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.

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