17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 25, 2021
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
53 years ago today, 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 and infallible teaching
that intentional and direct contraception
is always a grave, or mortal, sin.
He 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 overall sexual morality,
and an increase in the degradation of women, in divorce and in abortion.
But today, Pope Paul is a canonized saint, a true prophet,
as all these predictions have come to pass,
albeit to an extent he probably never imagined.
Even still, most people in the western world, including the vast majority of Catholics,
now accept contraception as normal, and even good.
Why is this infallible teaching so widely rejected?
There are many reasons given,
but I think the one that rings most true 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 moral principle of a “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 then the “right to sodomy,”
and now, 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 all the other major legal debasements
to sexuality and marriage.
Sounds a lot like Paul VI’s reasoning, in a backward sort of way.
Do we have a moral right to privacy in God’s eyes?
Surely, it’s true that a husband and wife have a certain right to privacy
in their most intimate moments.
But are these really completely “private moments?”
In today’s second reading St. Paul reminds us that in baptism
all Christians become united as “one body” in Christ.
And as St. Paul writes elsewhere,
“If one member [of the body] suffers, all suffer together ;
if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”
In other words, there are no really completely private acts
—every act in one way or another affects all of us.
But elsewhere St. Paul 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.”
The Church becomes one body with Christ,
as a wife becomes one body with her husband
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 create a new human being in their image,
and share 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.
It says, “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,
affecting no one else.
Even setting aside the idea that every sin affects the whole body of Christ,
in contraception, by definition, you are not alone,
you are with another, your spouse,
so that you are being selfish toward and lying to them.
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,
affecting no one else, no third party, directly.
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, third person, a baby, won’t be conceived!
But how can a baby not even conceived have some sort of rights here;
how can you count it as a third person when it doesn’t even exist yet?
In the 4th century St. Augustine, the Church’s greatest philosopher and theologian,
addressed this very topic.
Augustine said, take two strangers who join in sexual intimacy:
there is no love there, and they have no desire to be fruitful.
In fact they are radically opposed to procreation—and fight it by contracepting.
But the reality is that there’s still a good chance that they will lose that fight,
that a child will be conceived.
And then what is their attitude to the child conceived by “mistake”?
That child they wanted not to have, that child they fought against?
Augustine argues that the lack of love, what he actually calls “hatred,”
that precedes the conception,
becomes the foundation for their relationship with the child.
And so, as we see today with over 40% of children born out of wedlock in America,
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 two 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 to 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
to now welcome the conceived baby with open and loving arms?
Won’t some 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 sex, and homosexual acts,
not to mention what is so absurd about so-called same-sex marriage.
And we certainly 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 serious reason
consistent with love and openness to life
when they act to postpone conception.
And responsibility does not mean hopelessness.
In today’s Gospel it tells us that 5000 men, had followed Jesus,
and the apostles feared they would go hungry.
And by “5000 men” it implies “5000 men and their families,”
so a it was a much larger crowd, maybe 10 or 15 thousand.
But these men and their families did not go hungry,
because Jesus generously provided them with so much food
they had 12 baskets left over!
Will He be any less generous regarding the material needs of Christian spouses
who follow Him with a generous openness to life?
Some spouses will say, but Father, it’s 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.
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.
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.
As we now enter more deeply into this Holy Mass,
we remember that the same Jesus who once multiplied 5 loaves of bread
to provide for the physical needs of 5000 men and their families,
is the same Jesus who comes to us by transforming bread into His body
to provide for the spiritual needs of His whole Church.
Let us pray then, that by the grace of Jesus Christ
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.
And let us have unfailing faith and hope in the generous love of Jesus,
that He will provide every necessity, physical and spiritual,
to those who follow Him.