Sunday, June 24, 2007

Birth of John the Baptist - homily

Today we celebrate the birth of St. John the Baptist. There was a lot going on before and at John’s birth. First, there was the drama involving his parents – they were apparently too old to have a baby. Then, we know the story about when Mary visited John’s mother, Elizabeth, and was carrying Jesus in her womb; John leapt for joy in his mother’s womb as Christ was in his presence. Also, like the prophet, Isaiah, in the first reading, John was given his name in his mother’s womb. At his birth, John was called by God…at birth! He was called by God to be the prophet of the Most High.

For John’s parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah, I’m sure it must have been surprising to their family members and friends that they were going to have a baby. They were thought to have been too old to have a baby (maybe in their fifties? We don’t know exactly). It was probably seen as too dangerous for her to give birth. But, they believed, as we do, that “with God all things are possible”. And, we see God’s Plan in John’s birth. He comes into the world to prepare the way for the Christ, and to announce Jesus as the Messiah. John is the sum total of all of the Old Testament prophets who lead us to Christ. Jesus once said that “there is no man born of woman greater than John the Baptist”. We see God’s Plan in the birth and life of John the Baptist; obviously, it was God’s Plan for John’s parents to be open to life.

God’s Plan is for all married couples to be open to life. Does this mean that every couple is to have, like, 15 kids? No. The Church advocates ‘responsible parenthood’. This means that a couple’s resources and situation in life are definite factors in their discernment of how God is calling them to bring life into the world. God’s Plan is for married couples to be open to life, and has given them the natural means to live out His Plan…Natural Family Planning (NFP). This is when the couple communicates regularly, and prays to God about whether or not He is calling them to procreate in a given month. If they are not able to procreate, they can discern whether or not they should adopt a child.

The biggest differences between natural and artificial approaches to family planning have to do with two main points: openness to God’s Plan and openness to life. I have talked with many couples who have tried to use NFP, and they say that it’s much harder than everyone makes it seem. So, for couples who do their best to use Natural Family Planning, the most important statistic I have found has to do with their commitment rate. 96% of married couples who use NFP stay together. This is obviously much higher than the general rate of 50%.

There are several reasons why the divorce rate is so much lower among NFP couples. In my research, I found many of their own insights as reasons. They say that their communication is very strong. They are in constant communication with each other and with God…He is the center of their marriage. They are able to discuss other issues much better; if they can talk about this issue, they can talk about (almost) anything! They report an increase in satisfaction with and appreciation for their spouse. They grow in friendship and in love for the other. They describe a cycle of courtship and honeymoon; that is beautiful!

They grow in love for each other: the sacrificial love they promised on their wedding day where they gave themselves to the other. They grow in respect for the other as a person, and not as an object of the desire only. Pope John Paul II called couples who use the natural methods of family planning as “ministers of God’s Plan”. Artificial means of family planning is a sin against the sixth commandment because it is a sin against marriage. The natural way is from God; the artificial way is not from God, it is from man.

Thank God that Elizabeth and Zechariah were open to life! Because they were, John came into the world and proclaimed Christ his whole life. He points us to Christ, especially in the Eucharist. He said the line we will hear in a few minutes and at every Mass: “Behold the Lamb of God”. As we receive the Eucharist today, let us go forth to be, like John, prophets of Christ’s coming into the world….in the Eucharist. As we receive God’s life and God’s love in the Eucharist this day, may we be open to life and love, through the Grace of this sacrament. May we know God’s love this day, and share His life with those we meet this day.


At 7:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 7:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Today is a big day in Montreal!!

At 5:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quite honestly, I never understood the big sacrifice some think NFP to be. With proper understanding, it is - for most - a reliable control method (we are only fertile an avg. 4 days ea. month). In fact, it was extremely effective in planning for our children, and the only time I was ever surprised by a pregnancy was many years ago, when I didn’t agree with the church’s family planning ideas and was on an oral contraceptive (didn’t miss one, ladies. Apparently I was one of the “1%” they advertise). It seems that we have become a society that thinks we are entitled to have what we when we want it. Many believe all should come with ease and little self sacrifice.

Last year, I went to dinner with a group of mom's from the school, and the topic of birth control came up (we had known each other for several yrs). Several women agreed that their husbands would never go for NFP, citing they’d never agree to abstain. Resistance wasn’t so much about the reliability factor for conception, but the hassle of keeping a calendar. Many of these women were “done” with having more children, and the thought of needing to actively “maintain” that was too much. They thought it much easier to use artificial means.

So there is my point-
Their husbands say they want what they want, when they want it, and the wives thought planning required too much effort.

Note- I’m not saying these point are gender exclusive, for I think both genders are culpable of these ideas.

At 11:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Last Anon,

What do you think of being on artificial contraceptives for health reasons? A lot of times you HAVE to be on it to keep the ovaries healthy.

At 12:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm really not educated in the vast field of women's health. I'd imagine there are ob/gyn's who are familiar with Catholic teachings who are able to advise you of the various options available. I recall a post from a women with a friend or family member with some reproductive issues, and FG gave the name of a person who counsels/educates regarding those issues. If you emailed FG, I'm sure he'd point you in their direction. Good luck!

At 4:27 PM, Blogger fran said...

I have to agree with the earlier anon, who commented that they did not understand the thinking that practicing NFP is a sacrifice. I suppose the period of abstinence could be viewed that way, but I never thought of it as such.

I think if a couple completes the NFP course, before they are married, and is truly committed to it, (doesn't just say they are going to "give it a try") then it is not difficult. If there are times when it becomes a challenge, communication is indeed essential. I would agree that this is when the relationship grows, out of reciprocal respect and love for one another.

At 11:33 PM, Anonymous dan said...

Two things:
A. In response to another's comment about the pill "making your ovaries healthy." There are very few situations when the pill is necessary for medical reasons: polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, anemia from dysfunctional uterine bleeding (usually only temporary), to name a few. Again these are relatively uncommon indications. God gave most women healthy ovaries to begin with.

B. When Pope Paul VI came out with Humanae Vitae in 1968, he defended the Church's stance against contraception. Briefly, an act of conjugal love between husband and wife needs to open to life. That doesn't seem very popular today however with most Catholics. But how many Catholics even care to know HOW the pill works? Well...the pill acts in 3 basic ways. 1. It prevents ovulation 2. It thickens cervical mucus to impair fertilization, and 3. it alters the endometrial lining making it inhospitable for implantation. That 3rd method should catch your attention. In other words, the pill has the potential to function as an abortifacient. Research has shown that the first 2 methods do fail. Some of the newer formulations of the pill with lower-dose estrogen may only prevent ovulation 8-9 times out of the year. And that's with perfect use. So a fertilized egg (embryo) can be formed while on the pill but its progression halted because implantation in the uterus may be disrupted. The Pro-Choice movement doesn't even try to defend this. In fact, this represented one reason why ACOG (American College of Ob-Gyn) changed their definition of pregnancy as that which begins AFTER implantation. In this way, ACOG can claim that the pill is not an abortifacient b/c pregnancy has not occurred at the time prior to implantation.

Therefore the pill is not always "contraception." In some cases, conception DOES occur. It's potentially abortifacient as well. Meaning, the pill can terminate a pregnancy by preventing the fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. How many Ob-Gyn's or family practitioners will tell you that when they prescribe these medications ??

At 11:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, well, well, Father Greg, this is the first homily that I have ever heard addressing the issue of NFP! How the Holy Spirit must have inspired you and to present it so beautifully (and non accusatory). I was in SHOCK when I read it.

When my husband and I received Catholic premarital instruction, NO ONE mentioned NFP let alone birth control. I hate to admit my ignorance but I did not know anything about it or how it worked. I did know that the Church did not approve of artificial birth control.

It was through another young couple that we learned about NFP. Fortunately my gyn gave me great follow up instruction on NFP (all the while urging me to us artificial bc). So we wanted a lot of children. My husband would point at big families in church and say that's what I want! Well God blessed us with fertility and we had several babies.

Then I had some health issues concerning the last two births and then a miscarriage. We started utilizing NFP in earnest. It just makes that most private part of our life together so very precious. There is a courtship and a newlywed like period. It is like the difference between having your favorite dessert every day all day or you can save it for certain special days. It creates for us a cycle of a bit of romance because we treasure our time together all the more.

Just very recently I had to have x-rays for bronchitis. Of course a pregnancy test is required. The most bizarre thing happened. The dr. came in and told me that she could not do the x-rays because I was pregnant. My husband and I were SHOCKED and then we just started laughing (like in joy).

Biggest shocker! THe dr. realized she had picked up the wrong chart! I am not pregnant! NFP works. It was just fun to see that we both had the same reaction to that initial news!

At 10:30 AM, Anonymous mindy said...

That some people find this teaching of the church in this example (NFP) to bring them closer in their relationships is great, but even if you didn't realize this- it shouldn't matter. I teach my children that they do not have to agree with all the rules, but if they expect to live in our home, they are required to follow them. I think the same way about the church. Maybe we each won't agree with all the rules, and maybe (immediately) they won't bring to our lives what we think we want, but being part of the Catholic faith requires obedience. We are called to act in accordance with the church's teachings regardless of how we feel or think about them.

At 10:34 AM, Anonymous Kay said...

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At 10:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 12:04 PM, Blogger fran said...

".... being part of the Catholic faith requires obedience."

True! And if we follow the church's teachings, we will know the JOY that doing so brings. Do for
Jesus first,
Others second, and
Yourself last.

At 2:09 PM, Anonymous mindy said...

"And if we follow the church's teachings, we will know the JOY that doing so brings."

I think that's probably true, but sometimes it seems that many focus so much on what they think they are sacrificing that they miss anything else. I know I've been guilty of that, but I try to remind myself, that my faith is about choice- no one is forcing anything on me. I'm being called to live in a "good" way, so if I am required to sacrifice something the church says, based upon Jesus' teachings, isn't "good," it isn't a sacrifice at all. But when we want things the way we want them, it's hard to get beyond that juvenile way of thinking. Each time I receive Communion, I am reaffirming that I hold myself to the values that the church has outlined for me, something that has become reassuring in my life. I like very much that, in our church (SAA), we are called to ask ourselves about how we are living before we are invited up to receive- it reminds me of how much good is being offered me if I but choose it, and that brings me joy.

At 7:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"That some people find this teaching of the church in this example (NFP) to bring them closer in their relationships is great, but even if you didn't realize this- it shouldn't matter"

Thank you, Mindy, for your comments. In one sense, I agree with you that how we feel about a teaching should not determine whether we practice it. I was just happy to share that obedience to this teaching has brought very special closeness for us. I think that more people would be open to this teaching if they could see the beauty of God's plan in it. If I were to explain it to any one and leave out how it has made us less selfish and more Christ centered, I would be doing a great disservice to Him.

It would be like trying to say the you should go to confession but leaving out the freedom of forgiveness, the renewel of the mind, and the chance to be rid of mortal sin.

As far as teaching our children, there are always the must do's. The church's teachings are all created to bring us in closer union with Christ. Closer union with Christ is an awesome beautiful thing. It is that connection that will help our children to live the faith. (including parents providing instruction through words and example). Who can resist the love of Christ?


I admire your posts and you seem to be very adherent to the Church's teachings. Your many insightful posts seem to show tht you are joyfully living the faith.

At 7:30 AM, Anonymous mindy said...

To Anon 7:21,
I’m thinking you’ve probably never met me…..

In the past year, several families at SAA handled crisis and loss in a way that was a tremendous example to me. Life is precious and meant to be appreciated in its quite moments and intimacy. I used to think joy was always in the highs, and I created much chaos in my life in trying to make everything great. However, there was one moment, when I listened to a wife eulogize her husband and talk about the things she’ll remember most- their porch swing time, his favorite drink (and this was a man of broad accomplishment worthy of significant merit). She emphasized the simple and quiet times they spent together that defined their relationship, and it started me thinking about my relationships- all of them, including my relationship with Christ. It’s not something I often (really ever) discuss, but since that time, I’ve thought about how short our time is to build that important relationship. Yet, I hadn’t placed it in the forefront of my life. As I started giving that relationship more time and focus, my life became less complicated- not by any outside change- but by the way I approached and understood things. It’s one of the reasons I actually like the “rules.” How many times have you heard a psychologist say that children want and need discipline and order from their parents? There is security for them in knowing where boundaries are- they are clear about consequences and therefore can make the best choices. “Adherence” (which IS something with which I struggle) is a great tool for me to gain direction.


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