January 23, 2022
Neh 8:2-10; Ps 19:8-10, 15; 1 Cor 12:12-30; Lk 1:1-4; 4:14-21
Annual Collection for the Church in Latin America today after Communion.
(Please excuse a somewhat scattered text as it is mostly the structural outline for a spoken address which hopefully came out more coherently).
The readings today are especially rich in helping us to see the dramatic progressions that are revealed to us throughout salvation history. The transitions are very slow, but they are real. From three thousand years ago since the law was given to Moses, right down to today. We are reminded that we are part of this unfolding drama of Salvation History.
The Word that Ezra is reading from is the Law of Moses given around 1200 BC and in today’s first reading is being proclaimed around 510-500 BC. The people have recently returned to Jerusalem after their 70 year exile in the Babylonian desert. It is a time of rejoicing but also a time of serious rebuilding. Jerusalem was a shambles and would require a massive community effort to continue the rebuilding and to limp the People along another 500 years until the Messiah comes.
And then the same WORD is proclaimed again by Jesus around 30 AD. He’s reading from the prophet Isaiah who was prophesying around 600 BC. All drawing from the same WORD. Jesus was in fact the Word made Flesh. His very presence, as He says, fulfills that very WORD that He proclaims.
So we have the progression of Moses, Isaiah, Ezra and Nehemiah and Jesus.
The Gospel goes on to say that Jesus, the Word made Flesh, (the Word with a body) came to Nazareth in the power of the Spirit. That power in the Spirit, the Spirit of Baptism and Pentecost was alive and well in Corinth in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians today. Written mid 50’s AD. Paul is reminding us that we are all parts of the same body and all have different gifts that are essential to have a healthy body. NO part is sufficient on its own.
2000 years later we proclaim very distinctly in the Eucharistic Prayer that we are becoming ‘One Body; One Spirit in Christ.’ All parts of the same Body, still in the power of the Spirit we received at Baptism and Confirmation.
And now we are sent out to liberate, heal, give sight, and bring glad tidings to the poor. We too are sent out, not just with human volition and human intelligence, but in the power of the Spirit.
So what more specifically might this brief history and theology lesson actually have to do with us living in 2022? For a clue we look back briefly at the people’s reaction to Ezra’s proclamation. They prostrated themselves in humility and wept because at the teachings of Ezra they could understand their own guilt. Good times were ahead, but they could not take their fidelity to the Law for granted.
National Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of the Unborn was yesterday, January 22. Also the annual March for Life to the capitol was held in Salt Lake City yesterday as was the same event held in Washington, D.C. on Friday. This year’s marches took on a more celebrative note in anticipation of a likely overturning this year of Roe vs. Wade, the legislation that legalized abortion throughout the U.S. in 1973. This indeed would be a great victory for LIFE since the laws of a land tend to represent the ‘normal’. Three generations have grown up with the impression that abortion was characterized as necessary for the ‘health of the woman’!
This could be a great transitional point in the life of our country and our Church which reminds us to ‘read the signs of our times through the light of faith.’ Today’s first reading from the Book of Nehemiah recalls the joyful days after Israel had been released from slavery in Babylon and were now rebuilding the walls around the devastated Jerusalem. Recall that it was Israel’s infidelity to the laws that made them vulnerable to their enemies in the first place despite their previous power, wealth and security.
We know that abortion is not primarily a legal problem, but rather an attitude which flowed out of a preexisting ‘culture of death.’ We have lost our sense of humanity at several key junctures along the way long before 1973. We can now rebuild our society with a greater sense of joy and confidence knowing that God answers our prayers. “…Rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!”
We too have much rebuilding to do in order to create a real ‘culture of Life’ in our country. People don’t have abortions because it is legal. They have abortions because they get pregnant when they don’t want a baby. So why do people who don’t want a baby engage in baby-making behavior? Because we don’t know quite how to deal with this attraction energy we carry within us. We are wired for oneness. We are wired for creativity and generativity. Without a deeper understanding and integration of our interior lives we are destined for all types of untempered, erratic behavior. The section in the Catechism of the Catholic Church on chastity is particularly eloquent in explaining the deeper understanding of this usually under-interpreted word. See following….
2337 Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman.
The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift.
The integrity of the person
2338 The chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him. This integrity ensures the unity of the person; it is opposed to any behavior that would impair it. It tolerates neither a double life nor duplicity in speech.125
2339 Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.126 “Man’s dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint. Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end.”127
2340 Whoever wants to remain faithful to his baptismal promises and resist temptations will want to adopt the means for doing so: self-knowledge, practice of an ascesis adapted to the situations that confront him, obedience to God’s commandments, exercise of the moral virtues, and fidelity to prayer. “Indeed it is through chastity that we are gathered together and led back to the unity from which we were fragmented into multiplicity.”128
2341 The virtue of chastity comes under the cardinal virtue of temperance, which seeks to permeate the passions and appetites of the senses with reason.
2342 Self-mastery is a long and exacting work. One can never consider it acquired once and for all. It presupposes renewed effort at all stages of life.129 The effort required can be more intense in certain periods, such as when the personality is being formed during childhood and adolescence.
2343 Chastity has laws of growth which progress through stages marked by imperfection and too often by sin. “Man . . . day by day builds himself up through his many free decisions; and so he knows, loves, and accomplishes moral good by stages of growth.”130
2344 Chastity represents an eminently personal task; it also involves a cultural effort, for there is “an interdependence between personal betterment and the improvement of society.”131 Chastity presupposes respect for the rights of the person, in particular the right to receive information and an education that respect the moral and spiritual dimensions of human life.
2345 Chastity is a moral virtue. It is also a gift from God, a grace, a fruit of spiritual effort.132 The Holy Spirit enables one whom the water of Baptism has regenerated to imitate the purity of Christ.133
The integrality of the gift of self
2346 Charity is the form of all the virtues. Under its influence, chastity appears as a school of the gift of the person. Self-mastery is ordered to the gift of self. Chastity leads him who practices it to become a witness to his neighbor of God’s fidelity and loving kindness.
2347 The virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship. It shows the disciple how to follow and imitate him who has chosen us as his friends,134 who has given himself totally to us and allows us to participate in his divine estate. Chastity is a promise of immortality. Chastity is expressed notably in friendship with one’s neighbor. Whether it develops between persons of the same or opposite sex, friendship represents a great good for all. It leads to spiritual communion.
So, Chastity is not just about refraining from conjugal relations. It’s about integration and self-mastery. This will be the new PROLIFE effort in a renewed society and Church.
Your homework for next week: Eat rich foods and sweet drinks (might include salt and lime) as suggested by Ezra. Also, please consider a prayerful study of the paragraphs about Chastity in the Catechism….