TEXT: 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 30, 2023

July 30, 2023 Father De Celles Homily

The 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 30, 2023

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

55 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 this has come to pass.

Even so, most people in the western world, including most Catholics,

now accept contraception as normal, and even necessary.

And so they reject the ancient teaching of Christ and His Church.


This teaching is truly ancient, as old as man himself,

rooted 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.

And to purposefully work against or “protect” oneself from a baby in that act

is directly contradictory to the meaning of the “one flesh union.”


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 couples

can sometimes morally postpone the conception of children

by using “natural” means, such as “natural family planning,”

—means that cooperate with God’s plan, 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 two 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 second 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.”


But Father, some will say, this will take a lot of sacrifice.

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.

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 grave 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, and contraception is always a mortal sin.


As we continue this Holy Mass,

let us pray then for a renewed understanding of sexuality and marriage,

         and generosity and openness to life.

That we may all recognize “the pearl of great price”

that is the Church’s teaching “On Human Life.”