Rhode Island Catholic newspaper. 

But the fact is (and our Bishop knows this as well as anybody) there are a lot of people in our world right now who are quite content to be living in a state of sin—a state of serious sin.  They’re attitude is not, “I’ve fallen and I CAN’T get up”; they’re attitude is, “I’ve fallen but I WON’T get up!”—“I’ve fallen but I don’t have ANY INTEREST WHATSOEVER in getting up!”

This all came to mind as I reflected on today’s first reading from Exodus 20.  There we are presented with the Ten Commandments.  Notice that they’re not called the “Ten Suggestions”; they’re not called the “Ten Recommendations”.  They’re called the Ten Commandments—which means they’re as binding on us in 2021 as they were on the people of ancient Israel at the time of Moses.  (And if you don’t believe me, just look in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  A large section of Part 3 of the Catechism is a reflection on the Ten Commandments and how they apply to us today, in our modern world.)

These Commandments are a gift—a gift from God, giving us the guidelines we need to follow in order to live lives of relative peace and happiness.  I hope you realize, my brothers and sisters, if everyone on planet earth right now lived his or her life according to these ten directives, planet earth would be a very different—and a much better—place.

But a lot of people today are not living them, and many of these individuals aren’t interested in even trying to live them—and that’s a huge problem, as Bishop Tobin notes in his column.

And those who disobey often have excuses—interesting and sometimes very clever excuses—as to why they disobey, and as to why their disobedience is actually a great thing!

I’ll bet that you’ve heard some of these excuses before—many times!  For example …

Excuse #1 for not obeying the Ten Commandments: “God told me.  God told me to disobey.”

That excuse is used, of course, by people who are mentally ill and hear strange voices in their heads.  But, sad to say, it’s also used by a lot of other people who are completely sane.

Like the radical Muslim jihadists who have been wreaking havoc all over the world for a number of decades now!  Ask those evil men why they kill innocent people in such barbaric ways and they’ll tell you without any hesitation whatsoever: “Because God has told us to!  We are commanded in the Koran either to convert or to kill all infidels, and that’s precisely what we do!”

And if you said to them, “But that’s wrong!  It’s not only contrary to the Ten Commandments, it’s also contrary to right reason.  It’s contrary to right reason to kill the innocent,” they’d reply by saying, “We don’t care about your ‘reason’; we’re not interested in being ‘reasonable’!  Allah has told us to kill, so we kill!”

That’s the first excuse people use for disobeying the Commandments: “God told me to.”

Let me quickly mention some others which are even more prevalent—especially in our modern American society.

Excuse #2: “Everybody is doing it.”

No, everybody isn’t doing it—whatever “it” happens to be; whatever sin it is that you’re talking about.

Excuse #3: “It’s my body, and I’ll do whatever I want with it.”

Well, it may be your body, but remember: what you do with it will have consequences—both here AND in eternity.  And, in the case of abortion, it’s NOT YOUR BODY, it’s someone else’s!  That’s the issue!

Excuse #4: “The ‘experts’ tell me it’s okay.”  That one is used to try to justify everything from self-abuse to cheating on one’s taxes.

Excuse #5: “It’s legal, so it’s okay.”  Of course, slavery was once legal in this country, as was segregation—and neither of those two things was “okay”.

Excuse #6: “I’m not hurting anybody.”  People who use this one forget that every sin—even a sin that somebody commits “in private”—changes the sinner, and affects that sinner in a negative way in his or her relationships with others.

And, finally, excuse #7 that people use for disobeying the Ten Commandments: “I have to follow my conscience.”  That excuse was probably used by some of the rioters and looters of this past summer, as well as the people who caused the riot at the Capitol on January 6.

And, of course, it is true.  The Catholic Church does teach that we should always follow the dictates of our conscience.  As it says in paragraph 1782 of the Catechism: Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. ‘He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.’”

But that’s only half the story!  The corollary of that teaching is that we are personally responsible for forming our consciences properly!  And, according to paragraph 1783 of the Catechism, what is supposed to guide us in forming our consciences properly is “the Word of God”—which includes (yes, you guessed it!) the Ten Commandments.

“I’ve fallen and I CAN’T get up”; “I’ve fallen but I WON’T get up.”

When all is said and done, my brothers and sisters, everyone—without exception—goes through life with one of those two attitudes dominating.

Notice that the first part of each statement is the same: “I’ve fallen.”  That’s because we have all “fallen”—that is to say, we’re all sinners in need of God’s forgiveness.  The difference between the two groups is that those in the first one have the opportunity to receive that forgiveness, while those in the second one have willingly closed themselves off from that opportunity.

Hopefully those of us who are in that first group will make it a point to seek the Lord’s pardon sometime during this season of Lent by making a good confession.

Like the elderly who have Life Alert pendants, we cannot raise ourselves up after we fall into sin, but God can “raise us up”—and God does raise us up, spiritually, in that great sacrament of Reconciliation.

So, when was the last time you went to confession?