16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 22, 2018
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Today is the 16th Sunday in Ordinary time,
which means I should normally be wearing green, not white.
But don’t worry, the rules let me do this.
And the reason I’m doing so is that I designed this particular chasuble
to wear on the Feast of my favorite saint, St. Mary Magdalene,
which is today, July 22,
except that since it’s a Sunday we celebrate the Lord’s Day instead.
But this allows me to honor her in a special way today, so I hope you understand.
I know I’ve told you before, and I’m sorry to repeat myself,
but one of the reasons the Magdalene is so dear to me is that
16 years ago today, on her feast day,
I was miraculously and inexplicably cured as I was lying on death’s door.
Seriously: in the morning I was in a coma
and the doctors told us I would be dead by n the afternoon,
but in the afternoon I was sitting up, talking and eating
and pronounced cured—and no one could explain it.
And I am absolutely convinced it was through Magdalene’s intercession.
16 years ago today.
So I honor her to praise the Lord for the gift of Life He gave back to me that day.
I was dying from sepsis, an infection that started with one microscopic bacterium
that found its way into one of my teeth.
One tiny germ, that turned into a toothache, that turned into sepsis,
and then almost took my life.
This is really amazing.
How can a little bitty germ make us so sick or even kill
a full grown healthy man or woman?
But what happens isn’t that complicated, not fundamentally.
Our bodies are built to function a certain way naturally,
and when something, no matter how small, enters our bodies
and interferes with that normal or “natural” functioning of the body
First the body’s natural defense mechanisms kick in to defend itself,
and so, for example, you feel a fever as the fight heats up.
But if that natural defense isn’t strong enough
eventually the body itself starts to act in ways
that are not normal, not natural, to it.
So it’s not just fever and pain or coughing,
but now there’s unconsciousness, paralysis, and organs shutting down.
And then the ultimate unnatural thing for the body: death.
And this happens not just to the human body, but also to the human mind.
The mind also works in a certain way by nature.
But then when something contrary to that nature affects the mind
—a frightening thought, or a traumatic experience;
or a drug or physical wound to the head—
terrible things can happen.
And this is really the same in the whole of the natural universe.
We see it writ large, for example, in the environment.
Nowadays, for example, people say that
certain human-generated “greenhouse gases” are causing global warming.
So that, kind of like when a germ conflicts with the natural function of the body,
these greenhouse gases conflict
with the natural functioning of the atmosphere.
All this has a cascading effect, they say,
as the upper atmosphere traps excessive heat
this leads to abnormal heat or cold on the ground,
which leads to droughts or floods
which lead to famines
which lead to deaths by starvation.
And eventually, some say, the whole planet may die.
Now, I know a lot of other people disagree.
[And I’m not taking sides here—just using this as an example.]
But let’s just assume they’re right.
After all, it is a fundamental scientific fact,
that when something interferes with the normal or “natural” functioning
of a natural ecological system,
bad things happen to it.
When it comes to human nature, many people seem to reject science
when it is culturally inconvenient.
They see clearly that when a germ, or even too much fatty food,
enters the human body,
or some traumatic event affects the human mind,
So that they agree we must protect the natural functioning
of the human body and mind.
But at the same time
they often also accept and promote things directly contrary
to the nature of the human body and mind.
This is why Pope St. John Paul, Pope Benedict and Pope Francis
have each reminded us that like the environment around us,
man naturally functions a certain way
we have a “human ecology,” a “human nature.”
And harming that nature is much more dangerous
than harming the nature of the environment.
But no Pope was more prophetic in his warnings about protecting human nature
than Pope Paul VI,
when on July 25, 1968, 50 years ago this Wednesday,
he exposed one of the most important threats to human nature
in his courageous and historic encyclical, Humanae Vitae.
And that threat was the unnatural act of contraception.
[Now, to protect innocent ears, I will use the term “marital act” to refer to the act
by which human beings procreate—whether inside or outside of marriage.]
As Pope Paul reminded us,
according to the nature of the body itself, and as science clearly testifies,
the marital act is clearly primarily and totally
designed as the sole way that human life is created in nature.
Procreation is fundamental to the nature of the marital act.
And yet, science shows
that contraception is specifically designed to act
directly contrary to the natural functioning of the body.
Why is it that a culture so concerned about the natural environment
thinks it a good thing to do something so contrary to nature
Especially when the most commonly used form of contraception [in the US]
is a pill that is specifically designed to force a healthy woman’s body
to do what it would not do naturally, force it to be unhealthy?
And for a culture that thinks that this or that man-made activity
causes global warming that will lead to worldwide famines and death,
why isn’t anyone concerned about the potential danger of
such an unnatural chemical attack on a woman’s body?
Especially when the World Health Organization classifies the pill
as a carcinogen, in the same category as cigarettes?
Have you ever listened to the legal disclosures in those TV ads for the pill:
does anyone listen when they conclude that the pill: “may cause death”?
But looking beyond the bodily unnaturalness of contraception,
Pope Paul reminded us of the effect on human nature in its totality.
The marital act is designed to create new human life
—there is no greater thing in the world,
nothing more important to human nature!
So that must make the marital act extremely important to human nature.
So that just as a human body is devastated by tiny little germs,
how can a practice so contrary to human nature as contraception
not be a catastrophe to human beings and human society?
Think about it: if you strip the marital act of its central meaning
as the natural font that creates human life,
what difference does it make what you do with it after that?
It’s like putting feces into food,
and then arguing about whether it would taste better with paprika or sugar.
Who cares! It’s ruined! What difference does it make after that?
And if this most sublime part of human nature
could be so easily treated so unnaturally,
why would you care about protecting the less important aspects
of human nature?
And so in 1968 Pope Paul warned us that contraception
would lead to terrible consequences to individuals, families and society.
He warned it would lead to greater “marital infidelity,”
to a “general lowering of morality,”
and to rampant promiscuity among the young, particularly young men;
He also warned that governments would eventually impose contraception
on their people to solve social problems.
And finally, Pope Paul said it would ultimately lead to
“the man, …. los[ing] respect for the woman and,
…considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment,
and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.”
All these and more have come to fruition,
as divorce, abortion, pornography, child and wife abuse,
and out of wedlock births are at levels
no one in their worst nightmares would have dreamed possible
back in 1968.
And then there’s “gay marriage”
—people in 1968 would have thought you were crazy
if you told them that was going to happen.
In 50 years it’s almost become a different world.
But what do we expect when we introduce something so unnatural
into the human system?
So what do we do?
When we’re sick we go to a physician to bring the body back to its natural order.
Well, God is the Divine Physician.
The divine physician who not only heals and saves lives,
but who is the generous giver of life to begin with.
The Lord who is generous beyond all our dreams
wants us to be generous as well, especially when it comes to
sharing in His power to give life to babies.
But how are we to be generous?
For those who are married and still in your childbearing years,
God wants you to be generous toward Him
by being open to His plans for you,
and to be generous toward the children
that He may still be planning to give you.
Now, you don’t have to be foolish—just generous.
Some couples, I know, find themselves in difficult or challenging situations
and it doesn’t seem the wisest time to have a baby.
The Lord doesn’t tell you not to use your heads
when real problems seem to present themselves.
That would be contrary to your nature as a rational being.
So live according to your nature in reason,
but also live according to your nature in your sexuality.
If you think there’s a just reason for postponing the conception of a child right now,
consider using one of the very rational and scientific methods
of Natural Family Planning,
which cooperate with the nature of the marital act
and human nature itself.
Use the gift of your natural reason to plan,
but at the same time let your reason keep in your mind and heart
the scientific fact that the nature of the marital act
So that if, contrary to your planning,
God should plan to generously give you a baby
you will rejoice in His generosity,
and in turn generously welcome that gift with open arms.
And for those who are single, or past your childbearing years,
you be generous by imitating Jesus, of who as today’s Gospel tells us,
“His heart was moved with pity for them,
…and He began to teach them many things.”
Go out and tell the world the truth about human nature
and Christ’s generous grace.
But do it with true wisdom:
learn about and share the Church’s teachings
and options like Natural Family Planning.
And do it with the true love that is at the heart of generosity,
and our human nature.
On this feast of St. Mary Magdalene, I commend her to you all,
but especially to women and men who struggle
with the sin of contraception.
It is the ancient understanding of the Church that the Magdalene
is the exemplar of penitent saints
—of a person whose “sins were many,” but set all of them aside
through the grace of Jesus and for the love of Him.
The tradition particularly considered Magdalene to be guilty of sexual sins,
and to have been sexually abused by many men.
What greater patron can Our Generous Jesus
give men and women struggling with contraception,
than this great loving and compassionate saint.
It is a scientific fact that the world and everything in it
is created in a particular way:
whether the whole environment of earth,
or the human race
—everything has a specific nature.
And even the smallest act contrary to a thing’s nature can damage or even kill it.
This is just the way things are, this is the truth.
By the light of Christ and by His grace,
and through the intercession of St. Mary Magdalene,
may we and our society grow in understanding and accepting this truth, and so become the strong healthy creatures in body, mind and soul
that we are naturally meant to be.