Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sermon - Seventh Sunday Ordinary Time

The last couple of weeks has been interesting due to our bishops objecting to regulations issued by HHS defining what organizations will and will not be classified as religious. Our media, however, spent the next two weeks talking about contraception rather than about conscience protection.

Jennifer Granholm, a commentator on "Current TV", said that she became a Catholic forty years ago and loves the Mass and the teachings of the church. She pointed out that this past Sunday was the first time in those forty years that she heard the term "contraceptive" mentioned from the altar. I am sure the mention was in her bishop’’‘‘s letter to the people of his diocese concerning the Freedom of Religion and Conscience Protection issue.

I read the six letters on this issue sent out by the Catholic Bishops of Minnesota. Four of the letters did mention the word "Contraception" once, one mentioned the word "contraceptives" once. and one used both words once. In all cases the words were used descriptively identifying a section of the HHS rules mandating what insurance coverage must be provided. I am sure that Jennifer’’s bishop used it in this way also.

I suggest that using the word ‘contraceptive’ or ‘contraception’ one time in a descriptive sentence hardly constitutes a sermon on the topic. So why have Jennifer and probably most of us never heard a sermon on ‘contraception’?

Today’’s scripture reading from Paul’’s letter to the Corinthians gives a clue. The Corinthians had gotten themselves into a community dispute. While the nature of the dispute is not clear it seems that some wanted to speak for some thing or somebody (the ‘yes’ side) while others were ready to speak against or even condemn something or somebody (the ‘no’ side). Paul points us back to the way Jesus talked, always with a ‘yes’.

"For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was proclaimed to you . . . was not "yes’’ and ‘no’ but (always) ‘yes'.’’

In our gospel reading from Mark we find Jesus saying to the paralytic, "Child your sins are forgiven you." Almost immediately the scribes present started saying to each other, "Why does this man speak that way?"

Why were they puzzled by his way of speaking? They were familiar with the approach of the Pharisees who would have lectured the paralytic about how his sins caused his health problem and then thrown him out of the house. Obviously a ‘‘no’’ reaction. But Jesus always says ‘‘yes’’. "Child your sins are forgiven." "Rise, pick up your mat and walk." The man picks up his mat and goes home. All are amazed. "We have never seen anything like this."

Again and again in our Sunday readings we see this ‘‘yes’’ approach in use by Jesus. Think of the woman taken in adultery or the woman at the well or last week with the leper. His response was always a loving "yes" and not condemnation. His Church strives to teach in the same way. Don’’t take me wrong. The fact that the church preaches that our destiny is Heaven in no way indicates that Hell is a good place to go. Our emphasis on love as good never implies that its opposite, lust, is anything but an evil.

One of the amazing persons we came to know in our lifetime was Pope John Paul II. He was acclaimed as one of the most influential leaders of the 20th century. He was instrumental in ending communism in his native Poland and eventually all of Europe.[1] He did these things by strongly saying yes to what is right rather than saying no to what is wrong. Yes to Freedom, yes to solidarity and yes to worker’s rights. He knew and we should know that a ‘yes’ message is more powerful than a ‘no’ message. The coming of God in the incarnation has transformed the world and our lives precisely because of its positive message to humanity that the 'no' of our sins can be overcome by the 'yes’ of God’s love.

This week on Television I also heard it said that the Church believes that sex is evil and views those of us that are married as second class members of the Church. I know there are even some Catholics that believe such things.

Another aspect of the beloved Pope’s teaching is precisely in the area of human sexuality. Almost every Wednesday from September 1979 to November of 1984 the Pope gave talks to groups of Vatican visitors on the bodily dimension of human personhood, sexuality and marriage in light of biblical revelation.[2]

He explicitly reaffirms the ‘‘yes’’ that Sex is good, that sexuality is an integral part of being human and that men and woman through the marital embrace join with God in the work of creation. He does acknowledge that some thinkers have claimed that the body is evil and the mind or soul is good but insists that the Church teaches that body and soul are both integral to being a human person and that God made us that way.

One obvious reason that John Paul II, even before he was Pope, appealed to the young was his positive teaching about sexuality. Not only in his book entitled "Theology of the Body" but also his philosophical works on human anthropology, his poetry or his plays also show the Church’’s teaching in it full ‘‘yes’’ mode.

If you have been at a Catholic wedding lately you very likely heard a ‘yes’ sermon on marriage. The sermon of the priest or deacon inevitably holds up the positive aspects of sexuality, marriage and family and the grace that God offers us in undertaking this vocation. In the liturgy of marriage, a liturgy in which the Woman and the Man are the Sacramental Ministers, the following positive message is always present:

The priest or the deacon asks three questions. Each of these questions is seeking a ‘yes’ before the sacramental liturgy can proceed.

The first ‘yes’ to freedom:


(Note that the freedom preached by the church is for all of us, not just those who choose marriage. Thus the single person, the single parent, the widow, the widower, the sinner and the saint are all beloved by God and therefore must be free in order to respond to God's love.)

The second ‘yes’ is to fidelity:


The third ‘yes’ is to Fertility:


If you attend a Catholic Pre Cana or a Catholic Engaged Encounter you will find these three positive ideals of marriage presented by Catholic lay women and men and Catholic clergy, some of whom are themselves married. At these sessions the subject of family planning will be discussed. The church does teach that there are times when the spacing or even avoidance of conception is a moral choice for a husband and wife. The analysis of which method, device, drug or technology is chosen, however, is where moral distinctions are made by theologians, ethicists, and healthcare professionals to help us form our consciences in this matter.

Also this week I heard it claimed that the Church is intractably opposed to the rights of women. Here is Pope John XXIII writing in "Pacem In Terris" in 1963.

"... the part that women are now playing in political life is everywhere evident. This is a development that is perhaps of swifter growth among Christian nations, but it is also happening extensively, if more slowly, among nations that are heirs to different traditions and imbued with a different culture. Women are gaining an increasing awareness of their natural dignity. Far from being content with a purely passive role or allowing themselves to be regarded as a kind of instrument, they are demanding both in domestic and in public life the rights and duties which belong to them as human persons." [3]

That sound like a ‘‘yes’’ to me. A ‘‘yes’’ in support of women in our culture and public life, that women should be treated as fully human and not objectified as mere instruments.

Another pundit claimed that the church only names saints that are either celibate men or a virginal women. In 2002 Ferdinand Holbock wrote a book that describes the lives of 200 married persons that have either been named saints or are being considered for sainthood.

Lets come back to the word "contraception" and listen to what some have been saying. I have heard it said, this week, that our culture is solidly "contraceptive" in philosophy and that we Catholics have bought into this view and rejected the Church’s pro-Creative teaching. Since this claim is not discussing a family planning method, device, drug or technology but rather a philosophy we need to consider just what a "contraceptive" philosophy means.

The word "contraception" is a contraction of two words. "CONTRA" a French word meaning ‘against’ and the English word ‘conception’ meaning the creation of a new human life by the physical union of a man and a woman.

Scientifically this is the moment when human life begins. Culturally this is how cultures grow, thrive and survive. A culture without children will die! Look around our world today. Europe’s culture is disappearing due to too few children. Japan's economy is in dire straights due to too few children to keep it going.

Are they right? Have we Catholics become a community that is AGAINST CONCEPTION?

If you were at Mass last Sunday you saw our pro-creative and pro children community on parade. Our kids reading the scripture, leading us in prayer and singing for the love of God. But on any Sunday we see multi generational families every where in this church, we see a grandfather and grandmothers arriving with granddaughters and grandsons in their arms. Any mother who brings her new born to church is swamped by loving parishioners. Parents and grand parents beaming whenever a child or grandchild advances to the office of server, lector or choir member. In addition many of our parishioners, married and single, are dedicated to a vocation of service to our children in our schools.

All of God’s children are loved by this Parish Community regardless of their life choices or current situation. Single, married, single parents, persons of all sexual orientation, divorced, seniors. We are stiving to respond to Jesus's call to love all including the lonely, the poor, the immigrant, the sick, the handicapped, yes every one.

Isaiah, quotes our God in the first reading today: "I am doing something new! ... do you not perceive it? (You) are the people I formed for myself, (and I) wipe.. out your sins." (Isaiah 43:19, 21, 25)

All of us have sinned yet God speaks of you and I as his beloved and stands ready with his ‘yes’ upon our return in search of forgiveness.

"I am doing something new! ... do you not perceive it? (You) are the people I formed for myself, (and I) wipe.. out your sins." (Isaiah 43:19, 21, 25)



        1. Wikipedia, "John Paul II", February 18, 2012. 
          2. John Paul II, The Theology of the Body, 1997 Daughter of St Paul. 
          3. John XXIII, "Pachem In Terris", 1963
© Copyright 2012 Joseph E. Hilber. All rights reserved.
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