Saturday, February 19, 2011


The following is my homily for last Sunday (6th Sunday in Ordinary Time). There have been so many cry babies in the Church since 1968 when Pope Paul VI didn't give Catholics moral permission to use artificial birth control. They thought Catholic teachings on this was just too hard and put too much of a burden on Catholics. They found the teaching outrageous. I wonder if they felt the same way about Jesus' call to us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. If you ask me that's more outrageous than Humanae Vitae!

As Americans we love our sports and our athletes. We love the super bowl, the Olympics and the World Series. We love watching champions become champions. We all know that the greatest athletes in the world have a gift from God; their abilities are written in their genes. But we also know that “good enough” just won’t cut the mustard; they must go beyond being good and work for athletic perfection whether as individuals or as a team. They have to push themselves to the very limits to achieve the championship of their sport and athletic prowess. They have to strive for perfection given the gifts of good genes they have.

As Catholic and therefore as Christians, we are called to moral perfection. Good enough just won’t do, by God’s grace we are to become moral champions as Catholics.

The pursuit of moral perfection is written on our soul by Jesus Christ through the gift of Holy Baptism, in other words it is written in our spiritual genes.

Like athletes working on perfection and thus being champions, we too must strive by God’s grace to be perfect.

Most of you are too young to remember 1968. I can barely remember it. But in 1968 the world was upside down by political and sexual revolution. Because of all of the changes in the Mass and in the Church that Vatican II had begun just three years earlier, many progressive Catholics thought just about everything about Catholic teaching could be and would be changed. Many Catholics caught up in the sexual revolution, and the advent of easy forms of artificial contraception fully believed that the Church would give them permission to use these; that it would not be a sin. Pope Paul VI however issued his famously infamous encyclical Humane Vitae that said, no, the Church would not give permission to use artificial contraception because to do so would go against natural law and Catholic moral Tradition. Catholics, both clergy and laity and even some bishops were outraged and protested this encyclical and said the Church was asking too much of modern Catholics and turning a blind eye to scientific advancements. It was just too much.

But today the more I think of it as a priest the more I have to agree with the high moral teaching of Humane Vitae when it comes to the marital act and artificial contraception. It is part of the call to moral championship that Jesus himself teaches us in his sermons. It is the call to perfection.

Jesus teaches us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. Really? Is He kidding? That’s just too much. I want to be a public dissenter from that teaching. It’s too much, places too much of a psychological pressure on people and will make them always feel guilt ridden for not being able to achieve that kind of moral championship. I’m kidding of course. We have to strive for perfection in the moral and spiritual life, because it is a teaching that comes from God and must be taught by the Church and has ramifications for us all and touches every aspect of whom we are, even the most personal aspects of our human sexuality and ways of relating to others. There is nothing within the human being, including bodily functions that is immune to God's grace and redemption which Jesus' call to perfection is all about--redemption and salvation.

We will be judged by God on how well we have used the gifts of grace, the sacraments and our participation in the Church to allow God to achieve moral perfection within us. Nothing artificial will due; we have to be authentically moral perfectionists. Don't we jeer athletes who use artificial means to develop their physical perfection, like steroids. It is easier to use steroids isn't it. These are scientific advancements that makes being an athlete easier, right? But when it comes to moral perfection, some want the Church to abandon Jesus' call to perfection and allow for artificial forms of contraception to assist in the redemption of human sexuality. Isn't that kind of odd to you?

One of my favorite shows on TV is “House Hunters” on HGTV. It is a reality show, which I normally despise, but in this case done very well. But to show you just how far we have gone in accepting “flabby moral attitudes” rather than championship moral attitudes, I was watching one show where a very nice young couple were looking for a new home to buy, their very first together. They must have been in their early 20’s. They were not married but were buying a house together and there was no compunction on their part in not telling the world of their intention to live as public sinners. They were totally clueless about our Judeo/Christian heritage in this regard. In other words they were moral pygmies, not moral champions and could care less about achieving moral superiority like an athlete would pursue physical superiority.

The Old Testament Book of Sirach is very clear. If you choose you can keep the commandments; they will save you. Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him. However, God does not give permission to anyone to act unjustly nor does he give us permission to sin. Then our Savior Jesus kicks it up a notch. We are asked to use our free will to choose rightly. But the choice here is not between good and evil or life and death. Our choice is whether or not we will use our freedom to reach beyond the 10 commandments and follow the far more challenging law of love, the way of perfect moral championship that Jesus will reiterate elsewhere in the Gospels. It’s a call to perfection which makes Humane Vitae look like child’s play! There is no room for dissent in Jesus’ moral teachings.

Our religion is so morally challenging, we need Jesus grace to assist us at everyday and every moment of our lives. We need Sunday Mass, daily prayer and the Sacrament of Penance. Let us look to Jesus crucified, who knows that perfection for us comes at a great price for Him, the price that only a true “Champion” could pay and achieve for Himself and for us.


Anonymous said...

If one should not use steroids to enhance athletic prowess, then why should one be able and encouraged to use artificial means for sexual prowess. It disturbs me that Viagra can be used with no morality lectures. Or do you think Catholic men who resort to these enhancers are also not honest and taking the easy way out.
If artificial insemination is not ok for women who can not or
no longer have children then it seems to me that men who for whatever reason can no longer perform as before should pray ask God to help him accept and not artificially and medicinally interfere with Gods plan.

Frajm said...

Those are some good points but I'm afraid it is a "straw man." Viagra does not go against natural law and if the marital act is completed as intended, no moral traditions have been broken. I believe that there is no moral law prohibiting a medication, if there was one, from a woman to enhance the marital act, but I could be wrong. Nor is their any prohibition to use a medication to make it possible to ovulate and conceive. The two aspects of the marital act are unitive and procreative, that is, being open to life since life is a gift from God.

Frajm said...

Artificial insemination, invitro fertilization are different things. Church moral teaching has said that it is permissible to collect the sperm of the husband through the normal marital act by using a perforated condom. If a woman cannot conceive or the man's sperm count is low, artificial insemination is allowable using this method. Invited fertilization is also permissible using the husband's sperm collected as mentioned and the wife's egg and where only one or two eggs are actually fertilized and implanted in the wife and no other eggs are fertilized and discarded.
I stand corrected if I am wrong on these pastoral solutions allowed by the Church.

pinanv525 said...

PS What has this got to do with the title of this post?

pinanv525 said...

I re-read the article and see that birth control is mentioned. But it seems to me that it raises an interesting theological question that is more important.

R. E. Ality said...

Many Catholics and others, instructed by the media and by dissenting clergy, who expected and hoped that Paul VI was going to diss the Holy Spirit and change Catholic tradition and teaching were disappointed. After all, the Anglicans jumped ship on this truth in 1930. Didn’t approximately 100 clergy promptly take out a dissenting ad in the NY Times against Humanae Vitae? If my memory has invented a fiction, it wasn’t intentional.
Perhaps John Paul II’s theology of the body will in time reach even the hardened hearts of the progressive Catholics, clergy and lay, and make more clear that the theology of HV is unassailable.
Can we expect a follow-up sermon making it clear that Catholics cannot at the same time be Catholic and (1) pro-choice or (2) vote for most pro-choice Candidate in the race, even if he/she is not a member of one’s party. I again recommend Cardinal Ratzinger’s “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion. General Principles,” with emphasis on the Note Bene.
Keep up the Lord’s work! The Church needs courageous Priests and Bishops to guide and lead the lay soldiers of the Church Militant.

pinanv525 said...

Matt. 5:48: "You must be your Father in Heaven is perfect." The parallel in Luke says:"Be merciful, even as your Father in Heaven is merciful."
In the OT, the usage is generally used to mean upright, blameless, or whole.
Since it is impossible for men to be perfect as God is perfect or merciful as Christ is merciful, we have to understand that Christ is admonishing us to aspire to his ideal, but not saying we must attain it. He is, once again, speaking eschatologically, encouraging us to prefigure the Resurrection life through our lives together as Christians by following his teachings as far as possible. This passage has been much misused and misunderstood by Pelagian types and works righteous Protestants. Even if it were theoretically possible to live a completely sinless life, belief in Christ and His atonement for original sin throught he Church would still be necessary for salvation.

SqueekerLamb said...

Thanks for posting this homily, and how timely!
Just today before reading this I had a long conversation with someone about this very topic.

What's needed in addition to the call to perfection, not instead of, is a compassionate recognition of the very difficult situation some wives find themselves in; and an empathetic explanation of the way they say can goodbye to birth control and yes to God's plan.

Most of you on this blog are male. Therefore, most of you have hardly if ever gone into the medical office of the average OB/GYN physician. What one will see is that on most every table, countertop, and wall poster are images, brochures, models and various displays of contraception options. They lay around as freely as innocuous recipe cards would. It is considered NORMAL and PROPER. It is commonspeak. I have NEVER seen anything about Natural Family Planning. Not even nowadays as folks are going "natural" and "organic" and "drug free".
So a Catholic woman goes to Mass and hears the truth, then goes to her doctor and is innundated by deception and a quick/easy alternative to being 'tied down' by children...what's she to do? Who is helping her in real life? Not the doctor she is supposed to trust, not her husband who is happy to be shed of his responsibility, and where is her Church?

Frajm said...

The pressure to use artificial contraception and yes, it comes from the medical profession and also from husbands is overwhelming. I've had many women tell me that their doctors tell them to abort when it is just presumed that an unborn baby might have some kind of physical issue.
At the same time, the call to perfection by Jesus is not something we accomplish on our own. He accomplishes it for us since He is the only Perfect One. The Blessed Virgin Mary is an example of a non-divine human being cooperating so fully with the grace given her in a special way from her conception, that we can call her the new Eve, showing the possibility of the perfection of her Son which is in her "genes" from the moment of her conception.

Anonymous said...

Today's celebrant was a visiting priest from the local Catholic University. He made a point concerning 'perfection' I had contemplated a while back. I meditated on 'perfection' as a meaning 'without omission' or 'complete' as in the linguistic sense. I found this priest appealing not because he wandered down this same path, but because he based it in the Aramaic, Greek and Latin roots of 'perfection', and therefore, the source of the concept. I was particularly delighted when this pale little bookish looking man said he could summarise it one one phrase: "Grow up". His explanation is that perfection is to live in accordance with God's law as in to know God and to serve him.

People will often try to present perfection as free of error, which is foolish in that man is executing the directive so will have errors. Christ allows completion by forgiving the errors.

A complete view of man must include the mental, spiritual and physical to be complete. Our vanity will tempt us to ignore one or two of these characters in order to satisfy a desire for another character. This omission is imperfect. So in looking to determine how best to use a new technology we must include detailed consideration of the three characters of man and if that action has those characters acting in harmony.


Dave said...

Father, you ought to use this blog entry as a homily for Mass; it's really good! Too many priests these days are hesitant to preach against contraception, but I really hope more will start.