Saturday, July 23, 2016

Sunday Homily - NFP Awareness

When you pray say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Addressing God as Father is amazing enough. But this should blow our minds: Men share a title with God, the title of Father. We’re going to see that all men are called to fatherhood in some capacity. Fathers generate life. The most obvious example is natural fatherhood. Most men are called to natural fatherhood where they and their wives, together with God, procreate new human life for the building up of the Kingdom.
Then there are men like me involved in supernatural fatherhood. I don’t have biological children but people call me father because of my role as spiritual father. This goes all the way back to Apostles. St. Paul talks about being a spiritual father as he is writing to his spiritual children.
Then there are also men who never marry and never have biological children. In their vocations, they are called to generate life for the Kingdom as well. They are called to lay down their lives and be fruitful in imitation to Christ so that others can have life. St. Paul reminds us today in his letter to the Colossians, talking about Jesus: “He brought you to life along with him.” These men build up the kingdom in any number of ways like teaching, serving, coaching, praying. There is no limit to the ways to generate life.
So, getting back to natural fatherhood, if building up of the Kingdom is important, then fatherhood continues for decades into the lives of their children as they are reared and educated to be citizens of God’s Kingdom. What an awesome responsibility!
To show the Father’s love for us, Jesus gives some obvious examples of fatherhood in the Gospel today. But procreating and educating his children is only half of the task of fatherhood.
The man is also called to make a gift of self for the good of his wife.
Today begins Natural Family Planning Awareness Week. NFP is a tool that is very helpful to ensure both sides of the coin of fatherhood are kept intact. It’s practice helps a man generate life in a generous and responsible way and at the same time make a full gift of self to his bride.
Nothing is held back, especially not his fatherhood.
Because of this, many priests, including myself, require NFP classes in marriage preparation. The numbers speak for themselves. Couples who practice NFP have a divorce rate approaching zero, and report that they are more satisfied with their marriages. While the rest of the culture has a divorce rate of 50 percent.
In our first reading from Genesis, what was the grave sin of the people of Sodom that God wanted to destroy it? They were using their bodies in ways that God did not design them to be used. They were using God’s gift of their sexual faculties not to generate life, but to generate lust and corruption. They were using each other in acts that were completely sterile. Not only were they sterile, they promoted death and destruction. God is not the God of death and destruction. He is the God of life and love.
Throughout the entire Judeo-Christian tradition, until recent decades, fertility was seen as a blessing and sterility was seen as a hardship. But in our present culture at large, fertility is seen as a liability, as something to be suppressed. That is contrary to God’s plan. Fertility is not something wrong with our bodies, but something right with our bodies. Women’s fertility doesn’t need to be suppressed by dangerous drugs and hormones. It just needs to be understood. And God gives us the ability to understand it. These are the skills learned in NFP.
The conjugal embrace of husband and wife is not only good, but holy. It’s God’s primary way of strengthening their bond with each other and bringing new human life into the world.
Saint John Paul II explained in his The Theology of the Body: “[W]hen the conjugal act is deprived of its inner truth because it is deprived artificially of its procreative capacity, it also ceases to be an act of love.”
God’s design is that the conjugal embrace has both a unitive and procreative meaning, open to love and life. There is an inseparable connection between these two meanings. In the contraceptive mentality, a separation occurs and the full gift of self is diminished. The act now says, I am holding back part of myself from you. NFP is the way to live responsible generosity if a couple prayerfully discerns they have a grave reason to avoid pregnancy.
This is definitely a counter-cultural message. In the culture, people are treated as objects more and more. Our own national government mandates that health insurance programs provide contraception without regard to the deeper effects on the human person.
Really, it all comes down to who has the more adequate understanding of human nature. I’m going to side with St. John Paul II and His Theology of the Body. I’m going to side with the Church and her 2,000 years of the most brilliant minds in the world pondering both the natural law and everything God has revealed. I’m going to side with the infallible guidance of the Holy Spirit that Jesus guaranteed the Church would have.
Because of this, the Church will always support what is best for marriages because marriage holds families together. And that’s important because families are the building blocks of society. Strong families means strong society where people can flourish. That’s God’s plan for the human race.
The contraceptive mentality has become such a part of the culture that we are allowing it. I mentioned that on Fourth of July Weekend, when we were observing the Fortnight for Freedom. In the case involving the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Supreme Court instructed lower courts to hear further arguments. In March of 2012 all the diocesan bishops of our country acknowledged that the contraceptive mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services is indeed a persecution because it forces people to provide services that have been deemed inherently evil by natural law reasoning.
But the outrage was relatively small. Vast numbers of Catholics yawned and said it’s no big deal. In November of that same year Many Catholics voted to reelect the same officials who put the contraceptive mandate in place.
Many Catholic dioceses, universities had to file law suits for protection from the mandate. Charities affiliated with religious organizations found themselves in the same threat. Priests for Life and the Little Sisters of the Poor were looking at steep fines that would have put them out of business. The owners of Hobby Lobby, my friend who owns a meat processing company, and many other private citizens, who own companies that employ people, faced the same threats.

Some of those cases have been solved, but not all.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Fortnight for Freedom

Nothing fails like success. 227 years ago, the framers of the Constitution of the United States put in place several checks and balances in a system of government that splits power into three branches. This system has worked very well for the most part for more than two and a quarter centuries, hence the success.

Here is where the failure comes in. Since the system has worked pretty well for 227 years, we have become complacent. Even though we may not trust individual politicians, we seem to have a great trust in the governmental system as a whole. We don’t have to be paranoid, but on the other hand, we should not think that we are immune to some of the evil that is brought about by other governments of the world.

Furthermore, we need to remember that politics does not happen in a vacuum. We elect politicians, and they make policies, and those policies have real effects in people’s lives. We should never shrug off politics as “politicians being politicians.” And we should never think of rooting for politicians and political parties in the same way we root for athletes and sports teams.

I'll come back to that point below, but first, let’s fast forward to March of 2012. The Catholic bishops of every single diocese in the United States pointed out that the Catholic Church is being persecuted by the federal government. The bishops asked all Catholics to observe a Fortnight For Freedom from June 21st to July 4th. These dates not only encompass the feast days of saints who stood up to government tyranny, but also the day when our nation observes independence from tyranny. This persecution comes from the Department of Health and Human Services, a department of the Executive Branch of the federal government. The persecution comes in the form of forcing employers to provide contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion inducing drugs to their employees. The Little Sisters of the Poor are still tied up in a law suit with the federal government over the issue and is currently on hold with the Supreme Court.

Later that same year, the president was re-elected, so the same Executive Branch stayed in power. The persecution continued, and exit polls show that about half of the Catholics who voted in that election, voted to keep in power the very branch of government that was persecuting the Church.

Now, we once again find ourselves in an election year. It would be nice not to have to discuss political issues. But the outcomes of elections have real effects in people’s lives. Some elections are literally life and death decisions.

Here are the things that we know will happen for sure:
  • A new president will take office on January.
  • That new president will run the Executive Branch of the federal government.
  • That Executive Branch will have a Department of Health and Human Services.
  • That Department of Health and Human Services will either persecute the Catholic Church or will not persecute the Church.

Here are some another things we know for sure:
  • There is a vacant seat on the Supreme Court.
  • Justice Antonin Scalia, a faithful Catholic, died a few months ago.
  • The new president will appoint a justice to fill the vacancy.
  • The senate will approve or disapprove the appointment.
  • One third of the senators in the legislative branch are up for reelection.
  • This year, Ohio has one senator up for reelection.
  • Whoever wins that election will have a say in the approval of a new Supreme Court Justice right away.

And it doesn’t stop there. Other seats on the Supreme Court are likely to come open in the first term of this new president. Last week there was a rumor that Justice Clarence Thomas, a faithful Catholic, was thinking about retirement. There is a very strong likelihood that the new president will appoint two Justices in the first term of office.

These justices will either be pro-life or pro-abortion. They will either be pro-life or pro-euthanasia. They will decide many cases that will come before them intended to protect the innocent in the womb or destroy the innocent in the womb. Last week the eight members of the Supreme Court voted 5-3 to strike down a law in Texas that would make abortion clinics as clean and safe as any other ambulatory surgery clinic.

As I mentioned above, we can notice a cultural similarity in sports and politics. We can get emotionally attached to sports teams and athletes; and we can get emotionally attached to politicians and political parties. But there is a huge difference. If we are highly emotional toward a sports figure or team, we might become a fan (which is short for fanatic). This could lead to us cheering, spending money on tickets or related goods, or spending time following said team or athlete. This is about the extent of it. No matter how much we cheer or spend, our efforts will have absolutely no bearing on the outcome of any sporting contest. The athlete will not play better or worse depending on the fan cheering from home.

Now, imagine we get highly emotional toward a politician or political party. This emotion could lead to votes and campaigning. Votes and campaigning can lead to the person or party taking office. In office, these elected officials will make policies. These policies will have real effects in peoples’ lives. Some of these policies will literally be the difference between life and death.