Homily — 17th Sunday OT A 7/27/08
Jesus in today’s Gospel gives us an image of a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds . . . .and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
This treasure Jesus speaks about is our Catholic Faith.
When we think of buried treasure, probably the image that comes to mind is a big old wooden pirate’s chest. Brush the dirt off, take the skeleton key and unlock it, open the chest, and inside there are heaps and heaps of gold pieces, diamonds, and precious gems.
Certainly our Catholic Faith, handed down to every generation intact and unchanged from the time of the Apostles, is just like that treasure chest we picture in our minds.
How many priceless gems we find in this Treasure Chest which is our Faith. Each article of our Creed — the Creation, the Blessed Trinity, the Incarnation, the Passion and Redemption, the Resurrection and all the rest — each one is a separate diamond of infinite value and worth found in that treasure chest.
The books of Scripture, the sacraments, the Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit, the Saints, the moral teachings of the Church, the hierarchy and the religious life — each one of these things is a unique and beautiful and precious jewel found in that large treasure chest, each one in it’s own way a pearl of great price, worth selling all this earth can offer us to possess.
Which leads me to comment about an the anniversary of an event that occurred 40 years ago this past week. This past Friday marked the 40th Anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical letter Humanae Vitae, released July 25, 1968.
40 years ago last Friday, Pope Paul VI reached into the Church’s Treasure Chest, shined up one of the jewels found therein, and held up to the modern world. This jewel the Pope held up was the precious jewel which is the Church’s teaching on human sexuality.
Let us examine this beautiful Jewel ourselves and strive to appreciate it. The Catholic Church since the time of the Apostles has always and everywhere taught that the only morally licit sexual relations are those between a married couple, between a husband and a wife.
Furthermore, the Catholic Church since the time of the Apostles has always and everywhere taught that, as God is the Author of Human Life and as humans are created in the image of God, it is gravely immoral for married couples to willfully and unnaturally separate the procreative or life-giving aspect of the marriage act from its unitive of love-giving aspect.
Simply put, the Catholic Church has from the beginning held that artificial contraception and sterilization are gravely immoral actions that can never be morally justified, even within the marriage bond.
And up until about 70 years ago, the vast majority of Catholics everywhere, for over 1800 centuries, understood, accepted and strove to practice and pass on to their children this jewel of an infallible teaching of our Holy Mother Church.
As a result, marriages were strong, the faith was strong, and children grew up in a culture which extolled chastity and self control.
In fact, up until 1930, every Christian denomination condemned artificial contraception and sterilization along with the Catholic Church. The Protestant reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin, while rejecting other precious jewels of the Faith, had the wisdom not to reject this one, nor did generation after generation of their followers up until the past century.
And furthermore, as this teaching is rooted in the natural law found in every human heart, great non-Christian thinkers like the famous Chinese philosopher Confucius, the Hindu leader Mahatma Ghandi, and even the atheist Sigmund Freud all saw the separation of the procreative and unitive dimensions of sex to be a perversion, and not something good for the individual or for society.
But over the past century, a concerted effort has been made in our Western world, and even scandalously to some degree within our Church, to bury this jewel of a teaching which Christ has given us; or if not to bury it, to claim it is not a priceless jewel but a worthless piece of junk that would be harmful to place one’s trust in.
And so 40 years after Humanae Vitae, the Church’s teaching on marriage and human sexuality is now buried under a towering and ever growing mountain of dissent, ridicule, ignorance, sexual license, and radical feminist and population control ideologies.
In the meantime, widespread rejection of Church teaching and acceptance of Contraception and Sterilization by Catholics has directly led, one could argue, to the closing of our Churches and Catholic Schools, to the shortage of men and women entering the priesthood and religious life, to the resulting rising cost of Catholic education, and to a mainstream movie, TV and music industry that mass markets immorality especially to our teens and adolescents and holds up Rock Stars and Madonna and Brittany and Jamie Spears as role models.
We also have, as an undisputed direct result of our embrace of contraception, 50 million legal abortions. As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in justification for the 1992 US Supreme Court decision Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, we must keep abortion legal because: “Abortion is (now) customarily chosen as an unplanned response to . . . . the failure of conventional birth control. . . .For two decades. . . .people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail.” In other words, the Supreme Court will not protect unborn children because of the contraceptive lifestyle we have bought into!
My brothers and sisters in Christ, our society doesn’t have to be this way. We baptized and confirmed Catholics are called by Christ to be the Light of the World, the little bit of leaven Jesus spoke of in last week’s Gospel that raises the moral conscience of the World we live in. Unfortunately, many in the Church are more influenced by the ways of the world rather than being the ones who influence others to follow Christ.
This is not to say that the Church’s teaching on sexuality is easy. It takes great, perhaps heroic, virtue for married couples to live it out in today’s world. Which is one reason why the Church has given us the other jewels of our faith, especially the grace of the Sacraments.
Being a celibate priest is challenging, but God has given me the Sacrament of Holy Orders to help me live out this great vocation, and well as the Sacrament of Baptism, Confirmation, Penance and the Holy Eucharist. In the same way, God has given married couples a special Sacrament of Matrimony as well as the others, so that they “may assume the duties of marriage in mutual and lasting fidelity” (as the Marriage Ritual states).
The Church’s teaching on conjugal love and procreation, which is not optional but is a moral law binding on one’s conscience, is possible to live out, as thousands of Catholic couples who have embraced it can tell you. Many of these couples practice Natural Family Planning, which most people don’t realize has come a long way from the Rhythm Method, being a 99% effective way to space the birth of children. Natural Family Planning is morally accepted by the Church when practiced for serious reasons, and usually only requires at most 8 days of abstinence from relations a month.
But sadly for the past 40 years, God has endured a generation of Catholic clergy, college professors, doctors and nurses and politicians who have not known God’s ways and who have led many married couples astray to the point where many Catholics and medical professionals have never heard this Jewel of the Church’s teaching in a positive light nor been challenged on their duty to live it.
But the hopeful thing is that, as Scripture and Church History shows, God while merciful and forgiving, puts up with foolishness from His People for only so long. And 40 years, a generation, has now passed.
A new generation of young and faith filled Catholics have been on the rise of late; they include married and single, clergy and religious, educators and medical workers. This small but growing group of cradle Catholics, converts and reverts to the faith, schooled especially in the teachings of Our Late Great Holy Father Pope John Paul II and Blessed Theresa of Calcutta, are all very Catholic, very educated about their faith, and very up to the challenge Christ is offering them to practice their Catholic faith without compromise in today’s society.
This new generation gives me and others some hope that perhaps in another 40 years, the Catholics that remain in what’s left of the Western world will again all cherish and live and die for this great jewel Pope Paul VI so bravely held up to us in 1968, and wonder how we could have hesitated in selling all that we had to possess this pearl of great price.