17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 30, 2017
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Before I begin, let me advice parents that some of them might feel my homily
may be too “mature” for some of their children to hear.
So if you think it necessary you might consider moving to the narthex.
But I don’t think that will be necessary, but I won’t be offended.
49 years ago, this last week, on July 25, 1968,
Pope Paul VI issued perhaps the most important papal encyclical
of the 20th century, called “On Human Life,” or Humanae Vitae.
In this letter the Holy Father declared and reconfirmed
the Church’s ancient, constant and infallible teaching
that the love-giving and the life-giving qualities
of sexual intercourse
are not only intrinsically and inseparably united
in God’s plan for human love and marriage,
but they are also expressive of both
the dignity of man created in the image of God,
and the life and love of God himself.
And because of that, any intentional and direct interference
in the life-giving aspect, commonly called “contraception”
is always contrary to God’s love and degrading of human dignity.
This was, and still is, a hard teaching for the modern world to accept.
And so Paul VI was immediately greeted by hostility and ridicule,
even from many otherwise faithful Catholics.
They laughed at his predictions
that if contraception became acceptable in society,
we would see a rapid decline in sexual morality,
and an increase in the degradation of women, in divorce
and in abortion.
They laughed because they thought that the exact opposite would happen.
But today, Pope Paul seems a prophet,
as all these predictions have come to pass.
Even so, most people in the western world, including most Catholics
now accept contraception as normal, and even necessary.
Why is this teaching so widely rejected?
There are many reasons given,
but I think the strongest one is very simple and direct:
they say that this is a private matter between a husband and wife
—or even between an unmarried couple.
At the core of their argument is essentially faith in the “right to privacy.”
It’s interesting that this “right to privacy” is so important
in defending contraception.
Because that’s the same legal notion used by the Supreme Court
to argue in favor of the “right to abortion”
and now, the “right to sodomy,”
and the right to so-called “same sex ‘marriage’.”
And it’s even more interesting, because this constitutional right to privacy
was first established by the Supreme Court in 1965
in a case called “Griswold v. Connecticut”
–a case that ruled that there is a constitutional right to contracept.
In other words, according to the Supreme Court,
the right to privacy establishes the right to contracept,
and from that flows the right to abort babies,
and the right to sexual depravity.
Sounds a lot like Paul VI’s reasoning, though in reverse.
Do we have a right to privacy in God’s eyes?
Surely, it’s true that we all have a certain right to privacy,
we don’t want people snooping on us all the time.
And clearly a husband and wife have a specific right to privacy
in their most intimate moments.
But are these really completely “private moments?”
As St. Paul writes in his 1st letter to the Corinthians,
“If one member [of the body] suffers, all suffer together;
if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”
Whether we’re talking about the Church as the one Body of Christ,
or the whole community of Americans in the “body politic”
the image of the body reminds we are all connected to each other
and effected by each other’s actions.
So, we see, there are no really completely private acts
—every act in one way or another affects all of us.
Now, St. Paul speaks of the Church as the Body of Christ.
But he also speaks of the Church as the “Bride of Christ.”
So that when he calls the Church the “Body of Christ”
he’s also alluding to the unity between a husband and wife:
a unity in which “the two become one flesh”—or “one body.”
As Christ becomes one body with the Church,
in a similar way, this is reflected in
a husband becoming one body with his wife.
This saying that the “two become one flesh,” originates
in the Biblical story of the creation of Adam and Eve.
Scripture makes it very clear that God created Adam and Eve
to share His love and life with them.
And it tells us that God created them in His own image,
and then gave them to each other,
and that the very first words he spoke to them were very clear:
“be fruitful, and multiply”!
In all this, Scripture reveals that
spouses become who God created them to be
when they imitate His completely unselfish and generous love,
by sharing their love and life with each other,
but in such a completely generous and unselfish way
that they are open to creating
a new human being in their image,
and sharing their love and life with them as well.
So we see, the wonderful gift of the intimate physical expression of spousal love
is intrinsically directed toward and finds its truest meaning in
the even more magnificent gift of the power to give life.
It is very true that spouses can express their love in the conjugal act
without having babies.
But to purposefully work against or “protect” oneself
from a baby in that act
is directly contradictory to the meaning of the “one flesh union.”
“I want to give all my life and love to you,
except the most incredible and almost divine part which
has the power to create new life from love.”
How then can it be an act of total and true love,
when it is so fundamentally selfish and a lie?
So, when someone says these matters are private, the Church says: No!
If this were an absolutely private act, then you would be alone,
effecting no one else.
But in contraception, by definition, you are not alone
and the lives of 2 separate people are effected.
Some say, okay, but if a couple contracepts,
that’s at least a private act between them, and it effects no one else.
Beyond the idea I mentioned earlier that it effects the whole body of Christ,
and the body politic,
if contraception was truly a private act just between a man and woman,
then there’d be no need to contracept.
The only reason to contracept is so that another, 3rd person, won’t be born!
Not private at all anymore.
But how can a baby not even conceived have some sort of rights here;
how can you count it as a third person
before it even comes into existence?
In the 4th century St. Augustine,
the Church’s greatest philosopher and theologian,
addressed this very topic.
Augustine said, take 2 strangers who join in sexual intimacy:
he said, not only do they not have love for each other,
they have no desire whatsoever to conceive.
In fact, they’re radically opposed to it—and fight it by contra-cepting.
But the reality is that there’s still a good chance that they’ll lose that fight.
And then what’s their attitude toward the child they conceived but did not want,
and fought against?
Augustine argues that their attitude against conception,
becomes the foundation for their relationship with the child.
And so, as we see today, with 40% of children born out of wedlock,
an illegitimate father will be tempted to abandon mother and child,
or pressure her to “get rid of the problem.”
And mothers, also, will be tempted to see the child as a problem to be aborted.
They didn’t want it, why is coming? so they get rid of it: they abort.
But Augustine doesn’t stop there.
He argues that the same thing happens
when a married couple decides to contracept:
they share the attitude of fighting against the baby,
and will also be tempted to carry that over to the child conceived:
and so 37% of unintended pregnancies of married women
end in abortion.
And even if the child isn’t aborted, how easy will it be for those the parents
to shift from fighting against the baby
to welcoming the baby with open arms?
And so child abuse, neglect and abandonment soars, because of contraception.
A child has a right to be conceived and born in the context of love
—love between the parents and love that they have for the baby.
And that right precedes conception.
Friends, there is a direct and intrinsic connection
between marital love and sex and procreation.
If we forget these connections
we will have no understanding of any of these wonderful gifts.
And then we won’t understand what’s wrong with things like
in vitro fertilization and cloning,
extramarital sex, homosexual acts,
and so-called “same sex marriage.”
Much less, contraception.
There is no doubt that raising children is very difficult.
And parents must be responsible in planning the birth of children.
That’s why the Church recognizes that prospective parents
can sometimes morally postpone the conception of children
by using “natural” means, such as “natural family planning”,
—means that cooperate with God’s plan for sharing life and love,
not fight against it.
But responsibility does not mean pettiness or selfishness.
So couples must have a “just reason”
consistent with love and openness to life
when they act to postpone conception.
And responsibility does not mean hopelessness.
The Gospels tell us of 2 times when Jesus fed a hungry crowd
of thousands of men and women from a handful of loaves and fishes.
All because they had followed him, listening to his word.
Will he be any less generous regarding the material needs of Christian spouses
who follow him and listen to his word with a generous openness to life?
As St. Paul reminds us in today’s 2nd reading:
“We know that all things work for good for those who love God.”
Some spouses will say, but Father,
it’s so difficult (to practice natural family planning or the like)
and contraception is so easy.
No one asks you to do the impossible, especially Jesus.
But, it’s not impossible—we are not animals, we can control ourselves.
But even when it might seem impossible, remember Jesus tells us:
“With men it is impossible, but not with God;
for all things are possible with God.”
God will provide every grace spouses need to become the men and women,
the husbands and wives, fathers and mothers,
that He created them to be from the beginning.
But Father, some will say, this will take a lot of sacrifice.
This could affect our lives in huge ways.
Yes, it could affect your lives, sometimes creating huge difficulties,
but also strengthening the true love and mutual respect and appreciation
The thing is, true love always involves sacrifice:
the sacrifice of the Cross was the greatest act of love ever
—Christ laying down his life, his body–for his Bride, the Church.
And that’s exactly the same love every husband should have for his wife,
and wife for her husband.
As St. Paul tells us elsewhere:
“Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church
and gave himself up for her.”
On their wedding day bride and groom both lay down their life for their spouse,
giving themselves up completely in love.
And when they do that, they don’t do it with sadness or grumbling
–you don’t hear the bride and groom at the wedding saying,
“oh, this is too hard,”
No! They do it happily, with eagerness and joy.
Because it’s worth it.
To a bride or groom, marriage is,
“like a merchant searching for fine pearls.
When he finds a pearl of great price,
he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.
Marriage is like that,
and so is the fullness of the Church’s understanding
of Marriage and sexuality.
Particularly the ancient teaching repeated in Humanae Vitae,
so often ignored and rejected by Catholics today.
A pearl of great price that has become “like a treasure buried in a field.”
A treasure that today we must dig up,
and “~out of joy go and sell all that we have and buy that field.~”
This treasure is part of the kingdom:
it is the way God made us from the beginning,
and we cannot share in the kingdom if we reject this treasure.
So the Church has always infallibly taught
that every single intentional and direct act of contraception
is always a gravely evil, or a mortal sin.
And because I love you I must warn you of the consequences of mortal sin,
I’ve told you the beauty of this teaching, but now the other side.
As Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel:
“at the end of the age…The angels will go out
and separate the wicked from the righteous
and throw them into the fiery furnace,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
That is the consequence of mortal sin.
It is God’s plan, revealed in Scripture and in the natural law
that marital love, sexual intimacy and procreation are all bound together
as one magnificent gift generously bestowed on mankind.
If we do not recognize this connection, we will never understand these gifts,
and we will surely abuse and demean them,
and ourselves and those we love, or should love.
Let us pray then that the lives of all men and women
may be filled with the true love of Christ that leads to
a new understanding of sexuality and marriage,
and a new generosity and openness to life.
That they may recognize “the pearl of great price”
that is the Church’s teaching “On Human Life.”