Sunday, October 31, 2021

The First Great Commandment: Always a Goal, Never an Achievement. The Second Great Commandment: An Achievement, But Not a Constant One.


What's in that shoebox?

(Thirty-first Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on October 31, 2021 St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Deuteronomy 6:2-6; Psalm 18:2-4, 47, 51; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 28b-34.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirty-first Sunday 2021]


A man and woman had been married for more than 60 years.  They raised 3 children; they also had several grandchildren and even a few great-grandchildren.  They had been faithful to one another for 6 decades and had kept no secrets from each other during that time—with one small exception: the woman kept an old shoebox on the top shelf of her bedroom closet, and she refused to let her husband see what was inside of it.  In fact, she told him in no uncertain terms that he was never even to question her about its contents.

So he didn’t.

Not long after their 60th anniversary, the woman came down with a very serious illness.  She was bedridden, and very weak.  The doctor told her that she probably wouldn’t recover. 

One day her husband was getting something out of her closet, and he spotted the old shoebox.  He took it to her bedside and asked if she’d be willing to tell him, at long last, what was in it.

She said, “Yes.  I think it’s the right time.  Open it up.”

When he took the cover off, he found two little crocheted dolls inside along with some money.  The money totaled $95,000!

He couldn’t believe it.

She said, “Let me explain.  When we were married all those years ago, my very wise grandmother told me that the secret of a happy marriage was to avoid arguing as much as possible.  She said that if I ever got angry with you, I should just keep quiet and crochet a doll.”

Her husband was touched; he had to fight back the tears.  After all, there were only two dolls in the box.

He thought to himself, “Wow, this dear woman—this lovely wife of mine—only got angry with me two times in sixty years!”

He said, “Honey, that explains the dolls, but what about all this money?  Where did it come from?”

She replied, “Oh, you didn’t figure that out yet?  That’s the money I made from selling the dolls!”

Jesus said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

That’s hard—especially when your “neighbor” is someone you have to deal with on a daily basis: your spouse (even if you haven’t been married for 60 years!), your parent, your brother or sister, your annoying co-worker. 

And yet, when you stop and think about it, on the surface at least this commandment really isn’t all that demanding.  It doesn’t say, for example, that we should—or must—love other people with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength (that’s the way we’re supposed to love God); it simply says we should love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

The problem, of course, is that many people love themselves a lot—and sometimes too much.  They might even love themselves with a false or misguided love.

But even if we have a healthy love of self (the kind that Jesus would approve of), the fact is it’s very often much greater than the love we have for other people. 

And that’s fairly easy to demonstrate. 

One of the best explanations of love that was ever given is preserved for us in 1 Corinthians 13.  There St. Paul writes a number of things about love, one of which is this: “Love is patient.” 

I ask you today: How patient are you with other people?  Specifically, are you as patient with other people as you are with yourself?  I don’t know about you, but very often I’m much more patient with myself when I make mistakes and say the wrong things than I am with others when they make the very same mistakes and say the very same wrong things.

That’s the tendency we have because we share a fallen human nature.  It’s important that we recognize it.

Jesus says to us today, “Being half as patient with others as you are with yourself isn’t good enough; being three quarters as patient with others as you are with yourself isn’t good enough.  To love your neighbor as yourself means you must be at least as patient with others as you are with the person you see in the mirror every morning.”

St. Paul also speaks in 1 Corinthians 13 about forgiveness.  He says, “Love does not brood over injuries.”  Another question that can make us aware of the fact that we sometimes love ourselves more than we love others is this one: Do I expect others to forgive me for things that I would refuse to forgive them for?

Too often our attitude can be, “Well of course they should forgive me, because I really didn’t mean it (and besides, I’m such a nice person); but they did it intentionally—that’s the way they always act—so why should I forgive them?”

Jesus said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”—and love includes forgiveness.

One footnote needs to be added here . . .

Although most people have the tendency to love themselves too much, there are some who do have the opposite problem: they love themselves less than they love others.  And that’s just as wrong.  In fact, a few don’t love themselves at all; they’re filled, sad to say, with self-hate.

If they’re ever going to be faithful to the second great commandment, these men and women will need inner healing—the healing of their hearts, minds and souls.  We should pray that they receive it.

Hopefully I’ve made it clear that observing the second great commandment on the practical level is anything but easy.  But as difficult as it might be to love your neighbor as you love yourself, it’s really a ‘piece of cake’ compared to the first commandment Jesus gives us in this story.

I think we’d all agree that it would be challenging enough if Jesus had said that we need to love God as we love ourselves.  But he went way beyond that.  He said we must love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength: and not with “some” of our heart and “some” of our soul and “some” of our mind and “some” of our strength; not even with “most” of our heart and “most” of our soul and “most” of our mind and “most” of our strength.

He said we have to love the Lord our God with everything: with ALL our heart and ALL our soul and ALL our mind and ALL our strength!

When you think of how easily we can be distracted in prayer; when you think of how many little sins we commit every day; when you think of how easy it is to let other things take precedence over our relationship with God, you realize that this first great commandment is the spiritual equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest!  (In fact, climbing Mt. Everest is actually easier!)

The bottom line is this, my brothers and sisters: even for the best among us, the first great commandment of Jesus—to love God above all things—is always a GOAL; it’s never an ACHIEVEMENT on this side of the grave.  With the exception of Mary, it wasn’t even an achievement for the great saints.  Even they fell short, albeit in small ways.

The second—the commandment to love our neighbor—is an achievement (thanks be to God), but definitely not a constant one.

Which explains why we’re here, doesn’t it?  You see, if we loved God and our neighbor always and perfectly, we wouldn’t need to pray!  We wouldn’t need Mass or Confession or any of the other sacraments.  We wouldn’t need God’s grace, or the power of the Holy Spirit.

But we do! 

And hopefully we all realize that we do. 

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Bartimaeus and ‘Choice’



(Thirtieth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on October 24, 2021 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126:1-6; Hebrews 5:1-6; Mark 10:46-52.)

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


What do you learn about Bartimaeus from the following statements?

  • Bartimaeus chose.
  • Bartimaeus chose again. 
  • And he chose again. 
  • And he chose again. 
  • And in the midst of all this, he chose once more.

What have you just learned about Bartimaeus?

“Not much, Fr. Ray.” 

That’s right!  That’s exactly right.  You’ve been told that he made 5 decisions, but that’s it.

Before you could learn anything substantial about Bartimaeus, you’d need to know WHAT he chose!  Was it good or was it evil?  Was it something harmful or something helpful?  Was it a sinful act or a virtuous act?

If you had a 3-year-old son, and I said to you: “Your 3-year-old son was standing near the edge of a cliff today, and he chose,” you wouldn’t know whether to scream in horror or jump for joy, would you?  But if I said, “Your 3-year-old son was standing near the edge of a cliff today, and he chose to turn away and walk to safety,” now you’d know how to react, because you’d realize that he had made the RIGHT choice.

“Fr. Ray, this is common sense.” 

Well, in that case, it only proves the old adage, “Common sense is not so common.”  Because right now in our society it’s considered a sign of brilliance and enlightenment if you say, “I believe in the right to choose”—and leave it at that.  

Like some presidents do.

If this is all common sense, then why don’t more people ask what should be the obvious follow-up question: “Choose what?”  “Okay sir, you’re for ‘choice.’  So am I.  I’m for making the right choice in every situation.  What choice are you for?  That’s what matters.  Is it, perhaps, the choice to live an immoral lifestyle or the choice to kill innocent human beings: the pre-born child, the mentally handicapped person, the terminally ill cancer patient?  Could that be why you choose not to finish your sentences?  When I say, ‘I believe in the right to choose,’ I always tell people what the choice is that I support, because I only support GOOD choices.  I’m not ashamed—or afraid—to finish my sentences.”

I indicated at the beginning of my homily that Bartimaeus made at least 5 choices on the day he encountered our Lord.  Thankfully, they were 5 very good choices.  And please note: if he had not made any one of these 5, he would not have been healed by Jesus!  He would have ended the day as he began it—as a blind beggar.

St. Mark tells us the story:

“As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging.”  Someone then told him that Jesus was passing by.  At that moment, he made his first choice: THE CHOICE TO CRY OUT.  He could have easily chosen to remain silent; he certainly had that option.  But had he done so, he never would have met Jesus.  And if he had not met Jesus, he would not have been healed.

St. Mark goes on: “On hearing it was Jesus of Nazareth, [Bartimaeus] began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”  Which brings us to good choice #2: THE CHOICE TO GO AGAINST PUBLIC OPINION.  You see, if you had polled all the people in the crowd at that moment and asked them, “What should Mr. Bartimaeus do now?” most would have said, “He should close his mouth and keep quiet!”  We know that because St. Mark tells us, “And many rebuked [Bartimaeus], telling him to be silent.  But he kept calling out all the more, ‘Son of David, have pity on me.’”  Good for you Bartimaeus!  We need more people like you in the world today: people who are willing to disregard the polls and do—and stand up for—the right thing!

St. Mark continues: “Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’  So they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.’  He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.”  Here we encounter good choice #3: THE CHOICE TO OBEY JESUS.  Our Lord said, “Come,” and Bartimaeus did.

Once the blind man was in our Lord’s presence, he made his 4th good choice: THE CHOICE TO EXPRESS HIS NEED TO JESUS IN AN HONEST PRAYER OF PETITION.  As St. Mark tells us, “Jesus said to him . . . ‘What do you want me to do for you?’  The blind man replied to him, ‘Master, I want to see.’”

Jesus gives him his sight immediately, based on these 4 choices and choice #5, which was the one which stood behind the others.  I’m talking about THE DECISION OF BARTIMAEUS TO PUT HIS FAITH IN JESUS.  That choice motivated and inspired the other 4 I just mentioned.  Jesus recognized this and commended Bartimaeus for it when he said, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”  In other words, “Your choice to put your faith in me has made you well.”

Many people today are fond of telling us they’re “pro-choice.”  Among other things, the story of Bartimaeus teaches us that this term—“pro-choice”—is absolutely, positively meaningless when it’s used in isolation (as it normally is!).  First and foremost, the quality of a choice is determined by the goodness or badness of the object chosen.  When the choice, for example, is to lie or cheat or steal or fornicate or kill babies in the womb, then to be pro-choice is actually to be pro-evil, because the object being chosen is evil.  The only time it’s acceptable to be “pro-choice,” is when the object of the choice happens to be good: the choice to love, the choice to forgive, the choice to respect human life from natural conception to natural death.

Bartimaeus was blessed by Jesus because he made the right choices, and ONLY because he made the right choices!  May we—as individuals and as a nation—experience the countless blessings of the Lord for the very same reason.  

Sunday, October 10, 2021

The Rich Young Man: A Spiritual Minimalist

(Twenty-eighth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on October 10, 2021 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Wisdom 7:7-11; Psalm 90:12-17; Hebrews 4:12-13;Mark 10:17-30.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-eighth Sunday 2021]


Imagine a great baseball pitcher like Chris Sale of the Red Sox or Gerrit Cole of the Yankees saying this at the beginning of a baseball season: “I think I’ll go out this year and try to win 10 games.  I don’t need any more victories than that.  If I win 10 games, the team will definitely keep me on the roster, and I’ll get to keep my multi-million dollar contract.”

Imagine a parent saying this: “I think I’ll feed my children only one meal today.  They should be able to survive on that.”

Imagine a student saying this on his first day of medical school: “It doesn’t matter how much homework they give me during the next 4 years: I intend to study only one hour per day.  That will have to suffice.  I have too many other activities that I’m involved in.  Besides, I’m pretty smart, so I should be able to pass all the courses.”

My brothers and sisters, those are 3 examples of what might be called “minimalistic thinking.”  And they’re all hard to imagine, aren’t they?  Chris Sale or Gerrit Cole setting out to win only ten games a year; a parent thinking it’s acceptable to feed his children one meal per day; a medical student who believes an hour a day is enough for his studies.

“Fr. Ray, that would never happen!”


And that’s precisely the point I’m trying to make!  In most areas of life (such as education, family responsibilities, and even athletics), we do not advocate—nor do we tolerate—minimalism.  For example, if Chris Sale told the management of the Red Sox that his goal was to win only 10 games next year, you can be sure that he’d be put on the “trading block” immediately! If a parent intentionally fed his children only one meal per day, those children would be taken away from him by the state—and rightly so!  And I don’t know about you, but I’d never want to go to a doctor who had been so casual and irresponsible about his studies in med school!  I’d be worried that he’d kill me instead of curing me!

But I ask you this morning: If minimalism is so unacceptable when it comes to education, sports, family life, etc., why is it tolerated so often in the area of spirituality?

Let’s be honest about it, when it comes to spiritual and moral matters—i.e., to matters of the soul—many people today are quite content to be minimalists!!!  As they go through this life, the crucial questions are not: How can I be the person God wants me to be?  How can I be holier and more virtuous?  How can I be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect?

The key questions for them are: How much can I get away with and still not go to hell?  What’s the absolute minimum I need to do as a Catholic?  What are my obligations to God and others?

Cardinal John Henry Newman once put it this way: he said that the key issue for many people is not, “How can I please God in my life?”—rather it’s “How can I please myself without displeasing the Lord?”

This is the ever-present temptation to be a “spiritual minimalist!”—and we all face it, constantly (whether we realize it or not).

Which brings us to the rich young man who met Jesus in this Gospel scene from Mark 10.

Do you know what’s very interesting about this story?  It’s the fact that we don’t understand the exact nature of the young man’s question until his interaction with Jesus is over and he walks away.

The Bible tells us that he came up to our Lord one day, knelt down, and said to him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Now at first glance, it appears that this boy had the right attitude.  With his simple question, he seemed to be asking Jesus all the right things: “Good teacher, how can I be the person God wants me to be?  How can I be holier and more virtuous?  How can I be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect?”

But when our Lord challenged him to go the extra mile by selling his possessions, giving to the poor and becoming a disciple, the truth suddenly became clear: at heart, this young man was a minimalist!  Thus, when he said to the Lord, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” what he really meant was, “Jesus, have I done enough yet?  I’ve been a great guy—Moses would be proud of me—I’ve kept the rules throughout my life!  Is that sufficient for entry into your kingdom? Or do I need to jump through a few more hoops beforehand?”

He was obviously hoping that Jesus would pat him on the back and say, “No more hoops for you, my friend.  Sit back and relax.  You’re in!  Congratulations!”

That’s not the attitude that the great saints had.  They were different!  Think of someone like Mother Teresa of Calcutta, now St. Teresa of Calcutta.

Mother Teresa was who she was—and is where she is—simply because she was NOT a minimalist when it came to matters of the soul, when it came to serving Jesus Christ and living for him.  She certainly was not a minimalist when it came to prayer.  It’s said that she prayed for 3 or 4 hours a day!  And when she wasn’t praying, she was normally serving Christ in the sick and the dying on the streets of Calcutta.

Her attitude was not (to quote Cardinal Newman), “How can I please myself today without displeasing God?”  Her attitude was, “How can I please God today in my life?  How can I be the best version of myself?  How can I be the person—the disciple of Jesus Christ—that God wants me to be?”

By the grace of God, may Mother Teresa’s attitude become our attitude—and always be our attitude—so that we will someday be where she now is.