17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 24, 2016
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
“And I tell you, ask and you will receive;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.”
What more wonderful promise does Jesus make in all of Sacred Scripture?
It reaches into the depths of our hearts,
and we’re completely disarmed by the generosity of God.
But at the same time,
we know that Jesus expects us to ask for things that are good for us:
“If you then, who are wicked,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will the Father in heaven give…
to those who ask him?”
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 two most basic things before all else:
two gifts which our whole Christian faith revolves around:
the gifts of Life and Love.
As today’s 2nd reading St. Paul tells us that Christ
“brought you to life along with him.”
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 naturally 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 and sexuality is so often reduced to
whatever presidents, legislators, judges, school boards
or Hollywood executives think it is
–a concept of marriage and sexuality 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.
And so 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 self-gift 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.
48 years ago tomorrow, on July 25, 1968, a very wise but embattled man,
wrote a very short but also very historical 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, building on that understanding, Pope Paul VI went on to teach,
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 sin.
Contraception takes something God made
to generously and dramatically express his life and love,
and changes, degrades it,
into something that it was never meant to be.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us:
“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 inherently 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 and sexuality
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.
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 don’t take today as the end of your struggle,
but as the beginning,
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 the words of Jesus in St. Matthew’s Gospel,
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.”
Be persistent in your pursuit of the truth,
and beg the Lord, for whom nothing is impossible:
“Jesus, if there’s something I’m missing
in this teaching that seems so important
to the early Fathers, the great Doctors, the Popes
and the Councils of the Church,
Lord Jesus, show me.”
And beg him to give you the generosity necessary
to sacrifice personal pride or desires
to live in his love and conform to his eternal will.
Begin today, and persevere, and he will give you what you need
to understand and live the divine mystery of human love and human life.
“For everyone who asks, receives;
and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”