Summary: The value of chastity and the witness of a Christian marriage to a depraved culture
Sixteenth Sunday in Course 2015
“A great throng. . .like sheep without a shepherd.” What a picture for those of us with any experience with cattle or sheep. If you have a good cutting horse, one man or woman can control the behavior of a herd of cows. If you have a good sheep dog, one shepherd can control a pretty large flock of sheep. Just approach the problem with skill, confidence, and size, and you can get a crowd of human beings to do things they would not ordinarily do. Isn’t that why the last century saw the Bolsheviks able to enslave dozens of countries for over seventy years? Doesn’t that explain the temporary triumph of Naziism over almost all of Europe? Original sin being a reality in our lives, we are always subject to the temptation to take the easiest pathway, to “go along to get along.” With the wrong rabble-rouser and the wrong circumstances, even rational people can form into a mob that burns books, tears down equivocal symbols or lynches the innocent. Dear Lord, we are weak and sinful, and so easily led to the wrong path. Please deliver us from our own inclinations.
A couple of years ago, Boston researchers studied a Serbian woman, an economist, named Bojana Danilovic. She was born with a very rare condition called “spacial orientation phenomenon,” in which she perceives everything upside down. Now those who know anything about lenses realize that the human eye lens actually does flip images. Images on our retinas at the back of our eye are upside down, compared to the way the things we see actually are. On the retina, up is down and left is right. But the neural circuitry in our brains work to flip the images once again so that we see things, usually, as they are. The human brain is a wonderfully adaptable gift. Many of you know that there are special glasses you can wear that invert vision. With them, you also see things upside down. After a while, though, your brain adapts and does a second flip of the images, so they appear right-side up again. Your mind, though, is actually seeing things backwards, and having to do extra work to make sense of the visible world.
This story is a little bit like what has happened to American society, and most of the developed world, over the last seventy years, when it comes to our understanding of human sexuality. The absolutely wrong-headed, upside-down decision of the Supreme Court to redefine marriage is only the latest example of the confusion that began with biologist Alfred Kinsey back in the 1940s. Sexually messed up himself, Kinsey trumped up conclusions from horribly designed and illegal research that convinced millions of Americans, for instance, that 10% of the population is made up of practicing or closeted homosexually inclined people. Good research has put that at no more than 3 percent. The confusion, combined with the birth control pill, gave us a sexual revolution that promised freedom but has left hundreds of millions in spiritual bondage, emotional breakdown, and physical disease. The same revolution has murdered tens of millions of children before, during and after birth. Our culture has been so messed up that even what passes for family entertainment implies the normality of premarital and extramarital affairs and artificial contraception.
We see the results in our Catholic church. Although there has been a partial recovery in the new millennium, religious and priestly vocations have plummeted in almost every Western nation. If a family has only one or two children, there is a resistance to encouraging them to adopt a celibate vocation. Mom and dad want to become grandparents. The number of marriages we celebrate has dropped significantly–cohabitation is becoming the norm in many cities, with disastrous effects as men increasingly abandon the children they father. The greatest part of the millennial generation has little or no religious education, so that they become the sheep without shepherds. Of course they will be easily led into error and sinful lifestyles, and make ballot-box choices that are not in their own best interests, or the country’s.
So let’s talk about sex. And let’s do so in ways that should not scandalize our young congregants. I’ll use the words of my grade school teacher, a Sister of the Sacred Heart. Beloved of God, your sexual members, which for a good reason are called genitals, are sacred vessels like the sacred vessels we celebrate with at Mass. They have a purpose, and that is a sacred purpose. We fall into sin and do injury to ourselves and others if we abuse them.
When I teach high school sophomores, I like to use a contrast. Our reproductive parts can be treated in two ways, either as toys or as bridges. They are not toys; their purpose is not to give pleasure, although the use of them does give pleasure. Their purpose is to serve as bridges between a man and woman in marriage, and as bridges between one generation and the next–fathers and mothers to sons and daughters. That’s the easiest way to say what the Church has always taught: the purpose of sex is twofold. It unites the man and woman in a loving bond, and it procreates the greatest gift of marriage, children. With the marital act–and that is the best way to describe sexual union–we co-create with God a new human person, and we form a family.