17th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2011
July 24, 2011
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort, Springfield, Va.
My homily this morning
requires a careful balance of charity and clarity, modesty and precision.
It will be difficult for some adults to hear,
and a bit too “mature” for some younger ones to understand.
I particularly hope I don.t offend the innocence of the little ones present.
But it must be said, so I beg your patience.
43 years ago, tomorrow, on July 25, 1968,
Pope Paul VI issued perhaps the most important papal encyclical
of the 20th century, called Humanae Vitae.
And 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.
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 principle used by the Supreme Court
to argue in favor of the “right to abortion”
and now, the “right to sodomy,”
and soon, I.m afraid, the “right to homosexual „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, in a backward sort of way.
Do we have a right to privacy in God.s eyes?
Surely, it.s true that a husband and wife have a certain kind of right to privacy
in their most intimate moments.
But are these really completely “private moments?”
[And] 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.”
Here St. Paul speaks of the Church as the one Body of Christ,
but we can use this analogy to refer to
the connectedness of a people, a nation or even the human race
—the body politic, as it were.
In this analogy we see, there are no really completely private acts
—every act in one way or another effects all of us.
As I said, here 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
in a completely unselfish and generous act:
solely because he wanted 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:
“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 the even more magnificent gift of giving life.
It is very true that spouses can have love without having babies.
But to purposefully work against or “protect” oneself
from a baby in the conjugal 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 husband and wife, in their privacy as a couple,
freely agree to contracept,
that.s at least a private act between them, and it effects no one else.
But if contraception was truly a private act just between the husband and wife,
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:
there is no love there, and they have no desire to be fruitful.
In fact, they.re radically opposed to procreation
—and fight it by contracepting.
But the reality is that there.s still a good chance that they.ll lose that fight.
And then what.s their attitude to the child conceived by “mistake”?
That child they did not want, that child they fought against?
Augustine argues that the lack of love that precedes the conception,
becomes the foundation for their relationship with the child.
And so, as we see today with 1 in 3 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 agree with the fathers
and see this child as a problem to be aborted.
But Augustine doesn.t stop there.
He argues that when a married couple decide to contracept
they have the same attitude of the 2 strangers
—the attitude of fighting against the baby.
And these parents will also be tempted to carry that attitude over to the child:
we see this statistically in the fact that
37% of unintended pregnancies of married women end in abortion.
And even if the child isn.t aborted, won.t it be difficult for the parents
who fought so hard against conception, against the baby,
to now welcome the conceived baby with open and loving arms?
Won.t too many even be tempted
to neglect, or abuse or abandon these children?
A child has a right to be conceived and born in the context of love
—love between the parents and love 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,
premarital and extramarital sex,
and homosexual acts.
And we won.t be able to understand what.s wrong with 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.
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
—and then had enough left over to fill 12 baskets.
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 and contraception is so easy.
No one asks you to do the impossible, especially Jesus.
But as he tells the apostles elsewhere:
“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, that He created them to be from the beginning.
But Father, some will say, this will take a lot of sacrifice.
This could effect our lives in huge ways.
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,
but 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 theologians and priests,
and by married couples themselves.
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 be who we are intended to be,
we can.t 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 remind you what Jesus tells us at the end of 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.”
So, as God once revealed through His prophet Moses:
“I have set before you life and death,
blessing and curse;
therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live.”
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 Church.s teaching as the pearl of great price,
the treasure buried in the field.
And that they may have unfailing faith and hope in the generous love of Jesus,
“that all things work for good for those who love God.”