Monday, July 25, 2011

43rd Anniversary of Humanae Vitae

“When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.”

The Bible has a rich depth of contrast between a king ruling in this world and a king ruling under the guidelines and wisdom of God. Solomon is that famous king who received the gift of wisdom for governing his people. Wisdom is doing the right thing, in the right way at the right time. Sadly, Solomon is not only an inspiring figure but also a cautionary one. By the end of Solomon’s life, he squanders his gift of wisdom on riches, armies, and many wives and concubines, fulfilling the warning given in Deuteronomy 17.

Each of us is baptized as priest—offering our own spiritual sacrifice, prophet—to bring the Word of God to ourselves and others, and king—to lead those we’ve been entrusted with to the Kingdom of Heaven. Our kingship isn’t as large as Solomon’s but is in just as much danger. Each of us is ruler of at least one subject, ourselves. Spouses have responsibilities to each other, parents to children, consecrated women and men to their community, and priests to their bishop and parish. Are we ruling with the wisdom of Scripture or the wisdom of this world?

The wisdom of Scripture says to sell everything for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Like a great pearl there is no price too great. Like treasure in the field we must sell all to acquire that field. The wisdom of the world says to hold something back for yourselves and don’t trust the Kingdom of Heaven to provide for you—which is the wisdom of our enemy, the master of this world, Satan.

Am I living the wisdom of Scripture or the wisdom of this world? It might be a complex answer but we must be evaluating ourselves. Not for ourselves but evaluating our actions and choices in the light the Gospel and Church teaching. This struggle is part of the cross of following Christ. I fight against the voice and desires of sin that say: “do not trust the Kingdom of Heaven, for the promises of Jesus are empty and will not satisfy.”

This Monday marks the 43rd anniversary of a particularly hard fight for the Church in the West. On July 25, 1968, Pope Paul VI wrote a letter to the Catholics of the world called Humanae Vitae. This letter was a teaching that said the nature of human, marital love is wounded by the practice of artificial contraception.

Theologians, priests, and even bishops met Humanae Vitae with organized resistance and protest. It is said that in our own day this Catholic teaching on artificial contraception is the least practiced. Bishop Swain mentioned this in his April Bishop’s Bulletin article on Pastoral Planning. Yesterday and today we ignore Humanae Vitae to our ruin.

Read it sometime. Pope Paul VI said there would be four fruits of artificial contraception*: lowered moral standards, increased infidelity, decreased respect of men towards women, and the coercive use of these technologies by governments. But it isn’t about who’s right or wrong this morning. It’s about our distrust of the Kingdom of Heaven. We distrust the Kingdom of Heaven to our ruin—whatever the issue.

If you have more questions for me about Catholic teaching on marital love, let me know. There are two couples in Brookings who teach classes on the Catholic answer to artificial contraception. If you have questions on other areas on Catholic life, please let me know. If you are saddened by anything I have said today, pray on the words of St. Paul, our patron. “For godly sorrow produces a salutary repentance without regret, but worldly sorrow produces death.” 2 Corinthians 7:10. Pray that your sorrow would be godly, that he would draw you closer to himself.

This godly sorrow is repentance and is the difference between the good fish and the bad fish. The good fish isn't perfect. In Matthew 9, Jesus said that he came to heal the sick, that those who are well do not need a physician but the sick do. The good fish is the one who repents of sin and seeks God's mercy and help- trusting that their needs will be provided. This is the wisdom of the Kingdom.

FOOTNOTE: A great article on the historical vindication of Pope Paul VI's predictions can be found here.

Crossposted at Pius XII Newman Center.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sixteenth Sunday, July 17, 2011 Homily

We are in a three Sunday stretch of Gospel passages in which our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, speaks often of the Kingdom of Heaven. Last Sunday we heard about our own receptivity to the Word of God, our own openness to the Kingdom of Heaven. Today we should consider the following questions. What is the Kingdom of Heaven?

What is the Kingdom of Heaven? Our Lord Jesus likens it to three things: a field, a mustard seed, and yeast. The field calls images a vast area with many souls but the weeds in the field provide a problem. The Kingdom of Heaven is not the same as Heaven itself; in heaven there will be no weeds for “nothing unclean may enter into heaven.” (Rev. 21:27). So the Kingdom of Heaven is here on earth. We can also say, quite plainly that the Kingdom of Heaven is not Heaven itself because it starts small as a mustard seed- Heaven is by no means small. So the Kingdom of Heaven is here on earth and starts small. The Kingdom of Heaven is not Heaven because it is called yeast and mixed into the dough to raise it up. Heaven is described as high, not because it is at the top of Mt. Everest but because it is removed from our human experience. So the Kingdom of Heaven IS NOT HEAVEN itself but is filled with good and bad, starts small, and is to raise up the world around us. What is the Kingdom of Heaven?

The Kingdom of Heaven is the Catholic Church! The Church is filled with the faithful and the unfaithful. Laymen and women, priests, nuns, popes, many of them have been weeds that were trying to choke out the wheat of the saints—and I hope that at the end of our lives we will prove to be saints. We should never be surprised when our fellow Catholics fail—sad, yes, surprised, no. We should pray for their conversion, their return to the faith and their reconciliation with God, family, and community, but we shouldn’t be surprised. The Catholic Church started small. At the upper room on Pentecost Sunday, many years ago, there were 12 Apostles (including the replacement of Judas the Betrayer), one Blessed Virgin Mary, about 120 total at the birth of the Church (Acts 1:12-15). The Church is to change the world around, bringing every nation to Jesus Christ: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20).

What is the Kingdom of Heaven? The Catholic Church is the Kingdom. It may not seem that way because of our weakness but it is true. You too are the Kingdom of Heaven if you actively strive to live in the Church. It may not seem true because of your own weakness but it is true. I’ve been thinking a bit about this and observing this lately.

As I assisted at Discipleship Camp this past week—the same camp to which many of our young people attend—I noticed that many young people leave the Church after Confirmation. It is undeniably true because there is even a joke about this phenomenon. A Catholic priest, a Lutheran minister and a Methodist minister were talking about pigeons. The Lutheran tried to get rid of them by poison, the Methodist by the more humane fake owls. Nothing worked. The Catholic baptized, confirmed, and communed them and they haven’t been back.

Why don’t we expect the enemy to try harder to steal away the Kingdom when it is most near? Why don’t we warn our children to be on their guard when Satan most wants to attack them? Why do we give into this American notion of false freedom that says: “Well, I guess they’re adults and can learn their own lessons.” When we say “Amen” to the Kingdom of Heaven we should expect and prepare for the enemy to attack.

This should be part of our pastoral planning here at St. Paul’s parish. In the past four years we’ve had 28 students confirmed. How are we encouraging them against the attacks of the enemy who sows weeds in the wheat of their Catholic faith? How can we walk with them so that they can be brought to a full harvest and not be thrown out? I do not have specific answers for each case, but they must be asked before they can be found. The answers will always be in union with the Church.

Do not fret and think it falls totally on you. St. Paul says: “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.” Have we even begun to ask the Spirit on this? Have we even begun to act with the Spirit on this?

Cross posted at Pius XII Newman Center.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

15th Sunday Homily July 10, 2011

This past week I got to visit my brother and his family in St. Louis, which was a great time. We did the usual: fireworks, golf, lots of grilling, and the Holy Mass. Yes, I have all my fingers, though my nephew really loves snaps! One afternoon I was walking around my brother’s neighborhood and I was struck by the number of people who don’t know Jesus. This hits me every once and a while. The impression in a crowd, an airport, or any common place and I just get sad that these people are concerned about many things but only one thing is necessary.

On Tuesday, as my mother and I were flying back to Omaha, there was a loud group of people in the seat ahead of us. They were swearing, speaking of impurity and downright nastiness that wouldn’t be allowed even on cable tv. I was embarrassed for my mother to have to hear it.

Each time I was praying the Rosary. The first time, while I walked, the second, in reaction to their foul conversation. Each time I related my sadness at their sin to our Lord, imagining myself as that good Catholic priest in the midst of a world that needs Jesus. Each time, our Lord turned my prayer on its head.

I am the foul conversation. I am the chattering and mindless people unaware of the presence of God. I am the unbelieving the world that Christ comes to conquer.

Our Gospel passage today is one of my favorites and one that remains on my heart often. The four types of soil are usually thought of as whole individuals. They also can represent portions of our own Catholic heart. Do we hear without understanding and without receiving and allow Satan to snatch the Gospel truth away? Do receive with joy but wilt under tribulation, even when we remember that our Lord himself suffered? Do we receive the Gospel but allow worldly concerns to steal our attention?

Jesus gives the warning of the prophet Isaiah, not only to his early listeners but also to us. “Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and be converted, and I heal them.” I know this applies to my own heart at times. Our Lord asks me to give up different things- a few years ago it was my Blackberry and I didn’t want to listen. I fought him for months. My heart was scaly and hard, my ears and eyes were closed to his word.

These words apply to most any of us in America today. We have heard just enough of the Gospel to be inoculated. Small pox, measles, mumps, and Christianity. We’ve received just enough to identify it and reject it. Even in 1975 Pope Paul VI was worried about Christians who were baptized but lived outside the Christian life. Could that be said about all of us? I think so. We must cultivate the soil of our hearts so that we will receive the Word of God and bear fruit.

We need the Sacraments, the moral life, and prayer if we are to make our hearts receptive. Receptive, to receive, we must be diligent about our prayer so that we can receive and bear fruit. How do we know we are bearing fruit? When those we are around everyday begin to want to know more about Jesus too. That is the fruit of the Christian life. If we strive for our own continued conversion. If we strive to make our own spiritual soil more receptive, then our children, our friends, and our neighbors will begin to seek after Jesus as well. That is the fruit of the Christian life: more Christians.

If you are troubled by this, if you think it too difficult for you, receive these words of Saint Paul. “We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” Every saint has born this burden and through their help we can too.

Cross posted at Pius XII Newman Center