22nd Sunday - homily
“Do not conform yourselves to this age”. This is a very challenging line from St. Paul in today’s second reading (the letter to the Romans). “Do not conform yourselves to this age”…to society…to the ways of the world…to the ‘in crowd’…to whatever’s popular. They are often in conflict with our faith. This is a great challenge for us because we are invited every day to join the world in the way it lives, acts, and thinks. Most of enter into this struggle between the ways of the world and the ways of Christ privately. If we give into temptation, we take it up privately with our confessor.
But, some Catholics enter into this conflict publicly, most notably Catholic politicians. We have seen the example most recently, with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, whose positions on at least two issues of life are conformed to this age, unfortunately. She was asked last week by an interviewer about when life begins. She answered by saying that she is “an ardent, practicing Catholic” and that it’s been “like maybe 50 years or something like that” that the Catholic Church has taught that life begins at conception. Several bishops, including Archbishop Wuerl, responded immediately to her comments, calling them “incorrect”.
Archbishop Wuerl cited a first century document, the Didache, which condemned abortion, stating that it is the killing of the embryo. Our Archbishop ended his statement by saying, “From the beginning, the Catholic Church has respected the dignity of all human life from the moment of conception until natural death”.
Speaker Pelosi also said that she supports contraception as a way to limit abortions. First, we now know through the help of science and technology that birth control pills can serve as abortifacients. They can cause abortions after fertilization has taken place…embryonic abortions. Second, is it really better to prevent the conception of a child? Is it really better to prevent the conception of an immortal soul…a soul that will live forever?
It is the contraceptive mentality that is so dangerous. It is a mentality that is self-serving; it is selfish. It is an example of how human beings think. It focuses on what the self wants: “I want this, but I don’t want that”. It serves the self which doesn’t want consequences to its actions. For many years, the Church has said that if this mentality becomes widespread, then we will see a general decline in morality. And, that is what has happened.
The contraceptive mentality is opposed to the Christian mentality which is selflessness. The Christian mentality (how God thinks) is open to life and to whatever God wants. Unlike the contraceptive mentality which is for the sake of self, the Christian mentality is for the sake of love. We all know that it is much harder to live the Christian mentality. Love means sacrifice. Love means the cross.
Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel to move away from selfishness. He says, “deny your self”…deny your selfishness…deny your sin. He commands us to enter into the harder way which is for the sake of love. He says, “take up your cross”. While it brings us great joy to be pro-life and open to life, it is a cross. It is a cross to be pro-life and open to life in this day and age. It is a cross for a married person who is open to life but whose spouse is not. It is a cross for a couple who is using Natural Family Planning and being continually mocked by their friends, all of whom are contracepting; it is the same type of mockery that the prophet Jeremiah experienced (in the first reading).
It would be much easier to conform to this age. It would be much easier to lay down our cross and say, “Jesus, that’s it. I’m not following you anymore. I’m going to live as I want”. But, we realize that he didn’t lay down his cross. He didn’t come down from the cross when so many around him were tempting him to walk away from it all. He carried his cross…he stayed on the cross…for us…for the sake of love. We take up our cross for him because he took up his cross for us. We will do it for the sake of love. Love means sacrifice.
Finally, the second part of St. Paul’s line is powerful: “be transformed by the renewal of your mind”. Be transformed by Christ! Be transformed by the mentality of Christ! This mentality, especially regarding issues of life, is transforming. It renews and refreshes us. May we be renewed by Christ, most particularly through the Eucharist. May we be renewed not only in mind, but also in body, soul, and strength. Through this Eucharist, may we discern “what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect”.