17th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

St. Raymond of Peñafort
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
July 29, 2012

In today’s readings we find a situation not unfamiliar to the modern world:
so many people in need,
and the apostles lamenting that they don’t have
either enough food, money or know how to fix the problem.
An impossible situation.
In the Gospel Jesus has only 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed 5000 men,
not to mention the women and children.
Yet there is nothing to worry about, as Jesus says:
“Have the people recline”:
in effect, ‘tell them to relax.”
Because in his magnificent generosity Jesus, God the Son,
would provide not only enough for them all to eat they wanted,
but so abundantly that there were 12 baskets full of leftovers.
The generosity of God’s love is breathtaking.

Now, sometimes God’s generosity is very clear
—like when he feeds 5000,
or when you ask him for help on a test and you ace it,
or you ask for a cure for you daughter’s cancer and she’s healed.
But sometimes, even when he’s being most generous,
we don’t recognize it, and even think he’s asking too much of us.

The thing is, we don’t always know what’s good for us
–but Jesus, who made us, always knows what we need.
And he knows that each one of us
is created for and are in fundamental need of really only two things:
two gifts which our whole Christian faith revolves around:
the gifts of Life and Love.

Elsewhere in Scripture St. John tells us:
“God is love.
In this the love of God was made manifest among us,
that God sent his only Son into the world,
so that we might live through him.”

Life and love, go hand in hand in the mystery of being a Christian
–and really in the mystery of being human.

But the New Testament isn’t the first place we find this idea.
We find it at the very first chapter of the first book of the Old Testament:
the story of the creation of the universe, and of man,
in the book of Genesis.
In that story we find that God creates man not because he needs to,
but because, as St. John says: “God is love.”
And so this God who is love, in whom living and loving are the same thing,
this God does not need to do anything.
But because love, by its nature, is naturally generous,
God by his nature generously wants to share his life and love.
So out of his life of love he generously gives life
to a new and wonderful creature,
a life that receives God’s love and lives to return that love.

Genesis tells us
“God created man in his own image: male and female he created them.”
This one creature–Man–in his very being, is created sexually as two,
and this difference shows that in his very being
he is created to live and love with another
–and to do so most sublimely in the context of their sexual identities
as male and female, as partners in marriage.

But this is a very different view of things than the world has.
Because for the world we live in, marriage is so often reduced
to whatever legislators or judges or Hollywood executives think it is
–a concept of marriage created by men in their image by the stroke of a pen.
A very different view of what marriage is, and as a result,
a very different view of the meaning of sexuality.

So for example,
we see that by the decision of every state legislature in this country,
marriages can be legally terminated by the simple decision of a judge.
And by the vote of unelected judges it may be that very soon
every state in the union will have to extend legal recognition
to so called “gay marriages.”
And television and movies make it clear that marital infidelity
has become more or less socially acceptable.
Quite different from the teaching of Jesus himself in Matthew Chapter 19:
“from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’
…’for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother
and cling to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh ‘
… what God has joined together, no man can separate.”

And we see a culture that sees sexuality
as a matter of an absolute individualistic right to self-satisfaction
–with no inkling of its nature as a generous sharing of life and love.
We live in a world that in many ways
would make the people of Sodom and Gomorrah blush.
Fortunately, through the Cross of Christ,
God is more merciful to us than he was to Sodom and Gomorrah.

44 years ago this last Wednesday, on July 25, 1968,
a very wise but embattled man,
wrote a very short but also very historic letter
reiterating the Church’s ancient understanding
of the essential integration and unity of human life and human love
in marriage and sexuality.
The man was Pope Paul VI and his letter was called “Humanae Vitae”:
“On Human Life.”

In Humanae Vitae Pope Paul called us to go back to Genesis Chapter 1.
He reminded us that married people are called to share life and love
in every moment and action of their lives.
And that while they’re called to live and love generously in the image of God
–they’re called to live out this love in very human ways.
Sometimes this is in very ordinary ways,
such as living in the same house and working,
and laughing and crying together.
But sometimes it’s in a very special way:
a most concrete, dramatic, intense, and wonderfully joyful way,
in human physical sexual intimacy:
a human act which is a sacramental expression
of the generous life-giving quality of God’s love,
and the love-giving quality of God’s life
found in the very creation of man described in Genesis.

This is what acts of sexual intimacy are intrinsically designed to mean
–and anything less is a corruption of this meaning:
an insult to the dignity of the human person, spouses, children,
and God himself.
So that Pope Paul VI taught,
repeating in modern language what the Church has always taught,
that it is always morally wrong
to intentionally separate the life-giving meaning
of human sexual intimacy
from its love-giving meaning.
Life and love go together in human intimacy,
so that any direct and intentional attempt
to render procreation impossible in the conjugal act
is absolutely contrary to the divine meaning of human love and human life,
and to the eternal and unchanging will of God.
In short, contraception is always a grave or mortal sin.

Contraception takes something God made to generously and dramatically express
his life and love, and the married couple’s sharing in His life and love
and at the same time mutually giving and sharing
in each other’s life and love together,
contraception takes this and changes, degrades it,
into something that it was never meant to be.
Elsewhere in the Gospel, Jesus asks:
“What father among you would hand his son a snake
when he asks for a fish?
Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?”

What husband or wife among you
would give your spouse an act of only false intimacy and selfish sterility
when they ask you to give yourself completely in an act of true love
that is directed or open to bearing the fruit of new life!

This is a very hard concept to accept, especially for those of us
who grew up in a world that teaches us a very different view of sexuality.
But if the world has clearly taken a contra-Christian approach
to the meaning of marriage in its acceptance of divorce and adultery
—and now even homosexuality—
perhaps we can see that it has also gone very wrong
in its understanding of the fundamental meaning of sexuality.
The world reduces sexual intimacy to little more than selfish pleasure,
but Christians see it as having meaning
—a wonderful, rich, joyful and divine meaning,
expressing what is most deepest to the human person.

I know so many people struggle with this—it’s so different.
And I don’t really expect that this homily
is going to cause an immediate mass conversion.
Especially among those of you who have to actually put it into practice.
I don’t have to worry about this in my personal life,
and a lot of the folks in this room are past the age of worrying about it
in their personal lives.
But for many of you this represents an immediate and intensely personal struggle
–a struggle with what you’ve been told over and over
as far back as you can remember,
and also a struggle with what your own passions
might lead you to assume.
Struggle, if you must,
but if you do take today as a new beginning of your struggle,
as you start, maybe for the 1st time,
to think about and pray about and study about
what the Church really has to say and offer
in its beautiful teaching on the mystery of human life and love.

And as you begin little by little to appreciate this beautiful mystery,
don’t be discouraged or feel overwhelmed
by what seems to be the impossibility of fulfilling its demands.
Remember those 5000 people in today’s Gospel
who had followed Jesus to listen to his teaching,
even though they were going out to a deserted place without food.
And in response to those who followed him to learn from him,
Jesus generously provided them with so much food
they had 12 baskets left over!
Will he be any less generous regarding the material needs,
as wells as their emotional and spiritual needs,
of Christian spouses who follow him and listen to his teachings today,
with a generous openness to life?

Some spouses will say,
but Father, this is so difficult and contraception is so easy.
Today Jesus tests Phillip by asking:
“Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”
And Phillip replies, basically, “It’s humanly impossible.”
But then Jesus, God the Son, goes on to do what is humanly impossible,
reminding us of his words in Matthew Chapter 19,
as he finishes his instruction on marriage, children
and the treasures of the world:
“For man it is impossible; but for God all things are possible.”
God will provide every grace spouses need to become the men and women,
the husbands and wives,
that He created them to be from the beginning.

Do not lose hope, but be persistent in your pursuit of the truth, and beg the Lord,
for whom nothing is impossible,
to give you the generosity necessary to sacrifice personal pride or desires
to live in his love and conform to his eternal will,
his plan for your true happiness.

Begin today, and persevere, and he will give you what you need to understand
and to live the sublime divine mystery of generosity
that is the foundation of human love and human life.

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