Homily from the 2nd Sunday of Lent - Year B
For the last several weeks, the issue of religious freedom has been front and center in the social and political spheres of our American culture. And the question of whether or not the federal government can force religious institutions to purchase health care coverage from insurance companies who will offer services against our religious beliefs is at the center of this discussion. At the same time, this unfortunate turn of events also offers us the great opportunity to examine and discuss God’s plan for the human person, especially with regards to human reproduction.
Earlier this week, someone brought to my attention a homily given last week by a good friend to many of us here. Fr. Mark Gurtner was an associate pastor here at St. Vincent’s for 9 years and is now the pastor at our neighboring parish, Our Lady of Good Hope, and Judicial Vicar for our diocese. Fr. Mark’s homily from last Sunday was reprinted in Saturday’s Journal Gazette. And I found it to be so darn good, I’d simply like to share it with you today.
“Last Saturday (2/25/12) a political cartoon was featured in the Journal Gazette which showed a husband holding a newspaper which said “Santorum: America is at War with Satan” and the husband says to his wife “Yes, and apparently the front line is your uterus.” While crass in its wording, I could not help but think that there was an ironic truth expressed.
In many ways, the sexual revolution of the 1960’s and 70’s was built on a premise of giving new freedom to women. Childbearing came to be seen as a kind of shackle, especially keeping women from pursuing the same sorts of career opportunities that men seemed to have. The solution that the culture offered to women, the savior meant to liberate women from the shackles which childbearing perceivably imposed on them, was contraception and abortion. No more would women be enslaved by their biology. They were now free to control their lives without unwanted pregnancy getting in the way.
Some years later, after the use of contraception and abortion became mainstays of our culture, Pope John Paul II asked an important question, “These things which were meant to liberate women, have they liberated her? Or have they not rather made her a slave?” (to the Bishops of the Midwest, ad limina visit, 1987). What did the Pope mean by this?
I would offer these thoughts. In marriage, contraception has a way of divorcing sex from love. When sexual relations between spouses loses part of its full power, that is, the ability to procreate, what is also lost is the power to communicate “I love you, and I give my whole self to you.” When this happens, rather than a spouse who is embraced and loved as the person that she is, more and more the woman becomes simply the object of sexual pleasure for the man. By God’s design, women are especially sensitive and perceptive to this reality. A woman intuitively knows when she is being used. So the use of contraception in marriage has not liberated the woman, but rather leads her to enslavement, leads her to being an object to be used, even by her husband.
This enslavement becomes an even starker reality when abortion becomes involved. Again, touted as a liberator of women when faced with an unwanted pregnancy, in reality it rips at her motherly heart, enslaving her in a reality of regret and sorrow at her lost child. Abortion’s ready availability also only expands the ways in which the woman can become enslaved by men as access to abortion makes it even easier for men to use women without the thought of any consequences.
Indeed, Pope John Paul’s question has become as poignant today as ever: has the woman really become liberated or has she not rather become enslaved?
It is not hard to see the hand of Satan behind this, tempting women with the promise of freedom when in reality she is being offered enslavement. And Satan knows what he is doing. To enslave the culture of our age, it is enough to enslave the woman. Pope John Paul II also pointed out that the culture flows through the heart of the woman so important is the role of the woman in family life, in raising children, in society in general (see On the Dignity of Women, #30). If the woman is enslaved, the result is death, death of the culture, death of marriage, death of true love, the death of life itself.
Satan is on the attack in our age, and the battle line is indeed the heart of the woman.”
I think Fr. Mark hit the nail on the head.
I would like to add on to Fr. Mark’s words by sharing with you some words of the late Pope Paul VI. On July 25, 1968, Pope Paul VI issued the Papal Encyclical “Humanae Vitae” which presented the Church’s teaching on contraception. And 44 years ago, the Pope prophetically made three predictions of consequences that would result from contraception. And I would ask you to consider if he was right and if we are better or worse off as a society because of contraception.
First, the Pope stated that contraception “could open the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to by fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings - and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation - need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law.” (HV 17)
Second, the Pope predicted that “a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and... 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.” (HV 17)
And lastly, the Pope foresaw the grave danger of government interference in such affairs. He said, “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." And he warned that we as a people, in an attempt to avoid God’s plan for our lives and human reproduction, “may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.” (HV 17)
So, I ask you: over the last 40 years, have we seen a general lowering of moral standards? Do men reverence women as we should or have women been reduced to an object for selfish desires? And, are public authorities seizing control of your intimate responsibilities?
Was Pope Paul VI wrong? Or, was he right? Is our society better off because of contraception? Or, has contraception placed a shackle on our freedom to truly love one another?