2nd Sunday Ordinary Time
A Homily - C Cycle - 2003-2004
First Reading - Isaiah 62:1-5
Psalm - 96:1-2, 2-3, 7-8, 9-10
Second Reading -1 Corinthians 12:4-11
Gospel - John 2:1-11
John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." And Jesus said to her, "Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servers, "Do whatever he tells you." Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told them, "Fill the jars with water." So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, "Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter." So they took it. And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from - although the servers who had drawn the water knew -, the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, "Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now." Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.
A year ago this past week, I was returning from a two week 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 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 Thursday will mark the 31st anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, legalizing abortion in this country. What I'd like to do today is to tie together the Gospel message NOT to Roe v. Wade per se 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 will be uncomfortable about this topic. In fact, in my last parish, several people walked out in the middle of my homily. You're certainly free to do that, if you wish. I may even get mail this week from people who object to what I will present. So, let place two caveats on what follows:
1. First, I did not invent any of the Church teaching that I will present. As 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. 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. Like the prophet Isaiah tells us in the first reading, "For Zion's sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem's sake I will not be quiet until her vindication shines forth like the dawn and her victory like a burning torch."
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 would disagree with this premise. St. Paul argues 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. As a collective whole, our bodies also constitute a part of the mystical body of Christ - the body of believers and followers of the Lord Jesus, as the Lord Jesus demands we follow Him if we are to reign with Him.
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. Locally, the culture of death is present when we discourage parents who can have more kids from having them because of selfish motivations. This is why this topic is relevant to everyone here today - not just those who are planning their families. Every grandparent, uncle and aunt has the opportunity to evangelize within their families, but how often are we negligent in our silence?
I think that all of us would agree that abortions 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 week. Thankfully, a ban on partial birth abortion was signed into law this past year. We have much to be thankful for and yet there is much to be done - 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 was 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 Democrat. It's about life versus death. It's not about politics, ultimately - it's 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 martial act. Yes, unmarried couples may use contraceptives, but their sin is first and foremost fornication - contraception just compounds their sin.
By their nature, we now know that a good number of contraceptive pills may 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 it 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 and practice periodic abstinence congruent with the cycles of Natural Family Planning.
Both natural law and divine precept teaches that every conjugal act must be unitive and procreative. The pleasure emanates from the unitive or love-making 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.
The culture of death butts its ugly head in other aspects of society: in invitro fertilization; in cloning; in embryonic stem cell research; in surrogate pregnancies. Along with abortion and contraception, each of these violate the natural law by either preventing, substituting for or terminating the natural generation of human life. When the human person takes the initiative to disrupt that avenue which God has selected for the natural generation of human life, the human person plays God. No longer is God allowed to be the Lord, the giver of life for that individual. How indicative of the moral bankruptcy of those who claim that "It's my Body."
In our Gospel today, our Lady, by telling the servants to "do whatever He tells you," unleashed Jesus on His public mission. Mary does not hold back; she does not keep Jesus for herself. She does not have a contraceptive mentality of selfishness. Imagine if she did, it would have rendered the Annunciation scene a totally futile event. Consider even the wine stewards who are not aware that the water they are presenting to the headwaiter has been changed into wine. They only know that Jesus has done something to the water - the wine stewards take the risk of losing their jobs at Jesus' command - they have deep and abiding trust that Jesus will not let them down. How liberating it must be to live in God's plan!
We must ask ourselves if we do all that Jesus asks us to do, especially when His very bride, the Church makes clear what He expects of us in all things, not only those teachings which we like or agree with, but everything so that we do WHATEVER HE ASKS OF US. 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. 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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