Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey

Homily from the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year B

Today’s Gospel begins one of the most important chapters of the Gospel of John: Chapter 6 which contains, as we just heard, the miracle of the feeding of 5,000.  Which, of course, foreshadows the Last Supper.  As we heard today, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to the 5,000.  And in the weeks to come, we will continue to listen to Chapter 6 from the Gospel and John and hear what is known as Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse.  In which he tells us clearly and without ambiguity that the bread he gives us in the Eucharist is not a symbolic representation of his Body, but in fact, his very Body and Blood.

The event of the Last Supper raises a question: why did Jesus choose food as the vehicle by which to make himself substantially present to us?  Why did Jesus choose to remain with us under the form of bread and wine?  Why food?

There are a number of reasons, I think.  We could say that Jesus gives himself to us under the form of food because we cannot survive without food.  Likewise, we cannot survive without the food of Heaven, his Body and Blood.

We could say that Jesus gives himself to us under the form of bread and wine because it shows us how many grains are used to make one loaf and many grapes are used to fill one chalice.  Likewise, we, the many, are made one through his Body and Blood.

We could say that Jesus gives himself to us under the form of grains of wheat and cluster of grapes that each must be crushed so that we may see his own crushing if you will, his Passion and Death, so that we might live.

Another reason I’d like us to focus on today however, is this: Jesus gives himself to us to be eaten as food so that we might become like him.  We understand this better by another phrase: “You are what you eat.”  When we eat ordinary food, it becomes part of us.  When we eat the supernatural food of the Eucharist however, we become what we receive.

Whatever we take within ourselves, we are transformed into.  And this is true not only by what we eat, but whatever we take in through the senses.  There’s an old saying that goes, “You become what you gaze upon.”  St. Paul said it similarly in his second letter to the Corinthians.  He describes growing in holiness by contemplating the divine when he says, “All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image” (2 Cor 3:18)

If we are fascinated with what is holy, with what is of God; if we fix our gaze, our attention, our interest, our passion on God, we will be drawn into Him; we will be united with Him.

However, if we become fascinated with that which is not holy, that which is not of God; if we fix our gaze, our attention, our interest, our passion on sinful things; we will be drawn away from God; we will be separated from Him.

Of course, when one thinks about those things that we might look upon that pull us away from God, one cannot help but think of pornography.

Pornography is most commonly a temptation that afflicts men.  Men are more drawn to pornographic pictures and videos because they are more visually stimulated.

However, it’s not a problem exclusive to men and it’s not a temptation that manifests itself exclusively via indecent images.  Pornography can also appear in the form of indecent stories, narratives and fictional writings.  And this is a temptation that tends to afflict women because women are more relationship oriented.  So novels, soap operas and chat rooms tend to be the temptation.

Years ago, this temptation came in the form of the so-called “romance novel.”  Now, we see at the top of the New York Times Bestseller list, “Fifty Shades of Grey.”  This novel, I’m told, can be called anything but a “romance novel.”  By the reports I’ve read, it simply is hard core pornography, depicting human sexuality in a an abusive and degrading manner.  Dr. Drew Pinsky, a psychologist often seen on CNN, says it depicts “a pathological, abusive relationship that in now way resembles a healthy love life.” 

Now do me a favor, now that I’ve mentioned the name of this book, don’t go running off to the bookstore, to check it out for yourself.  Whenever I recommend a religious book, All Saints gets a bunch of requests for it.  Please don’t go into All Saints and say, “Fr. Andrew mentioned a book called ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ do you have that?”

And don’t be fooled.  Just because a book does not contain pictures of unclothed people doesn’t mean it’s not porn.  And just because it’s fictional, doesn’t mean it’s not hurting anyone in particular.  If anything, a work of fiction, that twists the beauty of human sexuality into something perverted, hurts the entire human race because it’s doesn’t just reduce a particular person to an object, but makes all of humanity and all of sexuality something to be lusted after and used.

The devil is very cunning you know.  He is slick in how he tempts us.  The devil is incapable of creating anything.  Only God can create ex nihilo, or “out of nothing.”  So the devil must take the good things that God has created, those things which are naturally attractive and desirable, and twist them into a counterfeit, a lie in order to get us to take his bait.

In the case of pornography, Satan takes the beauty of the human body and twists it into something to be lusted after.  And in doing so, he separates us from God and from one another.  For if we look upon images of the human body which do not depict the human person with true dignity, we reduce the person depicted in the image to a mere object.  And if we reduce the person in the image to a mere object, we reduce ourselves to mere objects.

If we look upon, or read, pornography, we become pornographic persons.  We become what we gaze upon.  We become what we receive.

In your prayer tonight, I ask to you to consider the things you consume: the things you look upon, the books you read, the movies you watch, the music you listen to and the internet sites you visit. And as you do so, ask yourself this question:  “Do the things I read and look upon depict human sexuality according the eye of God or according to the lie of Satan?”  If what you read pleases God, wonderfully done!  Keep up the good work.  If what you read pulls you away from God and the way He designed human sexuality, allow Him to purify you.

This purification takes place via three steps.  First, purify your environment.  Throw away the book, throw away the magazines, put a filter on your computer.  Second, purify yourself.  Go to confession and allow God to cleanse your soul and save you from the fires of Hell.  Third, gaze upon that which is holy, that which is of God.

The best remedy for an attraction to pornography is to turn our eyes away from what is sinful and fix our gaze on Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration.  In Eucharistic Adoration, when we look upon Jesus, as as he looks upon us, we enter into real intimacy with him.  Just as when a husband and wife look into each other’s eyes.  More so!  For Jesus looks deep within our very souls and opens his Sacred Heart to us to be the object of our desire.  And as this exchange of divine love occurs between him and us, he transforms us into him.

If it becomes easier for us to find people who read “Fifty Shades of Grey” than it is to find people willing to look upon the Body of Christ in Adoration, we’re in a heap of trouble.
And the Lord tells us this not because we are bad, but because we are good and He wants to prune away those things which destroy our dignity as human beings created in His Divine image and likeness.

So, let us turn our gaze away from all that is sinful and fix our gaze on God.  Let us ask Him to make us pure and to draw us into union with Him.  Let us never be afraid to ask for His mercy when we have fallen, confident that He will grant it to the contrite heart.  And let us become what we receive through this Eucharist.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Divine Adoption

Homily from the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year B

When St. Paul wrote his letters to the various ancient Churches, such as the Churches in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, and today’s letter to the Church in Ephesus, he always began these letters with two parts: first, a greeting, immediately followed by a blessing
Our worship today at Mass began with a greeting Paul used over and over again in nearly all of his letters: “Grace to you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Eph 1:2)
And in today’s second reading, we hear the blessing, Paul sends to the Ephesians: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens.”  And so on.
Then what follows, in the letter to the Ephesians, is the body of the letter, which can be divided into two parts.  First, there’s what you might call a catechetical section.  In this section, Paul teaches the people about their salvation through Christ.  How we were dead in sin (Eph 2:1).  But God, who is rich in mercy, raises us up to new life through Christ (Eph 2:6)

The second part of the body of the letter is what you might call an exhortation for us to embrace this new life in Christ in our daily living.  In this section, Paul calls Christians to unity (Eph 4:1-16).  To put aside vice and embrace virtue (Eph 4:17-5:20).  Husbands and wives are to be subordinate to one another (Eph 5:21-32).  Children are to obey their parents (Eph 6:1-4).  And all this is to be done amidst constant prayer (Eph 6:18-19).
The letter to the Ephesians is an appeal to conversion.  Leaving one life behind and entering into another.  This conversion takes place through a particular act by God.  And St. Paul uses a very specific word to describe this act and I’d like for us to reflect on it for a moment today.  Listen to these words of St. Paul from today’s second reading: “In love he [God] destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ.” (Eph 2:5).
Adoption.  It’s an interesting word choice on the part of St. Paul isn’t it?  We are adopted children of God.  Why does St. Paul say we’re adopted and not just children of God?
We are sons and daughters of God, yes.  But, we’re different, right, from the way in which Jesus is the Son of God?  Jesus is the natural Son of God, meaning that Jesus shares the same nature with God the Father.  They share the same substance.  Or, as we say in the Creed, Jesus is “consubstantial” with the Father.
But we’re not of the same nature as God.  And yet, He wishes to resolve this.  God wishes to draw us, through conversion, into His divine nature.  How does He effect this?  Through Jesus who takes on our nature.  Jesus becomes man, and shares in man’s nature, so that man may share in the Son’s divine nature.  We become by grace, what Christ is by nature.
And what’s amazing is, that despite our being adopted sons and daughters of God, we are no less His sons and daughters, than even his own natural son, Jesus Christ. Jesus himself tells us this.  As he is praying to the father the night before his death in Chapter 17 of the Gospel of John, he says to the Father, “you loved them even as you love me.”

Those of you who have adopted children of your own know this is true just as you know you’re adopted sons children are no less your children than your natural children.  As adopted sons and daughters of God, we share in the same rights and privileges, the same honor and dignity, the same love and devotion, Jesus receives from the Father.
Consider what adoption meant in the time and place in which Paul was writing.  In 1st century Rome, adoption was most often enacted when a wealthy and affluent adult wanted an heir who would receive the inheritance.  God the Father is the fullness of wealth and affluence, far beyond any material sense and He desires you and I to be his heirs to His Kingdom.

In 1st century Rome, the child chosen for adoption was very often a slave.  God chooses us, and pulls us out of our slavery to sin into his grace.

When adopted, the child would leave behind their former family and enter into the new one, experiencing a change in social status and class.  When adopted by God, we leave behind lives of sin and enter into His royal family.

Adoption then, was, as it is now, a very expensive process.  There was a debt to be paid.  God pays the ultimate price, with the offering of His Son’s life, to erase the ultimate debt, our sins.

Over the next several weeks, we are going to hear more of St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.  I encourage you, as we do so, to read the letter in it’s entirety as part of your daily personal prayer.  As you do so, read with the eyes of God’s own adopted sons and daughters.  Grateful for the salvation He has rendered unto you.  With a docile heart open to conversion