Sunday, December 26, 2021

Faith, Fidelity and Forgiveness: The Three Keys to Undermining Satan’s Anti-Family Strategy


(Holy Family 2021 (C): This homily was given on December 26, 2021, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalm 128:1-5; Colossians 3:12-21; Luke 2:41-52.)

 [For the audio version of this homily, click here: Holy Family 2021]


I’ll begin my homily today with a question:  If you were Satan, what would you do?

(I hope no one is offended by the question.)

Keep in mind what his goal is: The goal of Satan is to take souls to hell—as many souls as he possibly can.

If that were your goal, if that was what you were ultimately trying to achieve in your life, what would be the steps you would take to get there?

Personally, I would attack humanity like I would attack a house if I wanted to get it to fall:  I would go after the foundation!

That means I would go after the family, because the family is the foundation of every society.

And I submit to you that’s precisely what Satan has done--especially in the last 60 years or so.

And, we have to be honest about it, he’s done a pretty good job!

In fact, he’s corrupted the minds of so many people at this point that many men and women don’t even know what the normal standard for family life is anymore!  (For any here who might be confused, the norm is one man and one woman bound together in a lifelong marital commitment along with their children—natural or adopted!)

Every study I’ve ever read has made clear that this (the traditional, nuclear family) is the best and healthiest environment in which to raise children—which is precisely why Satan is trying to destroy it through things like infidelity, and contraception (which makes infidelity easier and more common), and divorce, and the promotion of “alternative living arrangements” like the “living together phenomenon,” and so-called gay marriage.

This is Satan’s anti-family strategy which, as I said earlier, is working. 

But the good news is, it’s only working because we are allowing it to work!

Remember, Satan has no power over us save the power we give him.

Which leads to the obvious question: How can we reverse the trend?  How can we undermine Satan’s plans for taking souls to hell through the destruction of family life?  Or, to put it in a more positive way, what can we do to strengthen family life (which is, and always will be, the foundation of our society)?

As I reflected on this in preparation for this homily, 3 words came to mind: Faith, fidelity and forgiveness.

Those are all words that begin with F (like family) so they will hopefully be easy to remember: To strengthen family life in general, and our individual family life in particular, we need to promote and practice those 3 realities: faith, fidelity and forgiveness.

First, faith.  A family that’s united in a common commitment to God is a family that’s united in a common belief system—especially a common belief system concerning what’s right and what’s wrong.

And that can go a long way toward achieving family harmony.  If, for example, everyone in your family believes that lying and stealing and cheating and disobeying legitimate authority are wrong, that will make a big difference in what goes on in your home.  Everyone will be “on the same page” so to speak in terms their personal morality, because everyone will have the same, ultimate, Divine Authority in their life.

Which brings us to fidelity: Fidelity is faithfulness—faithfulness especially toward one another in difficult times.    How many marriages and families break apart when things begin to get tough?  In some families nowadays there’s little or no desire to work at relationships.  I’ve heard of parents—supposedly Catholic parents—who have threatened to disown their pregnant unwed teenage daughters unless their daughters get abortions.

What kind of support is that?  Support—fidelity to another person—means encouraging that person to do the right thing, and then helping them to follow through on that intention.  It doesn’t mean condoning sin of any kind, but it does involve giving emotional and spiritual guidance and support to the sinner (in this case the sinner in the family).

Which brings us to the final necessary component for the restoration of family life: forgiveness!  No marriage survives without it, no family survives without it—no interpersonal relationship whatsoever survives without it.

Unforgiveness is at the root of every family breakup, which is why the two most common sentences that are uttered in the home of a healthy family are the sentences, “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you.”

So there you have it: faith, fidelity and forgiveness—the three components of a strong family life.

Now since this is the case it shouldn’t surprise us in the least that the Holy Family exhibited each of these qualities in their interpersonal relationships:

  • They definitely shared the same belief system (and morality)
  • Without question, they showed fidelity to one another—especially in difficult times (think of the faithfulness of Mary, for example, in following her Son, even to the cross; think of the faithfulness of Joseph in guiding and protecting Mary and Jesus in the flight to Egypt and back; think of the faithfulness of Mary and Joseph to Jesus in today’s gospel story of the finding of our Lord in the temple.  They were not going to stop looking for their Son, until he was safely back with them.)
  • And finally, forgiveness.  Since neither Jesus nor Mary ever committed a sin, there was nothing to forgive there—but the very fact that they never committed any sin means they never committed the sin of unforgiveness—which means they ALWAYS forgave Joseph!  Immediately!

Let me conclude my homily now with a prayer to the Holy Family which I came across a few years ago.  It ties in with much of what I’ve said in this homily.  I pray it in the name of all the families represented here at this Mass: 

JESUS, Son of God and Son of Mary, bless our family. Graciously inspire in us the unity, peace, and mutual love that you found in your own family in the little town of Nazareth.

MARY, Mother of Jesus and our Mother, nourish our family with your faith and your love. Keep us close to your Son, Jesus, in all our sorrows and joys.

JOSEPH, Foster-father to Jesus, guardian and spouse of Mary, keep our family safe from harm. Help us in all times of discouragement or anxiety.

HOLY FAMILY OF NAZARETH, make our family one with you. Help us to be instruments of peace. Grant that love, strengthened by grace, may prove mightier than all the weaknesses and trials through which our families sometimes pass. May we always have God at the center of our hearts and homes until we are all one family, happy and at peace in our true home with you. Amen.


Saturday, December 25, 2021

Why We Need a Savior

(Christmas 2021: This homily was given on December 25, 2021 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Isaiah 9:1-6; Psalm 96:1-13; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14.)

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

In his latest book, “Life is Messy,” Catholic author Matthew Kelly tells the following story: 

Many years ago, I was on my way home from work and a friend came to mind.  It occurred to me that I hadn’t heard from him for a few days, and I knew he had been having a tough time.  I have no idea what led me to do so, but I drove to his place on the other side of town to visit him.

When I opened the door, he looked horrible.  The place was dark and there was trash everywhere.  We opened the curtains to let some light in, and a few windows to get some fresh air circulating.  I suggested he shave and take a shower, while I ordered a pizza and tidied up a bit.  He resisted for a moment, but I said, “Come on, you’ll feel so much better, and when you’re done the pizza will be here.”  We sat on his front porch eating pizza and telling stories, and when we were done, I drove home.

The next day I opened my mailbox to find this handwritten note from him: “I was going to kill myself last night, but then you stopped by just to say hello, and I thought to myself somebody does care.  So, thank you.”

I read that story the other day and the thought occurred to me, “Wow, that’s a really good Christmas story.”  Now I know there’s no mention of Christmas there, and for all we know this event might have taken place on a sunny day in mid-July.  But the message of Christmas—and the importance and power of the Christmas event—are all there.

Let me explain what I mean by that.

Matthew Kelly’s friend found himself in a terrible situation—a situation of suffering and pain that he couldn’t get out of on his own.  And he knew it.  That’s the reason he was planning to take his own life.  He had lost all hope that his life would ever improve.  He needed someone else—a savior of sorts (savior with a small s).  In other words, he needed someone outside of the situation who could help him to do what he could not do for himself.  Thank God Matthew Kelly responded to the promptings of the Holy Spirit that day, went to his friend’s home and fulfilled that role for his friend—literally saving the man’s life in the process!

Christmas is about a God who loves us so much that was willing to step down from his heavenly throne, take on a human nature, be born in a stable, live among us for 33 years, and then die a horrible death.  He was willing to do all those things in order to do for us what we could not do for ourselves.  You see, just like Matthew Kelly’s friend, we’re all in a situation that we cannot get out of on our own (whether we realize it or not).  We’re all in a situation of sin.  That’s because we’re all sinners.  We sin every day of our lives.  Consequently we’re all in need of reconciliation with God.  We’re in need of reconciliation with the Lord both for the bad things we do and for the good things we fail to do. 

The problem is that we can’t save ourselves; we can’t be our own saviors!  We cannot reconcile ourselves to God, no matter how hard we try; no matter how good we are; no matter how good we think we are.  That’s because God is infinitely holy, whereas we are finite, imperfect human persons whose actions have only a finite, limited value. Only a divine Person, whose actions are INFINITELY EFFECTIVE, could bring human beings forgiveness for their sins and true reconciliation with a God who is infinitely holy.

Today we celebrate the birth of that divine Person—Jesus Christ—who was born into this world 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem, and who died on a cross for our sins 33 years later in Jerusalem.

Let me sum it up in this way:

By what he did, Matthew Kelly saved his friend from physical death, and that was a great thing.  We should praise God for that.

But by his saving work, our Lord Jesus Christ has made it possible for us to be saved from the eternal death of hell—and that is a far, far better thing.

But for Jesus to save us, we have to open our hearts to him and allow him to change our lives.  Notice that Matthew Kelly’s friend was saved only because he opened his heart to his savior’s love and responded positively to his savior’s message.  We see that clearly in the letter he left in his savior Matthew’s mailbox when he said to his friend, “I was going to kill myself last night, but then you stopped by just to say hello, and I thought to myself somebody does care.  So, thank you.”

“Somebody does care.”  This man finally realized that there was at least one person out there in the big, bad world who loved him.  And the experience of that love—the love of a true friend—changed his life.

In fact, I’m happy to be able to tell you that this man, who once contemplated killing himself, has gone on to become a doctor.  And he he’s now blessed to have (as Matthew Kelly says in his book), “a wife and three children, a mortgage and a dog.”

The good news, my brothers and sisters, is that Jesus Christ loves us much, much more than Matthew Kelly loves his friend (as great as that love might be).  Jesus’s love is infinite! But we have to respond to that love personally if we want him to save us from eternal death (as Matthew Kelly’s friend needed to respond to Matthew’s love to escape his despair).  In other words, we have to open our hearts to the love of our Savior Jesus Christ (Savior there has a capital S), and we have to strive to live his gospel message every day.

And the fact of the matter is we can all do this, regardless of what our past has been like.  For Catholics who’ve fallen away and stopped practicing their faith, it’s simply a matter of making a good confession, inviting the Lord into your heart, getting back to Mass every week, and beginning a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that nourished by the Bible and the sacraments.  For those who have been faithful in the past it’s a matter of renewing your commitment to Jesus and his Church in your heart.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen said it best when he wrote: “It was wonderful, [it was] marvelous for God to come to this earth, but the marvel that makes us happy is our coming to him.”

It’s my prayer that we will all come to Jesus this Christmas—and stay with him.

So that he can save us.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

God’s Plan; Our Plans

(Fourth Sunday of Advent (C): This homily was given on December 19, 2021 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Micah 5:1-4; Psalm 80:2-19; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45.)

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


God’s plan; our plans.

In case you haven’t noticed, the two don’t always align themselves perfectly. It would be nice if they did, but they don’t!  Sometimes, happily, our plans do coincide with the Lord’s plan.  For example: we pray for something good (a healing, a friend’s conversion, a new job)—and we get it.  Our will coincides with God’s will, and we live happily ever after.

Or at least until we pray for another special intention!

But very often, as we all know, our plans DON’T fit into the Lord’s plan: we don’t get what we want; the smooth road of life suddenly becomes a street filled with potholes and detours—even worse than School Street here in Westerly (if you can imagine a road worse than that one!)  And it’s here that we face one of life’s most important questions: What should I do?  When my plans don’t match up with the Lord’s plan, what should I do?

Some people, unfortunately, answer that question by completely ignoring God’s plan and stubbornly pursuing their own agenda—even if it involves hurting other people and breaking every one of the Ten Commandments.  For example, Joe decides that he wants a new car, but he can’t afford it.  So, he goes to the local dealership and steals one.  Jill wants a promotion at her place of employment, but Judy already has the job.  So, Jill tells lies to the boss about Judy and gets her fired.

Here, my brothers and sisters, we come to an important principle of good morality: We may never do evil that good may come of it.  St. Paul tells us that in Romans 3:8. Or, to put it in more familiar terms, the end never justifies the means.  Yes, it’s good that Joe wants a new car, but he shouldn’t steal to get it.  Yes, it’s good that Jill wants a promotion at her place of employment, but she shouldn’t lie about Judy in order to get it.  Yet these are precisely the kinds of things people will do when they focus only on their plans and forget about God’s plan.  Because when they stop considering God’s plan, they end up forgetting about God’s law.

And by the way—this temptation to do evil that good may come of it—this is the great temptation of our technological age.  For example, some men and women nowadays tell us that they want to prevent overpopulation.  But in order to accomplish their goal they push evils like contraception and abortion on the poor countries of the world.  Others want to stop the suffering of the elderly and the terminally ill, but in the process they promote evils like euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.  Certain married couples want to conceive a child, but to achieve that end they move beyond moral means to gravely immoral means (such as artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization). 

I focus on this issue this morning because in today’s gospel we encounter two women who responded very differently when their plans did not match up with God’s plan.  The two women, of course, are Elizabeth and our Blessed Mother.

First, Mary.

Before the angel Gabriel appeared to her, Mary certainly did not plan to conceive a child by the power of the Holy Spirit; she didn’t plan to give birth to the Savior of the world; she didn’t plan to have the awesome responsibility for raising the Son of God put on her young shoulders.  In today’s gospel we heard about Mary’s visit to Elizabeth after Gabriel had appeared to her at the Annunciation.  Scripture says that Mary proceeded in haste into the hill country to Zechariah and Elizabeth’s home.  She proceeded in haste because she knew her elderly cousin needed her.  Remember that Gabriel had told Mary that Elizabeth was also pregnant with a son.  Mary believed it was God’s plan that she should go and help her cousin, and so she did.  She forgot about herself and her own needs; she forgot about her plans; she apparently even forgot about the difficulty of the journey. 

I remember when I was in Israel in the late 1990s—getting around the “hill country” wasn’t easy, and we were in a bus!  Our Blessed Mother certainly didn’t travel to see Elizabeth in an air-conditioned bus! 

And consider Elizabeth herself.  As a young woman, she certainly didn’t plan to get pregnant at an old age.  In fact, her husband Zechariah lost his voice because he didn’t believe it was even possible!  And yet, that was part of God’s plan for her.  Elizabeth, thankfully, accepted that plan (as Mary did) and she nurtured the life within her for nine months, eventually giving birth to John the Baptist, the Lord’s prophet.  Imagine, by the way, if two women in similar situations became pregnant today: one of them young, unmarried and poor (like Mary); the other old and ill-equipped physically to keep up with a little child (like Elizabeth).  Can you imagine what the people at Planned Parenthood would say to those two women?

Think about that.

When God’s plan conflicts with our plans we can either ignore his will and pursue our own desires (which is currently the common approach to the problem), or we can do what Mary and Elizabeth did: we can let go of our plans and submit totally and completely to the Lord’s.  Amy Grant sings a beautiful song about the Blessed Mother entitled, “Breath of Heaven.”  Some of you have probably heard it.  I know many of our young people have.  In it, she has Mary say these words, in prayer, to God the Father: “But I offer all I am, for the mercy of your plan.” 

Mary did that, and great things happened—things beyond her wildest dreams.  May all of us learn to submit to God’s plan as she did—and as Elizabeth did—so that the Lord can also do great things for us.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Great Expectations of God: You Need Them If You Want to be Able to Rejoice Always


(Third Sunday of Advent (C): This homily was given on December 12, 2021 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Zephaniah 3:14-18a; Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18)

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


We usually expect too much from other people.  Deep down inside we know we shouldn’t, but we do anyway.  Children, for example, expect their parents to be perfect, but there are no perfect parents on the planet. 

A man expects his wife to fulfill his life in every way—a woman expects the same of her husband—but it doesn’t happen (indeed, it cannot happen!).

We expect professional athletes to be great role models for children, but, as we’ve discovered in recent years, that’s a very unrealistic expectation.

We expect to be understood by the people we love, but that doesn’t always happen.

We expect to be forgiven by friends and family members and co-workers when we tell them that we’re sorry for hurting them, but sometimes they withhold their forgiveness.

This phenomenon, of course, is not peculiar to our era of human history.  People have always expected too much from others.  Just look at today’s gospel story from Luke 3.  John the Baptist preaches, teaches and baptizes the crowds at the Jordan River, and they begin to think that he’s something he isn’t; they begin to think that he’s someone he isn’t.

The text reads, “Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.”

Obviously they had an unrealistic expectation for John, in thinking he was the Messiah.  John immediately recognized this and addressed the problem head-on.  He said, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming.  I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

In other words, “Don’t expect me to be the Christ, because you’ll be greatly disappointed.  The real Messiah is coming, and he’s far greater than I am.  In fact, I’m not worthy to take care of his footgear!”

Now here’s the real—and extremely sad—irony.  As I’ve just made clear, we flawed human beings usually expect too much from other people.  And yet, at the very same time, we expect too little—much too little—from Almighty God!

Perhaps that’s the reason why some of us don’t rejoice—at this or at any other time of the year.  Perhaps that’s the reason why some of us can’t rejoice.

Today we celebrate Gaudete Sunday.  It’s the Sunday on which the pink candle of our Advent wreath is lit, signifying that we’re in the second half of Advent and that the joy of Christmas is fast approaching.

Gaudete in Latin means “Rejoice!”  It’s a command which comes from the Scripture text we heard in our second reading today from Philippians 4, where St. Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always!”

But, you see, you can’t rejoice in the Lord—always or even for a little while—unless you have great expectations of God.  Neither will you be able to rejoice if you have a lot of unrealistic expectations of God, but that’s another story. 

First of all, a distinction needs to be made here between feeling joy and rejoicing.  The two are easily and often confused.  Feeling joy is an emotional response to something that pleases us; rejoicing, on the other hand, is an act of the will.  It’s a decision made on the basis of things that we know to be true.

I don’t feel joy at every moment of my life.  I have crosses just like everybody else, and sometimes those crosses cause me to feel distress and sadness.  And I’m sure I am not unusual in this.  For most people on the planet, that’s life!

But regardless of how I’m feeling at any given moment, I can still make the decision to rejoice.  That is always a possibility.  I don’t have to rejoice, that’s true—and to be perfectly honest, sometimes I don’t in difficult circumstances—but I do have the capability to do it if I choose to.

Now, as I said earlier, choosing to rejoice needs to be based on what we know is true; it needs to be based on the realistic and great expectations we have of God, expectations which are rooted in our Catholic faith.  For example, regardless of how I may be feeling on a given day, I can still rejoice . . . 

·         That Jesus does love me and will continue to love me, even if I sin seriously.

·         That Jesus will forgive me whenever I sincerely repent, and especially when I bring my sins to him in the sacrament of Confession. 

·         That Jesus will always hear my prayer and respond to it.

·         That Jesus is always there for me in the Holy Eucharist.

Those are some of the things I can rejoice about—even on my worst days.  That’s because I have great expectations of God: I expect him to always love me; I expect him to forgive me when I repent—that’s why he sent his Son to die for me; I expect him to supply my needs when I ask him to in prayer (not my wants, but my needs); and I expect Jesus to be there for me every time I receive him in the Eucharist, based on his promises to me in Sacred Scripture.

And here’s some really good news: Sometimes when you’re not feeling so great but you make the decision to rejoice in the Lord anyway, you end up feeling at least a little bit better!

When our great expectations of God motivate us to rejoice, sometimes our emotions follow.

That’s an added bonus when it happens—an added bonus for which we should thank God, and another reason for which we can—and should—rejoice!

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

The Immaculate Conception: The Perfect Description of Mary’s Uniqueness


(Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception 2021: This homily was given on December 8, 2021 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 2021

In 1858, when Mary appeared to St. Bernadette in Lourdes, France, she identified herself as “the Immaculate Conception.”

She didn’t call herself “Mary,” or “the Blessed Mother,” or even “the mother of Jesus;” rather, she described who she was with a reference to this Church dogma.

I think many people would find that a bit odd.

To which St. Maximilian Kolbe would respond, “No, it’s not odd at all.  In fact, that’s exactly what I would have expected her to do, since that particular title describes Mary’s uniqueness perfectly.”

In one of his writings St. Maximilian said this about our Blessed Mother’s uniqueness:

God is immaculate, but God is not conceived.  Angels are immaculate, but there is no conception with them [either].  [Adam and Eve] were immaculate before sinning, but neither were they conceived.  Jesus was immaculate and conceived, but he was not a conception, for as God he already existed before, and to him also applied the words of the name of God as revealed to Moses: ‘I am who am, who always is and does not begin to be.’  Other people [like us] are conceptions, but stained.  She alone is not only conceived, but also a conception and immaculate.

Mary under this title of the Immaculate Conception was named the patroness of the United States by the bishops of our country in the mid-1800s.  I would call that a providential action—especially in light of our present cultural and political situation! 

The word immaculate signifies purity; the word conception designates creatureliness.  Mary is rightly called “the Immaculate Conception” because she was sinless (i.e., totally pure) and also because she was perfectly humble, that is to say, she knew she was a creature and not God!  At the Annunciation she said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord;” in her Magnificat she said, in effect, “I am God’s lowly servant.”

Why is this so relevant for us in the United States in the year 2021?

Simply because two of our biggest cultural problems right now are impurity and playing God!

The impurity should be obvious to anyone who turns on a TV set or a radio for even a few minutes.  As for “playing God,” the current attempt by many at surgically changing boys into girls and girls into boys certainly falls into that category—a category which also includes such technological niceties as in vitro fertilization and embryonic stem cell research.  Remember: technology plus morality equals blessings for the human race; whereas technology plus immorality equals “playing God”—and, ultimately, leads to chaos.  Unfortunately, at the present time, the second is far more prevalent in our country and world.

Which is why we desperately need the prayers of the Blessed Mother under this title of the Immaculate Conception— prayers that we will convert our hearts and follow her example of purity and total submission to the Lord. 

O Immaculate Conception, conceived without original sin, pure of heart and always obedient to God’s word, pray for us and pray for our nation.  Amen.