The Scriptures of the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) speak today about the resolution and fidelity needed to follow God’s will; they also hint at the interior freedom that one gains from the commitment of discipleship. Providentially these readings arrive in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision with regard to permitting same-sex marriage. For now, individual states will be free to redefine marriage if they wish. (One by one, I suspect, they will.)
I am not speaking about these things, as it were, “on the defensive.” It's always worthwhile to review and reaffirm the Church’s splendid, comprehensive vision of marriage and family life. Yes, we have to include the particular choices that the vision forbids; but most of all, we present the great dignity that the vision affirms even as it challenges us and challenges the culture. If I were to become a “one-trick pony” in the pulpit or on this blog, the Church’s marriage and family teachings might be the trick to pick; after all, most people are called to marriage and parenthood. But even these teachings appear brightest and best against the backdrop of the entire Catholic Faith.
Speaking of which, I received a letter the other day. It wasn’t a personal letter; it was an online article addressed “to our priests and bishops.” Emily Stimpson, a freelance Catholic writer, was treating the subject of “What Catholics Need Now.” In light of the Supreme Court decision, as well as other present-day maladies and deficits, Stimpson asked priests and bishops to “step up [our] game” in presenting the authentic Catholic faith in preaching, governance, architecture, and music, so as to mobilize the Catholic faithful to appreciate and use their voice in the public square. Priests must lead their people in these times of persecution, by modeling and encouraging steadfast truth and steadfast love.
Stimpson isn’t the only writer or speaker to have done this. In a comment to her letter, another Catholic writer referenced an article he had written last September, which I had read and upon which I had commented. These two writers take on different tones and make different suggestions, but they (and others of their ilk) share several characteristics:
- Love for the Lord and His Church
- A desire for truth, justice, and charity to prevail
- Great and justifiable concern with the present state of affairs; and
- Appreciation for the role of the clergy in addressing the Catholic faithful on contemporary matters
Jesus rejects that proposition, but in so doing He does not reject His prophetic role; instead, He bids the disciples to move on to another village. That is to say, they must continue their mission; and so must we. The Catholic Church has always maintained the same teachings without regard for the shifting sands of the culture, yet it is fair to say that the past fifty years have witnessed the diminution of the Catholic voice (both from Catholic laypeople and from your clergy). The fear of persecution cannot inhibit us Catholics from saying and doing what we believe. Now, you may say, “What if we don’t all agree on what we believe?” You know, we Catholics! Yes...well, not even Jesus would make people agree with Him, but it didn’t stop Him from speaking, heedless of the cost.
The Church’s teachings on marriage and family have been impugned at every level of government and in every corner of society. We can boil them down to the word "chastity." We are considered ridiculous for mentioning that very word, let alone for commencing to explain and encourage it.
But here goes:
Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and spiritual world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman” (CCC 2337).Outside of marriage, the “complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman,” sexual activity results in disintegration—breakdown: the breakdown of the individual and, in time, the breakdown of the culture. Do you notice anything like that going on?
When it comes to our lust (not to mention our pride, anger, envy, gluttony, avarice, or sloth), it is not easy to subject our tumultuous emotions to the higher powers of reason and will, enlightened by faith and sustained by God’s grace. But we must, if we want to be free—even if it takes a lifetime.
It's what we were made for, said St. Paul today to the Galatians: “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery” (5:1).
Whatever your opinion on the Paula Deen situation, anyone can recognize how the condemnation of racial slurs sheds light on the meaning of words and the meaning of the human person. The past of slavery will never be forgotten, nor should it be. But the human race also ought to experience outrage at our continued slavery to sin in its many forms. It should move us all to greater prayer and vigilance, lest we keep grabbing for the shackles.
Saint Paul reminds us of the great commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18). But we do not really love ourselves, do we? Do we even know what that really means…what it could mean?
Lord—here and everywhere, teach us what it means!