I thought today I’d tackle a fairly controversial issue, really a kind of constellation of controversial issues that fall neatly under one umbrella. My excuse for doing so is our second reading from St. Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians. Let me review some of what Paul said to the Christians living in the great pagan seaport city of Corinth.
“Brothers and sisters, the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord . . . Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? . . . Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you? . . . You are not your own . . . Therefore glorify God in your body.”
It sure doesn’t sound as if Paul were buying into the “I have a right to do whatever I want with my own body” philosophy current today and current among the pagans who vastly outnumbered the Christians of Corinth. Is this just an idiosyncrasy of Paul? Did Jesus have anything to say on this subject? How about this?
“From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness . . . and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:21-23)
Or this, from the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” And a bit later in the same sermon: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
In a pagan and sexually permissive world, one of the things that stood out about Christianity from the beginning was what seemed to the pagans its bizarre, utterly unrealistic sexual morality. Ancient Greece and Rome were perfectly comfortable with adultery, fornication, polygamy, homosexuality, contraception, abortion and infanticide. Christians, while not always living up to their own lofty standards, opposed all of this and said that God created man and woman to be joined in a permanent, exclusive bond, expressed in a sexual act designed by God to symbolize and deepen this bond and to produce new human life, which was to be treated with reverence from beginning to end.
Up until less than a century ago, no Christian body disagreed with this belief. Right up to the present, it remains what the Catholic Church teaches. So you have the testimony of scripture, the historical witness of Christians versus pagans in every age and place, the unchanging teaching of the Church for two thousand years, and now you have the majority of Catholics who simply aren’t buying it anymore.
In the interest of truth in advertising, I want you to know that for however much time you have me here in Our Lady of the Snow, you’re stuck with a priest who does still buy it all, lock, stock, and barrel. That doesn’t mean I look down on you if you disagree, or that I’ll be mean or nasty or abusive if you pick and choose which teachings of the Church you accept. In fact, it’s much more likely that I’ll be abused for teaching what the Church teaches than that you’ll be abused for dissenting from Church teaching.
I read an article just the other day about a priest in Ireland who is publically supporting gay marriage and announced at Mass that he himself is gay. He received a standing ovation. Given the world we live in, I expect I’d be more likely to get such an ovation by announcing my intention to leave the priesthood and marry than I would by preaching any official teaching of the Church.
I’m not complaining. I know the world I’m living in and I’m used to it. What I’d like you to do, if you’re among the many who have sided with the world against the Church in one or another of these issues touching on sexual morality and the sanctity of human life, is ask yourself, given what you disagree with, can you defend and justify the Church teachings you still adhere to?
How do you feel about polygamy? What about co-habiting and sex before marriage? And at what age? 18, 16, 14? 14 is the age of consent in some European countries. And if that’s okay, and plenty of people seem to think it is, then what about an adult and a 14 year old, as long as everyone’s consenting?
You see, the Church’s teaching on these matters was never easy, but it was clear, consistent, and coherent. Sex is for marriage, between a man and a woman. Marriage is indissoluble. Mess with any of that, and everything begins to unravel. Ultimately the only standard is hormones and consent. That’s just about where we are.
I know I’m a dinosaur, but I’m in good company: St. Paul, Jesus, the Church. Again, I don’t dislike you and I won’t spurn you if you disagree with me. And last I looked, the Church can’t force you to do anything you don’t want to do or prevent you from doing anything you’d like to do. She proposes. She doesn’t impose. And she wants to be your friend, even if you disagree. Me too. I’m not sure anyone has a right to expect anything more than that.