Saturday, June 8, 2013

HOMILY – 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

For the next several weeks, we will be reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians. This letter was written about 20-25 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection and was written to a community of Christians in modern day Turkey. This community of Christians were Gentiles – non-Jews – whom St. Paul had converted to Christianity. The tone of this letter is highly charged, even defensive because Jewish-Christian missionaries who had come after Paul were requiring the people Paul converted - his friends - to follow Jewish laws, such as circumcision. For Paul, we are saved not by following laws (because in our human weakness we will never be able to follow either the spirit or letter of the law perfectly), but we are saved through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. And, as Paul stresses, the Gospel he proclaims was not something he invented, but it is from God and it was by God that Paul was called to proclaim it. I appreciate St. Paul’s strong conviction, his risk-taking to admit his own failings AND his great trust in God. It is with this same approach that I address the fourth in my series of homilies during this Year of Faith. Following Dr. Christopher Kazcor’s book, The Seven Big Myths of the Catholic Church, I have been using the Sunday readings to tackle some of the biggest misunderstandings of our Roman Catholic Church and the faith with which she is entrusted by Jesus Christ. Dr. Kazcor’s fourth myth goes something like this: the Church’s opposition to contraception shows that the Church is not only disconnected from modern society, but especially disconnected from the realities of love and married life. As Dr. Kazcor points out, most people, including most Catholics, view the use of contraception as not only NOT wrong, but in many cases a positive duty. In fact, a recent Pew study found that 64% of Catholics sampled said that the Pope Francis should relax the Church’s ban on contraception. I don’t anticipate that happening anytime soon and I will explain why. Before going further, I want to say that I am not trying to be controversial or provocative by standing here at this pulpit and talking about contraception or any other hot-button issue. However, like St. Paul in writing to the Galatians, I speak to you with a great love and also a strong desire that you know God’s love, which I believe is uniquely found and guarded by the Church. So, I am willing to risk embarrassment, being made fun of, or that you will just tune me out, if there is the possibility that I might bring you or your loved ones to reconsider your position on contraception, if you are part of that 64%. So, on the issue of birth control, let me first say that the Church teaches that any action either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, which is specifically intended to prevent procreation is immoral and not permissible in the eyes of the Church. Contraception is immoral and wrong when it frustrates or prevents the unitive and procreative nature of the act, as God designed. Proponents of contraception contend that contraception will transform society for the better – this is the bill of goods sold to so many when the pill first started being mass produced over 50 years ago and still today. Their argument goes something like this: contraception will make marriages better, reduce sexually transmitted diseases, allow greater sexual freedom and happiness, reduce unplanned pregnancies and abortions and help control alleged global over-population. In reality, contraception has been harmful to marriages, and has failed to stop increases in STDs, unwanted pregnancies and abortions. We are only now beginning to understand the very serious physical, emotional and spiritual side effects and environmental impacts of contraception. And, as foretold over 40 years ago in the 1968 encyclical Humane Vitae, we are now more clearly seeing how contraception has “opened wide the way for marital infidelity, a general lowering of moral standards, and the objectifying of women. Contraception fits well into a world view that I can do whatever I want, whenever I want, with whomever. As Catholics, our world view is much different – it is about being a love relationship with a triune God - a God who created us out of love; who suffered and died for us out of love; and, who out of love, continually gives us whatever we need to stay in relationship with him. As Catholics we are called to love God and in turn share that same love with others. In the first reading and Gospel, we are reminded that our God is also a God of life. God works through the prophet Elijah, who prayed to let the life breath return to the body of the widow’s son. And it is Jesus who restored life to the widow’s son in today’s Gospel. These stories tell us of God’s great power to restore life, the importance and value God places on life, and the love and compassion God has for each of us, especially those in need. When couples use contraception to suppress their fertility, they assert that they alone have ultimate power and control to create new life - not God. And this is why the efforts to promote contraception as a matter of women’s health are problematic. Among other things, it is offensive to treat life that we hold so sacred as a disease that needs to be prevented or destroyed. And the irony is that the “treatments” being advanced in the name of women’s health are not improving women’s lives or health, but making them much worse. Many point to the Church’s teaching on contraception and say that the Church just does not get the realities of love and married life. The Church does get it and we can point to its teaching on marriage to prove this. In marriage, spouses seal their love and commitment through their sexual union. Many today find it difficult to understand how profound and meaningful this union is, how it embodies these promises of marriage that: “We will love and honor each other as man and wife for the rest of our lives? We will accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?” In other words, the married couple is saying: We are ready to accept this person, and all that may come from our union, completely and forever! Only in marriage can we find meaning and purpose, as well as lasting joy, in this most intimate act between a man and woman. Our culture often presents sex as merely recreational, not as a deeply personal or even important encounter between spouses - an encounter that mirrors the total self-giving of Jesus on the Cross. In our culture, being responsible about sex simply means limiting its consequences—avoiding disease and using contraceptives to prevent pregnancy. This cultural view is impoverished, even sad. It fails to account for the true needs and deepest desires of men and women. Living in accord with this view has caused much loneliness and many broken hearts - and ultimately distances us from the most important relationship: the one with God. God’s plan for married life and love is far richer and more fulfilling. In marriage, intimacy between a husband and wife is the source of a joy and pleasure that helps the spouses give themselves to each other completely and for their entire lives. And as couples turn away from contraception they will certainly share greater honesty, openness, and intimacy in their marriage. I just wish I heard this message 15-20 years ago! In married life, the Church also gets that serious circumstances—financial, physical, psychological, or those involving responsibilities to other family members—may arise to make an increase in family size untimely. The Church understands this. At such times, a married couple can engage in marital intimacy during the naturally infertile times or after child-bearing years, without violating the meaning of marital intercourse in any way. This is the principle behind natural family planning (NFP). Natural methods of family planning enable couples to use the very best understanding of our bodies to cooperate with the body as God designed it. We are blessed to have an NFP-trained and certified couple in our parish - Greg and Dorie France. I would encourage you to talk to them or me about this. NFP combined with self-restraint, self-discipline, mutual respect, and shared responsibility are the the most effective and responsible ways to plan a family and to experience a truly healthy and happy marriage. In today’s first reading and Gospel, we hear beautiful responses of faith when the gift of life is restored. What is our response to life? Is it something we contracept? Or is it something we honor and celebrate?