2nd Sunday Ordinary Time
A Homily - B Cycle - 2002-2003
First Reading - 1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19
Psalm - 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10
Second Reading - 1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20
Gospel - John 1:35-42
John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
John was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watch Jesus walk by, he said, "Behold, the Lamb of God." The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, "What are you looking for?" They said to him, "Rabbi" - which translated means Teacher - "where are you staying?" He said to them, "Come, and you will see." So they went and saw where Jesus was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon. Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus. He first found his own brother Simon and told him, "We have found the Messiah" - which is translated Christ. Then he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas" - which is translated Peter.
As some of you know, I've been away from the parish for the last two weeks on vacation to be with my family in Manila in the Philippines. It was truly wonderful to return home as a priest and to offer Mass at my home parish there and other churches around town. I am one of the youngest of my 15 cousins on my mother's side of the family and to have my older cousins call me "Padre" was really neat. In the course of numerous conversations I had with my family about my new life as a priest, I was asked about some of the more difficult challenges I have to face as a priest in the United States. I think that some of them were expecting me to say something like "the recent clergy scandals" or "the challenges of remaining faithful to my sacred promises" or "the demanding schedules we keep." My answer, however, was none of the above. Rather, I explained that the single most difficult challenge that I and all priests of my generation have to face is the grand project of struggling against the culture of death in our society and promoting the culture of life.
As many of you know, this Wednesday will mark the 30th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, legalizing abortion in this country. What I'd like to do is to tie together the Gospel and the second reading NOT to Roe v. Wade but rather to something more fundamental than that - the battle between the culture of life and the culture of death. Abortion and its cousin, contraception, are, in my mind, just manifestations of the culture of death in our land. I realize that this is a very sensitive topic for some in our midst. I am anticipating some people walking out in the middle of my homily. You're certainly free to do that, if you wish. I certainly expect to get lots of mail this week from people who object to what I will present. So, let's place two caveats on what follows:
1. First, I did not invent any of the Church teaching that I will present. One of my priest-friends once said, "Father, you're not smart enough to invent these teachings." I find it amusing that so many people who have written me letters critical of my homilies suggest that I invent Church teaching. That is simply not the case.
2. Second, preaching on this topic as it relates to the Gospel, has everything to do with my salvation. I was ordained to preach the truth at great personal cost, in season and out of season. After everything that I have given up to follow the Lord as a priest, preaching on this topic is quite secondary. Conventional wisdom says that newly-ordained priests should wait a year before preaching on this topic. I disagree. Too many souls are at risk of eternal damnation because conversions are not happening and individuals are not repenting of their sins and turning back to the Lord. I cannot risk being held accountable for not having preached the truth. My salvation is at stake, too. Incidentally, I have been asked by many parishioners to preach on this issue. Normally, I don't take requests and dedications, like Casey Casem's America's Top 40. So, let it be clear that my intent is not to antagonize but rather - to love - to invite each of you to take the grand risk of embarking or continuing upon the great adventure of obedience to the truth of Jesus Christ, as it has been handed down through the very Church He founded.
So, enough with the warnings. The culture of death finds many manifestations in our day. The culture of death treats the human body as nothing more than a complex machine. The culture of death tells us that what we do in our body does not affect who we are as persons, fundamentally. In other words, it's possible to do evil things with our body and yet remain a fundamentally good person. St. Paul disagrees with this premise, in our second reading. He says that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit that has been purchased with the blood of Christ at Calvary and therefore demands that we glorify God in our body. The body is a fundamental part of who we are as human persons and at the resurrection of the dead - at the Last Judgment, the body will be joined back to the soul, either to enjoy the eternal glory of heaven or face the eternal fires of hell. So, what we do in our bodies affects who we become as persons.
The culture of death also teaches that the body is expendable and is not sacred. We saw the face of the culture of death in Columbine, Colorado, on 9-11, and in the sniper incidents. We see it in societies that do not need to resort to capital punishment because they can incarcerate prisoners but use it nevertheless. Some leaders in our church are now saying that if we issue a merely preventive war in Iraq and not one that is a multilateral response to aggression, we will not have met the criteria for a just war. Again, the culture of death knocks on the door. The culture of death is present when we discourage parents who can have more kids from having them because of selfish motivations.
I think that all of us would agree that abortion and certainly partial-birth abortion are grave evils and that we must do everything that we can in our power to put an end to these evils by our prayers and sacrifices; at election time, or by voicing our opposition by participating in the March for Life this Wednesday. The killing of the innocent in the womb is perhaps the single greatest social evil of our time. More children have been aborted in the last 30 years than those who perished under Hitler, Stalin and casualties of all of the last century's wars combined. Abortion is the new holocaust. This is not merely a political issue. Yes, abortion has a political aspect in terms of how societies choose to address it, but abortion is first and foremost a voluntary human act and is thus a moral act. In the grand hierarchy of rights - life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the right to life is the first and most fundamental. Without life - liberty and the pursuit of happiness have no context. This is why we must work to guarantee the right to life for all. The other issues of our day are so much more negotiable when compared to the choice between life and death for the unborn. This is not about Republican versus Democratic. It's about life versus death. It's not about politics, ultimately - it's about life versus death. It's not about politics, ultimately - its about justice.
Abortion's cousin, contraception, is a bit more of subtle manifestation of the culture of death. In the formal sense, contraception occurs when married couples deliberately take actions to prevent the conception of life, resulting from the marital act. Yes, unmarried couples may use contraceptives, but their sin is first and foremost fornication - contraception just compounds their sin.
By their nature, many contraceptive pills perform actions in the womb that do not allow already formed embryos to implant in the womb, thus causing chemical abortions that allow dead embryos to pass through the woman's body relatively undetected. This is called the abortifacient effect of contraceptives and it is grave matter.
No matter what the means used, either pill, device or procedure, when a couple contracepts, they violate both natural law and divine law. In contraception, couples objectively tell each other, either consciously or not, that while they love the other person, they reject that part of their spouse which is most expressive of who they are - their fertility. Rather than honor and respect fertility, we treat is like a disease, by medicating it or stifling it with a device or procedure. While couples who have had procedures that have rendered themselves infertile are under no obligation to reverse such procedures, they still should make reparation for their sin and seek absolution in the Sacrament of Penance.
Both natural law and divine precept teaches that every conjugal act must be unitive and procreative. The pleasure emanates from the unitive or lovemaking aspect. When couples contracept, they throw back in God's face the one avenue He has chosen to generate new human life. Again, the culture of death finds a voice - this time, in the bedroom. Thus, contraception cannot really be a part of authentic love-making because couples who truly are in love do not lead each other into mortal sin. Contraception pursues the pleasure and alleged love-making aspect while rejecting the procreative potential of the marital act. This too is grave matter.
When Pope Paul VI issued Humane Vitae in 1968, which reiterated the long-standing Catholic teaching that contraception is inherently evil, he predicted that one of the effects of widespread contraception would be an increase in marital infidelity and divorce. He was right. The divorce rate among Catholic couples who contracept is the same as the national average - over 50 percent. By contrast, the divorce rate among couples who use Natural Family Planning is only three percent. It is clear that sex without consequence, which is one of the effects of contraception, not only makes one's spouse available as a partner at any time, but makes everyone else who is using a contraceptive available too.
In our Gospel today, John the Baptist recognized Jesus as the Lamb of God. We must ask ourselves if we do all that we can to ensure that others recognize Jesus in a day and age when many are skeptical that there is even a God. Jesus invites His first disciples to come and see where he stays. In 2003, the Lord still invites us to come and see what he has in store for those who remain faithful to Him to the end. The apostles were open to our Lord's call to discipleship, abandoning their personal preferences and their own attachments to go and follow Him. Let us pray that we will detach from our sins, from our hardness of heart, from the temptation to follow only those teachings of the Church that we agree with, and ultimately - our pride to come and follow Jesus just as his first disciples did so many years ago.
We all need personal conversion and the Sacrament of Penance. I go to confession every week. Let us spur each other on to either remain upon the path or to embark upon this great adventure of obedience to the Lord and the totality of His teaching, for He is the way, the truth and the life.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!
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