As we listened to this Sunday’s Gospel (3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A), it wouldn’t be unreasonable to wonder at the actions of these two sets of brothers. All four are career fishermen, yet when Jesus – Who was most likely not well-known to them (if at all) – calls them to follow Him, they go. Leaving everything behind, their nets, the boat, the fish – even their father in the case of James & John.
Imagine if a stranger were to walk up to you at your workplace and invite you to literally follow them away. I think I would at least ask ‘where are we going?’. Yet these future Apostles don’t even ask for time to grab their essentials; they just go.
One wonders if they already the devotion that we come to know of the Apostles in the successive stories of the Gospels and the letters – but there already had to be some devotion. They unconditionally follow Christ. Undoubtedly this grew over time, but the immediacy of their response speaks to the devotion they already had.
We have a similar invitation in our own lives, to be like the Apostles. As we read through the New Testament, we see them grow in that devotion. There are a lot of characteristics that we can attribute to each one of them and ways we can model our lives after them, but it all starts with devotion.
Unlike the Apostles, we are able to walk with Christ in the flesh in this life. Still, we are called to follow Him with the same devotion. There is a particular vocation in which we get to model this in – this is in marriage – and the opportunity to give ourselves entirely to our spouse.
One of my favorite movies – the animated movie ‘Up’ by Pixar – has what I think is perhaps the greatest depiction of married love that I have seen in film. It takes place in the first 15 minutes of the story – I highly recommend it (bring tissues, you’ll need them). Suffice to say that Carl is devoted to his wife, to giving himself entirely to her before, during and to the end of their marriage.
Today I’d like to speak about one of the things in our society that adds an extra bit, an artificial bit, to that phrase of ‘I love you’. And last week as we were talking about the gift of life, the message of God is “God loves us”. Jesus came to say that – you are a son or a daughter of my Heavenly Father; you are loved. In marriage we echo that message: “I love you”.
But there is a modern evil, of contraception, that adds another word to that phrase. “I love you”, then in parenthesis, invisible, unspoken: “but”. ‘But I’m afraid of children…we’re not ready….we can’t afford it….but I don’t know what this means…. et cetera”.
There’s a lot of confusion about contraception – it’s a pretty hot-button topic in today’s society. We see it in the news a lot, especially with the new insurance mandate.
I want to first start with ‘what does the Church teach’? Because some folks will give you different answers. Does the Church say we can use it, can we not use, can we sometimes use it, what about certain circumstances?
To start, we should know what the Church says about the morality of contraception:
“every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil (CCC 2370)
Those last two words are key words in the Catechism – ‘intrinsically evil’ – which means there is no exception, there is no time when we are permitted, when it is morally licit to use contraception.
That’s a pretty big deal to say that. Is the Church behind the times, is it just saying ‘here’s a rule for rule’s sake’ or ‘we don’t like technology; we like our candles and incense, don’t bother us with the latest development.’?
I want to answer that: no! Not at all.
The Church looks at contraception and sees that this is something that subverts the message of ‘I love you’. It takes away. And to understand how that is, we need to understand what is the message and meaning of marriage. If the message of marriage is ‘I love you’, the meaning behind that is of union and procreation.
The Church teaches that we believe that marriage has those two purposes. To be able to say ‘I love you’, be united as one and also to be fruitful – that that love might result, not necessarily result, but might be open to resulting in children. But there are other things as well. Because when contraception enters in, when that ‘but’ comes in, there are other effects, other ways that marriage will suffer.
Pope Paul VI wrote an awesome document – quite some time ago – about contraception when it was first coming out. He warned that if contraception becomes the norm, there are things that will happen to our society that we don’t want to happen:
Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection. (Humanae Vitae, 17)
Isn’t that a powerful prediction? To think that he saw that there would come day when women are no longer revered as lovers, as ones who could be honored just by their virtues as women.
Now men, I don’t mean to unduly single us out, but I think it’s fair to say that probably the biggest cause of the degradation of women is us. Whether it is in objectifying women through images or videos, whether it is through not valuing them as much because – after all – we can always use protection or take the pill. Pope Pius saw this in writing this document.
He goes on:
Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. (Humanae Vitae, 17)
This is exactly what has happened in our society. Effective this month [January, 2014], the HHS mandate – which you’re no doubt aware of – came into effect. And now every insurance company in the United States is required to cover abortificients and contraceptives. You might have seen that the Little Sisters of the Poor recently filed a lawsuit. A group of nuns – nuns, mind you! – being asked to provide abortificients and contraceptives in their insurance.
The Supreme Court ordered that this be stayed for the time being, but it has yet to have its day in court. We’re in pretty dire circumstances when it comes to contraceptives in our society.
Yet there is a reason for hope, and it starts again with that invitation from Christ: ‘Come, follow me’. I imagine that there are at least three ways to approach this. There are some of you who are saying ‘oh yes, I’ve got this – the Church’s teaching? I’m there, I believe it!’. To you, I would urge beefing up on what the Church teaches. Learn what we believe and how we teach it. Because there will come people who want to know why the Church believes what She believes. And pray for them – pray that you might have the right words and that the might be willing to hear them.
There are those reading this who perhaps struggle with this teaching, perhaps for whom contraception is part of your live right now. And you wonder why the Church is teaching what it’s teaching – ‘Father, that’s not convincing…tell me more’. To you I would like to offer the invitation, come talk to me or to any priest. Come read about what the Church teaches. This document of Pope Pius is an excellent start and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how he explains our faith in this matter. And also pray: ‘Lord help me understand – help me accept’.
There is of course a third thing we have to address, and that is that society wants to impose this on us. And I think that all of us, no matter what side we might be on, can recognize that this is a breach of religious freedom. We know this to be wrong, we believe that God has passed our faith on to us. And so I urge all of us to pray – Lord help the world to let us practice our faith, and to see it for what it is: the Truth.
When we consider the Apostles, we don’t really know why they left so quickly – why they followed Jesus so quickly. It could be that they knew that they had to leave everything behind and they were ready to do it. It could be that they had no idea but were willing. It could be that they were tired of fishing and wanted to try something new! In any case, they desired to follow Christ in the end – and they gave themselves entirely to him.
What marks the life of an Apostle? Ultimately, it is the joy that comes of that wholehearted conversion – that unconditional giving of themselves to our Saviour. May we ask the Lord that we might likewise give ourselves fully to Him. And if we are blessed with marriage, that we might likewise give ourselves fully to our spouse, holding nothing back. That we too might respond to Christ in our vocation and in our lives, ‘Come, follow me’ – and that we might discover the joy of being His disciples.
(This was originally given as a homily on January 26th, 2014)