Life-giving Love and Humanae vitae

Ancient Israel had a problem: there were too many prophets. With so many competing voices, the Jewish people couldn’t tell a true prophet from a false prophet. They eventually found a solution, and they wrote that solution down in Deuteronomy 18:21-22. It’s very simple: wait a little while and see if the prophecies come true. If they don’t, the prophet does not speak words from God. If the prophecies do come true, then the prophet is from God, and we had better listen up and do what was said! This rule is intuitive and simple: everyone could follow it. Whether the people actually changed their lives and followed the prophet was a different issue, but at least they knew that the prophet was from God.

The spiritual gift of prophecy did not end in the Old Testament. Fifty years ago, on July 25, 1968, a document was released which closely followed the prophetic model: it reminded us that we must always follow God’s law. Then, it predicted what would happen if we didn’t:

  1. The way would “open wide” to marital infidelity.
  2. Because of human weakness, failing to follow this teaching in one way would make us accustomed to evil, and society’s moral standards would decrease.
  3. Men would forget the reverence due to women, and they would treat them as objects, not as humans with equal dignity in God’s eyes.
  4. Public authorities would use the evil practices which were condemned in the document to achieve their own goals.

That document was Humanae vitae, or in English: Of Human Life. The author was Blessed Pope Paul VI. He reminded us of the beauty of marriage, of how marriage is an image of God’s own love, of how marital love is a fully human kind of love, and of how, through the marital act, a man and a woman become, in cooperation with God, the creators a new human life. Because of the immense goodness of marriage and of the marital act, Blessed Paul VI also reminded us of God’s teaching that the use of artificial contraception is morally wrong, and that if we were to use it, those serious consequences I mentioned would be the result. People didn’t want to hear this, and so they didn’t listen. Sadly, every single one of Paul VI’s predictions came true:

  1. Marital infidelity is rampant in western society. We see alarming rates of adultery, divorce and remarriage without having the first marriage annulled, and epidemic-level misuse of the internet to find obscene images and videos. You get the idea.
  2. Moral standards haven’t just declined—they’ve nearly disappeared. Look at the recent scandals involving so-called leaders in sports, politics, and the media. Look at what passes for quality television and movies these days. Compare a movie from just 20 years ago and to a similarly rated movie now. We’ve changed, and not for the better.
  3. Our society has lost any sense of reverence due to women. Things weren’t perfect before, don’t get me wrong, but we at least tried to respect women.
  4. Public authorities have used society’s acceptance of contraception for their own ends. In China, it manifested in the brutal One Child policy. In our very own USA we’ve dealt with the HHS Mandate and public funding of organizations like Planned Parenthood.

Blessed Paul VI predicted that these things would happen. No one, not even Catholics, sadly, expected him to be right, but he was. Now, that we’ve seen his predictions, his prophecies, come true, we must look again at what Blessed Paul VI called us to do, and we must do it. Every time the Jewish people failed to follow God’s prophets, the results were terrible: they were conquered, enslaved, or worse. We may not be physically conquered or enslaved for not following God’s teaching on contraception, but we will certainly be conquered by evil and enslaved to sin. This is not where we want our society to go.

Brothers and sisters, today, 50 years after the release of Humanae vitae, we stand at a crossroads. Our culture is suffering. Our families are suffering. Something is wrong. But we are not helpless. We have the power to change this. We do not have to accept the status quo. We must not accept it. Change will take sacrifice. It will take all the courage and virtue we can muster. It will take prayer. It will take faith in God. I will be blunt here: it will take each of us here accepting Catholic teaching on contraception. That teaching is clear: “any action which either before, at the moment of, or after [marital relations], is specifically intended to prevent procreation” is wrong. (HV 14) Furthermore, the Church has repeatedly condemned “direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary.” (HV 14) This issue touches the very meaning of human life, and it is therefore incredibly important. It is sometimes difficult to tell people the truth, especially when it is about an issue that is so personal, but Jeremiah warns against misleading the flock in the first reading today, so I have a moral obligation to be absolutely clear. It is not simply a moral obligation, though. I am motivated out of love for all of you here and out of a desire to see every person here today go to Heaven, and so I must be absolutely clear about the truth on this issue. The use of any birth control pill, implant, mechanical device, or medical procedure that is designed to prevent conception or pregnancy is against Catholic teaching, against God’s teaching, and against what it means to be human. If I had any reservations at all, I would not be so adamant that we must rid ourselves of the evils of artificial contraception. We cannot do these things. Our eternal lives are at stake if we do.

We shouldn’t get the wrong idea from this teaching, though. The Church is not demanding that we have as many children as biologically possible, nor is she saying that we don’t care about women’s health. God calls us to use reason to govern our lives, including family size. This is possible without violating Catholic teaching! The Church doesn’t just leave us hanging! Many ways exist that don’t violate Catholic teaching which can help postpone or achieve pregnancy. Together, we call them Natural Family Planning.

You may have heard people—especially doctors, sadly, even Catholic doctors—claim that NFP does not work or joke about it. They are, at best, wrong; at worst, they are being dishonest. The old rhythm methods were ineffective, but medicine and science have developed. Modern NFP, used correctly, has been scientifically proven to be more effective than artificial contraception at postponing pregnancy. Artificial contraceptives, as they are commonly used, are between 82% and 98% effective. NFP, as commonly used is 89.4% to 99.5% effective.1 One of the NFP studies was done here in Wichita at St. Francis hospital! If that’s not enough of a reason to stop using artificial contraceptives, consider this: NFP—unlike “the pill”—has not been declared a Group I carcinogen by the World Health Organization. Some other Group I carcinogens are asbestos, arsenic, mustard gas, plutonium, and engine exhaust. NFP has never been linked to severe health conditions, such as those which can arise from implants. NFP can strengthen marriages, because it requires both spouses to work together. NFP can even save lives, because the regular observations involved can give an early warning for certain cancers that would not be seen otherwise. NFP is not just for postponing pregnancy though, it can also be used to achieve pregnancy! NFP, together with new medicals treatments consistent with Catholic teaching (NaPro), is more effective than IVF.2 NFP requires sacrifice. It’s not always easy, but it is a good thing. It works better; it’s more flexible; and, it’s better able to help women with health issues than artificial methods. Finally, NFP is more respectful of women and their inherent dignity. Most artificial birth control methods work by harming the normal functioning of a woman’s body, this increases the chances of health problems for women, such as depression, blood clots, stroke, several types of cancer, and many others.3 Additionally, NFP is a shared responsibility, and yes, challenge, between a husband and wife, while using artificial contraception is a one-sided burden that largely falls on women. If you want to learn more about NFP, there are classes across Wichita all the time!

Our bodies are gift from God. They are meant to be used in a certain way if we want to be happy. We can’t continue to separate marriage, sex, and babies. Whether we want to admit it or not, at the deepest levels of our humanity we know they belong together. We must do better, because we deserve better than artificial contraception. We deserve to be loved, not used. In Humanae vitae, our holy Church stood up to society and, again, said “no more” to people who desire to use others for their own pleasure. The Church will never stop trying to help us understand ourselves, and today she reminds us that we are not made for pleasure, but for true, life-giving love. Thankfully, when we do make mistakes, the Church is always there to help us pick ourselves up and to set us on the right path again by providing the Sacraments for us. In the Sacrament of Confession, God forgives our sins. He wants to forgive our sins, especially those that touch us so deeply and personally as the use of artificial contraception does. After we have received forgiveness of our sins and have become clean in that most intimate encounter of God’s mercy, God then invites us to share in the most excellent of all the Sacraments, that heaven-on-earth encounter with God’s love: the Eucharist. The Eucharist reminds us of God’s love for us and teaches us that God made us for greatness: he made us to receive his life-giving love, and to share that life-giving love with others. For those who already are following this Church teaching, thank you for being witness to God’s love and for being witnesses to God’s amazing plan for us. For those who are not following Church teaching, I invite you to simply try it out, and I want you to know that the Church will be here for here each and every step of the way.

Today’s Readings:
16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
50th Anniversary of Humanae vitae on Wednesday, July 25.
July 22, 2018
Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalms 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6; Ephesians 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34

How do we love?

God loves me into existence. He has loved me since before he formed me in my mother’s womb,1 and he will love me long after my bones turn to dust.2 Every moment of my existence is due to God’s love for me.

How do I respond to this love? The only response that could possibly be close to sufficient is to love God with every bit of my existence: with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my mind.3 God has given me everything, so it makes sense that I should love him back with everything. But what does this look like? There are some obvious answers to what loving God looks like: attending Mass, praying, trying not to sin. But that is not all that is required of me.

God doesn’t just love me into existence. God loves you into existence, too. God loves everyone that you or I will meet today into existence. Every person who has ever existed: Donald Trump, Barack Obama, St. Pope John Paul, St. Mother Teresa, the guy down the street who is always mad about your lawn, the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Peter: God loves them all into existence. Immediately after telling us to love God, Jesus tells us that we must love our neighbors as ourselves.4 To truly love God, we must also love those whom he loves. To say we love God and to mistreat our neighbor at the same time is hypocrisy! Jesus tells us that whatever we do to the least of our brothers and sisters, we do to him.5 If we want to love God, we must also love all our brothers and sisters in this world.6

Love is not a thing that we can practice sometimes. We can’t act in hate toward one person and expect it not to have an effect our ability to love another person. This works in our favor, though! When we act out of true love for someone, it grows our ability to love in general. By loving our neighbor, we learn to love. We learn to love God by loving our neighbor, and by loving our neighbor we love God.7

But what does this look like? How do we love our neighbors?

The readings today give us a great starting point. God called the Israelites—and us—in the Exodus to treat the foreigners among us as any other citizen, because ultimately, we are all citizens not of this earth, but of heaven. We should not do wrong to those who are vulnerable, such as widows or orphans. Paul tells and shows us that by living a moral life, we can become models of good behavior, and love our brothers and sisters by showing them the way to happiness. We turn away from our idols of self and let go of the idea that we must protect our time from the encroachment of our neighbors. A wise priest once told me never to make my schedule too tight: we must allow for those “God moments,” where you run into someone who just needs to talk.

But we can do better than this. Love is the only virtue that remains in Heaven, so it is critical to work on it as much as we can! I believe that the best examination of our love was written by St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.8

we can use this as an examination of conscience to see how we are doing with love. Have I been patient with myself? Have I been kind to my neighbor? Have I born the burdens that God has allowed me to experience this day?

Love your neighbor as yourself, so that you are able to love the Lord, your God, with all of your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.

Today’s Readings:
Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
Exodus 22:20-26; Psalm 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51; 1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10; Matthew 22:34-40

Reflection for the Third Thursday of Lent

Jeremiah, who wrote thousands of years ago, is just a relevant today as he was then! God tells Jeremiah that the people of Jerusalem will not listen to him, they do not take correction, they are not faithful. The Psalm further reminds us not to harden our hearts as the Israelites did in the desert when they left Egypt. It seems that part of the human condition is that we do not want to be told what to do! The Word of God, however, has power. Through it, Jesus casts out demons. We should listen to words with such power.

Divine Mercy Image.Jesus leaves us with a warning at the end of today’s Gospel. When we have cleaned out our soul, that is a wonderful thing; however, if someone stronger than us comes, it won’t last. There is always someone stronger than us. We cannot follow God and listen to his Word from our own strength, the only one strong enough to do that is God! If we trust in God and put our faith in his Word, God will protect us. Our bodies may be assaulted, but our souls will always be protected.

Let us trust in God. He will save us, and He will protect us.

Today’s Readings: Jer 7:23-28; Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9; Lk 11:14-23

Reflection for the Second Thursday of Lent

One thing that has always struck me as odd about today’s Gospel is that the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus with cooling water, or to send Lazarus to his family. It could be that the rich man—who is never named—understands that he is helpless to do these things himself, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think that his desire for Lazarus to do these things shows that the rich man still doesn’t “get it.” He still wants other people to do all the work.

This would go right in line with the rich man’s way of life prior to his death and eternal punishment. In Jesus’s time, someone who wore purple had to get special permission from the emperor himself to do so and would undoubtedly be very rich. He also dined “sumptuously.” This tells us that the rich man had more material wealth than most people could imagine—someone like this would be one of the richest men in the world today—and did not share it with others who were, literally, lying at his doorstep. The rich man could have given Lazarus enough money for a lifetime and would not have even noticed; however, he did not.

The rich man suffered from the sin of greed. He always wanted more. More money. More clothes. More luxurious food. More servants to do things for him. He never looked outside of himself to the other to consider what someone else might need. The rich man turned his heart away from the Lord and in upon itself. All sin does this: all sin turns the person’s heart back in on itself. True love, in which a person desires to give of themselves to others, is perverted and becomes self-love, in which a person desires everything for his or herself and uses others in order to do so.

Jeremiah warns against this in the first reading. He tells us that the human who trusts in human beings and in created things is doomed and cursed. Only in God, Jeremiah tells us, can man have true hope. The Lord will reward each one per his or her deeds. Jesus tells us in the Gospels that we are called to be perfect, as our Heavenly Father is. The standard by which we are judged is a perfection. The only way we stand a chance is by opening our hearts to God and to others, so that we may love each other fully and truly, in a way that is proper to our relationship with the other.

The rich have a duty to help the poor, as the poor have a duty to help the rich. Spouses have a duty of mutual help. Other relationships have unique and special ways in which the persons involved are called to love one another. May we never forget to see every other person as a human person who is loved by God, and to treat them in accord with their value as God’s beloved child.

Today’s Readings: Jer 17:5-10; Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4 & 6; Lk 16:19-31

Reflection for the Second Wednesday of Lent

You know that feeling where you must say something, but you know it is going to make everyone mad? You don’t want to do it, but it needs happen. I get that feeling a lot. Sometimes I will try to talk myself out of it, saying “they don’t really need to know that,” or “I’m sure they’ve already thought of this.” Other times, especially when I have to correct someone, I think, “God said ‘judge lest ye be judged,’” or “turn the other cheek.” Maybe if the other person is older and supposed to be much wiser than me, I might think, “I am not smart enough to correct this person, I am just a child.”

I think that Jeremiah probably came up with all these excuses, and probably more. The book of Jeremiah begins with Jeremiah trying to tell God he was too young and not ready to be a prophet. God replied, “Say not, ‘I am too young.’ To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak. Have no fear before them, because I am with you to deliver.” God had called Jeremiah to proclaim the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple to the people of Jerusalem: his job was to tell everybody “repent or you will all be exiled or killed, and everybody’s stuff will be destroyed.” This would be, to a Catholic in modern times, like someone saying “the Vatican, every government building, and every social media site on the internet will all be destroyed,” and not only will they all be destroyed, but anyone who survives gets to go live among a hostile population. It sounded ridiculous. No wonder the people were plotting to kill Jeremiah! They thought he was a nut job! It didn’t really cross their minds as to whether he might be right.

Jeremiah is troubled by the response of the people. He especially doesn’t understand why he is being “repaid with evil” for doing a good thing. He spent his entire life going where he did not want to go, and preaching to a people who would not listen. I’m sure many of us can relate to this. We do something good and receive bitterness, criticism, and hatred in return.

Jesus definitely knew what Jeremiah was going through. Jesus spent his life preaching of God’s justice, love, and mercy, healing the sick, casting out demons—all very good things to do—and he was repaid with torture and crucifixion. Through Jesus’s death, however, something amazing happened. Because of his sacrifice, Heaven was opened to humanity. His apostles followed him and became servants to all, and most even followed him to their own martyrdoms. Jesus went further though, and called all of us to follow him.

What is in common among Jeremiah, the apostles, us, and Jesus? Suffering. We all suffer. We suffer even when we do good. The apostles all suffered, and Jesus told them it was going to happen! He told them, in front of James and John’s mother, that they would share his chalice, the chalice of suffering. It doesn’t make sense. It hurts. But through our suffering, something we could never expect happens. We are drawn closer to God. We come to a greater realization of what is most important (trusting and loving God!) in our lives. When we see others suffer, we learn to have compassion and to recognize others as worthy of love. Most incredibly of all, we learn to offer our suffering to God. We learn to unite our suffering with the suffering of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Through the Cross our suffering is transformed into something new. It is transformed into a redemptive sacrifice for mankind.

So, in this time of Lent, either in our small and intentional Lenten sacrifices we make to grow, or in the large sufferings thrown at us, let us remember to unite our suffering with Jesus on His Cross. Let us make it a gift to God that will help redeem the world. It will be hard. It will be painful. But God can bring good out of even the worst situations.

Edited for grammar and structure on March 15, 2017.

Today’s Readings: Jer 18:18-20; Ps 31:5-6, 14, 15-16; Mt 20:17-28