16th Sunday in Ordinary Time A – Fr. Rick Sherman
Wis. 12:13, 16-19; Rom. 8:26-27; Mt 13:24-43
July 19, 2020
In this week’s gospel Jesus is depicted as the sower who is planting good seed into mother earth with the intention of producing good fruit. This depiction is more than the simple work of farmer and field, but also as husband and wife. Throughout Scripture, God is depicted as a spouse pursuing his beloved. God pursing His bride Israel, Jesus pursuing His bride, the Church. Our Mass has us declaring that we are actually becoming one body, one spirit in Christ, much like a married couple becoming on flesh and by extension one spirit. Jesus is calling us into a Covenant relationship where both parties have the same responsibility for faithfulness and some form of fruitfulness will be the result.
The sower is planting the ‘good children’ who will build and inherit the Kingdom of God. Someone else (the devil in fact) is deliberately planting the ‘bad children’ who will try to confuse and frustrate the Kingdom of God.
Since ‘seeds’ here are children, we can see how the spousal analogy fits in. The husband and wife, the Lord and the Church, do not operate and live in a neutral or purely benevolent environment. If we can believe Jesus, then the devil is actively working against us. Jesus does not mince words here as He seldom does. (I think nowadays He might have a hard time getting a job as a parish priest. He agitates people).
Speaking of spouses and seeds and children, this coming week is Natural Family Planning Week. I’m probably one of a tiny percentage of priests even bringing this subject up in the Sunday homily. Since the sixties, the American population including Catholics have pretty much dismissed much of the Catholic teaching on sexuality and especially Natural Family Planning. The feeling seems to be that humans simply lack the capacity to limit sexual intercourse to 20 days per month, or simply cannot abstain from sexual activity until they are married, especially men. We need pharmaceuticals of one kind or another so that women can make themselves more available to the untempered passions of men. And of course, if people really can’t control themselves than you have to have legal abortion because sometimes babies just happen beyond anyone’s control. And if heterosexuals cannot control themselves, why would we expect others with ‘different orientations’ to abstain from sexual activity. I guess we just roll with it, right? We don’t want to exclude anyone or be intolerant. We definitely don’t want anyone to feel ‘unwelcome.’ I mean, what can you really do?
Our American change of attitudes is very obvious at this point if we are old enough to reflect back on the last 50 or 60 years. I’m not saying that we were living in some kind of ‘golden age’ before the sixties, but the changes of attitude moved much faster. Having grown up in the sixties and seventies and being a bit of a rock and roller, I cannot think of many, if any, songs that extolled the virtues of chastity. (Paul Anka singing, Having My Baby might be an exception). Most of pop culture and consumer culture and political culture got swept up in the confusion of the sexual revolution. Now with the pervasive presence of all types of pornography, we have an even greater need for a ‘Me Too’ movement than ever before. No need to belabor all this history at this point. We simply do not SEE each other as God sees us. We don’t see each other as we really ARE. This is ultimately the point of the “Me too” movement, the LGBTQ movement or the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Many people believe that they are not being adequately represented, cared for or even SEEN.
The Church’s understanding of human nature is that we are all created in the image and likeness of God and that humans have the capacity, if developed properly, to connect on levels of spiritual and emotional intimacy that would eclipse anything we experience with just our bodies, as good as that might be. God has wired us for love and has filled us with this powerful attraction energy that ultimately destines us for a level of transcended union with God and all of creation in Heaven. This sounds good, but it implies that somewhere along the line, people are actually receiving the type of spiritual mentoring that helps us live and love at such an elevated level. That’s probably why the subject does not come up much in homilies or most other places in parish or family life. I think we sort of blew it.
In today’s second reading from St. Paul to the Romans, we are told that ‘The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.’ This means that with the proper spiritual guidance and mentoring, we can lean our groaning in a more heaven directed way.
God’s intentions will not be thwarted. He has very decisive power over the devil, but we must avail ourselves of that power. Remember the devil is deliberately ‘sewing the seeds of evil children’. The sexual mores and attitudes that are now the standard in our culture were contrived very deliberately and systematically by someone who was much smarter than most of the rest of us. The first reading reminds us that God rebukes such temerity. (Temerity is excessive confidence or boldness; audacity)
Who would have thought 20 years ago that the idea of same-sex marriage would be so pervasive and accepted today? Or that marriage itself would not be deemed necessary to a growing percentage of young people? The US military has had to deliberate over whether they have to provide sex change surgeries for active duty personnel….
Did anyone see this coming? Were we all just stupid and wrong? Or have we been duped and just too busy to pay attention?
The idea here is not to villainize or judge or demean anyone. None of us have reason to feel too righteous around these issues. The larger point is what has been lost as we have under interpreted love and sex and sensitivity and communication at such a critical century in human history?
If you toggle through the power point presentation on Marriage that is posted on the St. Christopher’s website, you will notice that four of the specific moral virtues that are derived out of a solid sacramental marriage are: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance. Let’s just look at temperance right now.
One of the greatest lessons and virtues that is derived from marriage and natural family planning is temperance. Paragraph 1809 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines temperance as the moral virtue that moderates the attractions of pleasure and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetite toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion…..
Temperance is not just about sexual appetites. Think if our appetites for a wide variety of food at a cheap price was tempered. How would that affect the way we utilize and compensate agricultural workers at all levels from earth and sea to table? How we provide adequate legal documentation. How we look at transportation costs including pollution, dependence on fossil fuels and highway repair? The optimal and sustainable use of natural resources? What if humans could temper their desire for luxury goods utilizing, for instance diamonds, ivory, mahogany, silver and titanium; how would that affect the use and harvesting of natural resources and the treatment of workers in very vulnerable places in the world?
What if we could temper our use of social media and electronic gadgetry? What if we somehow appraised the extent to which most people had access to needed technology before we gobble up the next newest thing?
Getting back to sex and marriage. What if most or all people grew up in homes where mom and dad had a genuine interest in each other’s spiritual lives BEFORE they got married and had kids? What if young people developed a strong, well guided interest in their own spiritual lives BEFORE THEY STARTED DATING? Would we be less inclined to have our worth measured by a profession out in the consumer economy or perhaps a profession that attempts to fix the problems that a consumer economy causes in the first place? Wouldn’t it be helpful if we had more time and space to develop the emotional and spiritual quality of our relationships? Tempered living and smarter work sharing would probably put most social service agencies out of business. Could most of our social needs be provided by tempered families, strong neighborhoods and neighborhood churches?
When we get love and sex wrong; we get everything wrong. When our deepest desires and passions and appetites are not first guided toward loving God with our whole heart, mind, soul and will, they go somewhere else, often at the indiscretion of these sowers of evil seeds that Jesus mentions today in the gospel.
We are living in a time that likely requires a major reset and adjustment to how we do society, economy, education and religion. We might be in for a period of deep grieving as we make some healthy changes that replace long cherished assumptions, habits and attachments. Redirecting our passions is not easy, but we can be assured that a compassionate God is always walking with us and calling us closer….
I refer again to the first reading from the Book of Wisdom:
For God, your might is the source of justice; your mastery over all things makes you lenient to all. For you show your might when the perfection of your power is disbelieved; and in those who know you, you rebuke temerity. But though you are master of might, you judge with clemency, and with much lenience you govern us; for power, whenever you will, attends you. And you taught your people, by these deeds, that those who are just must be kind; and you gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins.
At your leisure, please consider the resources addressing marriage, Natural Family Planning, and same sex relations that are on the St. Christopher’s website. kanabcatholicchurch.org