20th Sunday in Course
Spirit of the Liturgy
Most Americans, if they were aware of four recent events, did not connect them. The first was the 43rd anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Humanae Vitae, which reaffirmed the Church’s 2000 year old teaching that married love stems from divine love, and that doing things that are directly contraceptive contradicts that unreserved love husband and wife owe each other and God. The second was the White House order that insurers must pay for contraceptive so-called “medicines” from the first dollar. Ironically, the third was the announcement that the proportion of children in the U.S., which was 34% in 1970, has fallen to 24% and would continue to fall for the foreseeable future. And the fourth, which we all became aware of, is that the stock market fell 10% in one week and the credit rating of the U.S. was downgraded a notch, with more to come, because we have borrowed over $14,000 billion and continue to spend as a government more than we take in.
The four news items are connected at the most fundamental level. Demographics drives economics. It’s fairly easy with your computer to see that the formation of natural families–husband/wife/children–and the fertility rate are correlated very closely with economic growth. When natural families are formed and children are procreated, those families buy houses and cars and all the things you need to raise kids, and that results in economic expansion. As the Boomer generation formed families in the eighties and nineties, the U.S. had a prolonged economic boom. As the Baby Bust generation postpones families, has the lowest marriage rate in U.S. history, and when they have kids, consider two to be a big family, we are seeing an economic slowdown, high unemployment, and an even further suppression of fertility. At the risk of oversimplification, contracepting and killing babies, just as Paul VI predicted, has lowered our moral climate and ruined our economy.
This is a homily, not an economics lesson. But don’t forget what I just said. A great Catholic author once said “God always forgives, man sometimes forgive, nature never forgives.” Our fifty-year old addiction to contraception and baby-killing has hurt individuals, families and society. We need to be clear–on a spiritual, moral and scientific basis, the birth control pill makes women sick and hurts marriages. How else would you classify a drug that shuts down or interferes with a natural body function, has a list of negative side-effects you have to read twice, and tends to abort children already conceived? That’s not a medicine; it’s a poison. It poisons people and relationships. Even its inventor, Carl Djerassi, has seen the light and realized the damage it has done to Europe. We have listened to Isaiah tell us to observe what is right and do what is just, and we have gone our own way, observing what is wrong and doing what is unjust–to ourselves and to generations yet unborn.
But the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. All of mankind has been disobedient, but the good news is that God is merciful. If we repent and turn back to Him, He will forgive us and save us. The demons that have possessed our society will be driven out by the divine power, if only we will pray and act in justice.
Not so many days ago the stock market had a very bad case of indigestion. I read somewhere that the net wealth of the U.S. lost $2 trillion on paper. The next day it went up by a trillion. But there is a group in this country that didn’t lose a dime on day one, nor gain one on day two. They are the poor and the near-poor, folks who live from paycheck to paycheck, if they have one at all. As the people of this country realize that we are spending more than we are taking in, it is the poor and the marginalized who will probably take the first hits. Take the recent controversy over a Senate candidate who made an analogy between raccoons invading beetle traps and welfare recipients. No matter how apt such an analogy may seem, it objectivizes a class of human beings, treats them as less than persons made in the image and likeness of God with infinite human dignity.
“What?” You may ask whether Jesus didn’t do exactly the same thing to the Canaanite woman. Doesn’t he compare her to a dog in this Gospel? Look closer. We know that the God-man, who never sinned and who healed everyone who came to him, Jew and Gentile and Samaritan alike, must have been using this incident to teach us something.
It helps to realize that exchanges of insults as humor are more common in the ancient Near East than they are here. That this woman is special is obvious–Jesus has just been engaged in a serious theological debate with his fellow Jews–the Pharisees–who consistently refuse to believe in Jesus as Messiah. Then this goy, this Canaanite–whom the Hebrews were told to exterminate when they entered the Holy Land two thousand years before–has the nerve to approach Jesus. But she addresses Him with His Messianic titles. Jesus found here the faith missing in his countrymen. So He engages in some good-natured banter with the woman, humorously using an insult that she has heard from other Jews, and she replies with an equally humorous witticism, saying that even the dogs get the scraps. Jesus then gives her the highest possible compliment–praise of her faith in Him, and feeds her directly from the table with a healing miracle for her child.
In other words, Jesus here holds bigotry up to ridicule, and recognizes in the most tangible manner the infinite human dignity of this Canaanite woman and her daughter.
What can we do in response? Let’s stop expecting Congress and the President to mortgage our great-grandchildren’s incomes in order to feed, clothe and house the poor. The War on Poverty has failed because its strategy was to throw money and contraceptives at the poor. The poor are always with us–but that prophecy of Jesus was not given in order to absolve us of any responsibilities to them. It was uttered in order to fix the responsibility for helping the poor. It’s not the government’s. The responsibility is ours.
Let’s roll up our sleeves where we can and put in hours at SAMM and St. Vincent de Paul. Let’s get our helmets on and build another Habitat house. And, especially for those of you who can’t put your boots on the ground, let’s get out our checkbooks and funnel contributions to St. Vincent de Paul, Food for the Poor, and especially Catholic Relief Services. These charities not only feed the poor, they also give them the tools to grow and process food for themselves. We can be a blessing for them, as Jesus was for the woman who asked for scraps. If we help them, then our hearing of God’s word today will make the Word real for the poor, our taking of the body and blood of Christ will make us look just like Jesus to them.