Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Given last Sunday (July 3), this is most likely the longest homily I've ever written/delivered. It's also the first one (that I know of) when I've had somebody get up and leave church because of what I've said from the pulpit. I don't mention this with any pride whatsoever; I mention it in case my words similarly upset any of you. That's certainly not my intention! (And how I wish I had a chance to speak one-on-one with that lady from the 11:00am Mass!) But I do stand by this message, as hard as it might be for some to read/hear. Thankfully, I did receive quite a lot of positive feedback as well. In the end--thumbs up or thumbs down--I know I must always preach whatever the Lord lays upon my heart.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968), the American Trappist monk and author, once wrote, "One of the central issues in the prophetic life is that a person rocks the boat, not by telling slaves to be free, but by telling people who think they’re free that they’re slaves." I guess I heard the call to get the boat a-rockin'.

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
I’m going to warn you:
this homily is a bit longer than usual…
…but I plan to talk about S-E-X…so that should keep your attention.
And to those of you who aren’t very “computer literate,”
I apologize in advance for starting with the following example…

If you Google the word, “freedom,”
the first result which comes up
is not a dictionary definition nor a patriotic song,
but a computer program--an “app.”
Developed a few years back, what “Freedom” does--
on a schedule the user determines--
is prevent you from surfing on the World Wide Web.
For however long you choose--up to eight hours--
“Freedom” blocks you from accessing the Internet:
no emails or downloads, no shopping or searches.
(I’m sure some of you are going through withdrawal
just at the thought of it!)

Now, unless you’re being rather sarcastic,
how could you name something “Freedom”
which apparently puts such limits on your…freedom?

“Freedom” was created because,
with the Internet’s nearly endless possibilities,
those who spend a lot of time at their computers
can very easily get pulled in
by countless opportunities for distraction and interruption.
One thing leads to another and another
and, before you know it, hours have gone by…
…and you still haven’t finished
what you sat down to do in the first place.
“Freedom” helps you to set time aside and focus your full attention
on work, or family, or sleep…
…or whatever you do when you’re not online.

There’s a lot of talk about freedom in the air these days--
and not just because tomorrow is the Fourth of July.
That’s because, one week ago,
the New York State Senate passed legislation
allowing same-gender couples to marry.
Many opponents of the measure--the Catholic Church among them--
have decried this attempt to redefine the institution of marriage.
But if we want to see what all the hubbub is about,
I think we’ve first got to take a look back.
We’ve got to look back to a revolution--
not the one started in 1776,
but one incubated during the 1960’s and ’70’s:
the so-called “sexual revolution”--
a revolution which has radically redefined human sexuality…
…and many of us didn’t even notice.

The traditional viewpoint--
which is the Church’s perspective still--
is that sex should only take place in one context--marriage--
and that sex should never be severed
from one of its integral purposes--bringing new life into the world.
The sexual revolution said,
“It’s high time we throw off such restrictive rules
and repressive doctrines.
Relax!  Don’t take things so seriously!
Besides, what could a bunch of old, celibate clergy know?
All they want to do is keep you down,
and make you as miserable as they are.”

So the sexual revolution promoted the idea of “free love,”
making sexual encounters more casual, even recreational.
Use of artificial contraception became widespread,
and soon after abortion became legal--
freeing sex of its natural consequences.
In a world filled with so much suffering,
why not just do something that makes you feel good?
Sex is fun!  Who could get hurt?

What happened?
Today, America’s birth rate is at an all time low.
One out of three of our children is born to an unwed mother.
Only 63% of American kids grow up with both biological parents--
the lowest figure in the Western world.
22% of all U.S. pregnancies now end in abortion;
the figure’s 40% here in New York.
Between 40 and 50% of marriages end in divorce;
that number has gone down slightly…but, of course, it would have to
since fewer and fewer couples are actually getting married
and cohabitation is on the rise.
Seven out of ten of our teens say they’re sexually active
before their nineteenth birthday.
The pornography industry has higher revenues
than Microsoft, Google, Amazon,
eBay, Yahoo, Apple, and Netflix combined.

Is this what we we’re now supposed to consider normal and healthy?
Is this what we call progress?

What the sexual revolution portrayed
as personal decisions and private choices
have proven to have very public, very far-reaching effects.
If this revolution--
which, as recent events make clear, is far from being over--
was supposed to be our liberation,
supposed to cure the modern age’s depression, stress, and loneliness,
then…why are addictions on the rise? 
…why do we need so many therapists and so many medications
to help us feel better about ourselves?
…why do so many people sense
being more isolated than ever?  (cf. M. Selmys)
No, we haven’t exalted sex to new heights;
instead, it’s been devalued to an all-time low.
What God created to be highly prized and treasured
has been sold out and squandered.

As St. Paul addresses in his letter to the Romans:
the human person is a unique and complex blend of flesh and spirit.
The incredible irony, of course,
is that we often find ourselves acting like animals
because we think of ourselves like angels--
as if our body and what we do with it
are of little consequence;
as if only our soul really matters in the end.
That, my friends, is one of Christianity’s oldest heresies.
We’re not truly human without both,
and we live in a less than human way
when our body and soul are not integrated aright.
Our bodies are not playthings…
…and our souls can be deeply damaged if we misuse the flesh.
That’s why sex matters so much.
Sex--when it’s true--involves both flesh and spirit
and is invested by God with the amazing potential
to bring about new life on both accounts.

Critics will loudly say that the Church
should keep its nose out of people’s bedrooms--
and out of politics, too.
Such comments betray a very reduced view of religion--
one not unexpected in a secular age.
But religion is not a way of looking at only certain things;
it’s a certain way of looking at everything.  (cf. R. Segal)
God isn’t interested in just a small portion of your life;
God wants in on it all.

While there are those who would claim
that the Church is a bit preoccupied with sexual issues,
the fact of the matter is that many Catholics--
clergy and laity alike--have been slow to speak up.
We’ve kind of let things slide.
Like the world around us
we, too, have bought into some of the lies.
And if it wasn’t clear enough already:
we can’t afford to do so any longer.

The Church isn’t opposed to love, or freedom, or equality;
the Church is not even opposed to sex.
But the Church is one hundred percent
for understanding these things--and everything--
according to God’s definitions, and not our own.
While the human race is constantly coining
new sound bites and catchphrases,
God’s definitions don’t change--ever.
He’s built them right into the nature of things.
In an age which has somehow convinced itself
that “what’s right for you may not be right for me,”
we dare to claim that there are some absolutes:
things which are true or false, right or wrong, in and of themselves…
…and not just based on personal opinion or majority rule.

We who follow Jesus must recall--before all else--
that the words and example of Christ
teach us to treat every person with great love
and with great respect for their innate human dignity--
no matter how they choose to live their lives.
Since that dignity has been given them by God, who are we to deny it?
Nonetheless, we can each decide to live beneath that dignity;
we can choose to follow a path
other than the one God has set before us.
While love prevents us, of course,
from attacking anyone with harsh and hateful words,
we have to consider:
does not love also require us to help our neighbor find their way?
Is it ever really loving to withhold the truth? 

Given the sad track record
of society’s “forward” thinking on these matters,
I pray that by taking a loving, compassionate approach,
presenting the truth about sex and marriage
in terms both gentle and strong,
we’ll slowly win people over
to the Church’s supposedly “backward” ways.
I can only hope that folks today
will at least be intrigued enough to give them a try.
They couldn’t possibly make matters any worse.

Freedom--like the app by that name--
does not mean that I am free to do whatever I want.
Our nation was founded on the principle of liberty, not license,
with an awareness that all rights come together with responsibilities.
Ultimately, every right, every freedom,
is granted us not by the Constitution, but by God.
God has given us freedom
that we might freely find our way to him.
To freely choose God and to follow his law--
to live by his Spirit--
is, in fact, to grow in freedom.
But if we choose to disobey, choose to call evil good,
and so abuse our freedom,
then we’re no longer free:
we’re slaves--
slaves to our passions, slaves to falsehood, slaves to sin.

My friends,
it’s high time we start a real revolution!
Let’s start setting people free!

1 comment:

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