Summary: Let’s get serious about our following of Jesus, about rededicating ourselves to our vocations, to our families.

Eighteenth Sunday in Course 2018

Today the Word of God reminds us of the fallen nature of humans. God liberated the people of Israel from slavery in the fields and swamps and deserts of Egypt. Moses and Aaron led them out after God worked multiple signs and wonders to convince Pharaoh of the injustice of their slavery. And in the face of Egyptian attack, God parted the waters and led them dryshod across the sea to a new land. We see here that when they complained of hunger, He sent a flock of quail one evening, and a gift of some kind of bread every morning they were journeying. But was that enough? Again and again they complained, and after they were reminded of the divine law by the gift of the ten commandments, they violated it again and again. Gift or punishment–it didn’t seem to matter. They continually went their own way and disregarded the will of God. The OT is full of these stories.

When Jesus, the ultimate gift of the Father to us humans, appeared, did human response change? One of the oldest stories shows Christ appearing in his home synagogue, and after they heard Him preach of the kingdom of God, they drove Him out of the synagogue up to a cliff and tried to throw Him off it. It didn’t take very long for opposition to God’s Son to coalesce around the Sadducees and Pharisees. Ultimately, despite all His signs and wonders, and the clear signs that He was the promised Messiah, they plotted with the Roman ruler to have Him executed.

Of course, it’s pretty difficult to keep God in the ground, and as Jesus predicted, He rose again on the third day, and after forty days of teaching and fellowship with Mary and the disciples, He ascended to heaven and sent His Holy Spirit. This Holy Spirit–which all of us share by virtue of our baptism and confirmation–has been working for nearly two thousand years in the Church Jesus founded to teach and sanctify and rule His people. Today, as every Sunday, we gather to share the Bread of Life, the very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord. So are we now the people God intended in the beginning, a priestly people, a holy people, a light on the mountain that attracts unbelievers to faith in Christ?

Not quite. St. Paul wrote “Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” In Paul’s time, he had to battle dissensions in many of his congregations, and remind his Catholic churches to keep the commandments–especially the ones that strengthen families. Have we made progress in the twenty centuries since then? Let’s see, and, if necessary, repent and change.

A few days ago we passed the fiftieth anniversary of a precious document that at its publication was roundly denounced as a pious unreality. The year was 1968. If you remember that year, you remember the murder of MLK, Jr and RFK and a political convention that was characterized by what a later report called “a police riot.” The Vietnam War dominated the headlines and led to massive political demonstrations and violence. It was, most of us who survived it believe, a really bad year.

In July, Pope Paul VI–who will be declared a saint in just two months–issued the encyclical “Humanae Vitae.” The secular press was ready for it. They already had a poll, which was published in less than three days, declaring that most American Catholics rejected it. That is, they rejected an authoritative Church teaching that they had not read. All they had really heard about it is that it rejected artificial contraception. And the repudiation of the encyclical continued for this past half-century. The vast majority of Catholic couples report using artificial contraception in their relationships. There are few of us who can claim otherwise.

Pope Paul understood the reason for reconsidering the Church’s nineteen hundred year teaching. “Granted the conditions of life today and taking into account the relevance of married love to the harmony and mutual fidelity of husband and wife, would it not be right to review the moral norms in force till now, especially when it is felt that these can be observed only with the gravest difficulty, sometimes only by heroic effort?”

I recommend that you read again the whole document, not a summary. The focus is on married love and the procreation of a family bound for union with God. You will find a beautiful understanding of the nature and purpose of marital love. It is a love fully human, totally sharing, faithful for life, and oriented toward the begetting and raising of holy children. Paul wrote that “it follows that [husband and wife] are not free to act as they choose in the service of transmitting life, as if it were wholly up to them to decide what is the right course to follow. On the contrary, they are bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God the Creator. The very nature of marriage and its use makes His will clear, while the constant teaching of the Church spells it out.”

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