Saturday, February 19, 2011
HUMANAE VITAE IS ABOUT BEING PERFECT AS OUR HEAVENLY FATHER IS PERFECT. DO YOU DISAGREE AND DISSENT WITH THAT?
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.