Here is the homily preached at St. Peter Parish in Schulte on the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time [Year B], on July 19, 2015. The Scriptures of the Mass are Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23; Ephesians 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34: click HERE for these readings at the USCCB website.
Jump below for the homily’s text…
The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Jeremiah 23:1-6 + Ephesians 2:13-18 + Mark 6:30-34
July 19, 2015
Discord is part and parcel of life in this fallen world. The great British writer G. K. Chesterton once said that Original Sin is the simplest of all Christian dogmas to prove: all you have to do is pick up the newspaper (or in our day, click on a news app…).
But most of us can prove this dogma even more easily: by looking closer to home. Discord marks our lives from our youngest days. Just think how many hours a parent spends as a referee, and as a judge, and also—by necessity—as a warden who enforces just punishments. I often think of this when I’m brushing my teeth. You might wonder what brushing one’s teeth has to do with childhood discord. But when my younger brother and I were little, we got into a fight one day while playing football, in the midst of which my two front teeth were chipped: so I always think of brother and family discord whenever I brush or floss.
Yet regardless of whether it’s in the back yard, the town square, or the halls of government, discord that goes unchecked degenerates into chaos. By contrast, we as Christians are called into unity, and we as Christians are called to foster unity.
Jesus told us simply to love God, and to love our neighbor, and we can consider these two great commands in terms of being called into unity, and being called to foster unity. To love God is to be united with God, and to love one’s neighbor ultimately means that all of mankind is fostering unity with each other to form a family of all God’s children. Obviously, both of these are tall orders, and most persons don’t accomplish these very thoroughly while on earth.
Yet if we in our own day find all this hard, we shouldn’t feel too bad. After all, the first generations of Christians struggled greatly with these two great commands of love. Saint Paul seems to have spent much of his ministry as an apostle by helping the first Christians to pick themselves up after having failed to love, and to restart the great work of loving God and neighbor.
Today’s Second Reading is a case in point. St. Paul is preaching against the division between Jews and Christians in the city of Ephesus. Throughout his entire letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul preaches about unity, and about where this unity can come from. Paul explains that the answer is Christ, for Christ—Paul says—“is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through His Flesh… [so] that He might create in Himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace….”
Who doesn’t want peace in his life? Who doesn’t need peace in his life? But lasting peace, and all the fruits of that lasting peace, can only come from unity in Christ. This is true in every aspect of life, and perhaps nowhere more so than in the vocation of Marriage.
Among all the different human relationships that a person might have in this world, none can possibly be more intimate than that of husband and wife. Marriage is the measure against which we can compare all other types of human relationships.
The only earthly relationship that even comes close to Marriage in terms of love of two persons for each other is the relationship between parent and child. But Jesus Himself instructs us—when He’s questioned about what’s wrong with divorce—that “He who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and… ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one’”. Surely St. Paul has these words of Jesus in mind as he gives guidance to the Ephesians.
On the Cross, Jesus Christ destroyed the power of sin and death to divide persons. On the Cross, Jesus Christ—in the words of St. Paul—“broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through His Flesh… [so] that He might create in Himself one new person in place of the two”. This is a very apt description of Marriage, where Christ—as St. Paul says—creates “in Himself one new person in place of the two”. In St. Paul’s words we hear echoes of the Book of Genesis and Jesus’ argument against divorce.
This call to unity can be broken not only by divorce, though. Much more common in our Western culture is a sin that is praised by some—strangely enough—as an act of responsibility and even prudence: namely, the sin of artificial contraception.
This weekend begins a formal week of focus on the Church’s teachings about planning a family. The Church’s teachings, enriched so greatly over the past decades by the teachings of St. John Paul the Great, show how planning a family according to natural means is not only morally good for wife, husband, and their shared married life. Planning a family according to natural means also has medical benefits, while artificial means of contraception are showing, more and more over time, how much harm can come from choosing what is artificial over what is natural. You’ve seen and heard this in commercials promoting artificial means of contraception that spend at least as much time with warnings about side effects as they do about the claimed benefits of their product.
More and more people are realizing that they deserve better. Many are realizing that that “something better” comes from God Himself, in the order of nature by which God designed man and woman. Some are realizing how God’s plan for love is taught so clearly by the leaders of the Church. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, just a few weeks ago released an encyclical letter about Mother Nature—as we sometimes call her—and about man’s stewardship towards nature. This stewardship extends to the nature of one’s own body.
Likewise, on March 19—the Solemnity of St. Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary—our own bishop issued new guidelines for Marriage preparation within the diocese. The bishop called for every couple to have instruction in Natural Family Planning as part of their preparation for the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.
Why is there more and more emphasis in the Church in support of natural forms of family planning? There are many reasons, but we have to be honest that one of these reasons is having cold water splashed in our faces by the secular culture that surrounds us. As secular culture continues to fragment, and as more broken homes lead to more broken lives and to more crime, poverty, drug abuse, homelessness, and so on, the leaders of the Church realize that we need to get back to the basics. The Church needs to go back to the heart of things in order to recover a way of life that has been mocked and abused in our secular culture for too long: a life of modesty, purity, and chastity.
Many in our culture are only waking up now to the hard truth about the consequences of believing that it’s beneficial—or at the very least, acceptable—for a couple to separate the two goods of, on the one hand, the act of marital love, and on the other hand, the openness of that act to conception. Many in our culture are only realizing now what happens when, for decades, a culture claims that this act has no intrinsic connection to child-bearing. Many are only realizing now that a culture that claims that marriage doesn’t have to be open to the bearing of children, is a culture that is free to define marriage in a way that’s open to those who cannot naturally conceive.
The secular culture is never going to be convinced of the truth of what the Church teaches unless the Church’s members embrace—by living out—the Church’s beliefs about Marriage and family life. The leaders of our Church see that. These same leaders also see the warnings in today’s First Reading, from the prophetic Book of Jeremiah. The prophet Jeremiah’s warning is to worldly “shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of” the Lord’s pasture. The prophet cries out in the name of the Lord, saying to those unfaithful shepherds: “You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. … but I will take care to punish your evil deeds. I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands… and bring them back to their meadow; there they shall increase and multiply.” We in the modern Western world need to admit that this meadow is not the materialism promoted in the mass media: this meadow is the “verdant pastures” and “restful waters” of the spiritual and moral teachings of Jesus Christ, handed down to us by Jesus’ Bride, the Church.
The prophet Jeremiah also promises that the Lord’s flock will be given faithful shepherds. The prophet cries out in the name of the Lord, saying: “I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none shall be missing”. Too many children are missing in our world today because we’ve accepted the secular culture’s claim that divorcing the act of physical union from an openness to conception bears no consequences. But the consequences are mounting all around us. The solution to a culture that canonizes barrenness, self-promotion, and immediate satisfaction of one’s every desire, is the Way of our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. As a Christian, you can never kid yourself into thinking that this Way is easy, broad and comfortable. After all, God did not make you for yourself. As the Psalmist cries in the 23rd Psalm, “He guides me in right paths / for His Name’s sake.” Nonetheless, you can take comfort in the truth that if you follow the Good Shepherd on this narrow Way, you “shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”
 Matthew 19:4-5, quoting Genesis 1:27; 2:24.