Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Church Must Speak the Whole Truth (27B)

Two kinds of disasters have been in the news lately. The first kind are natural disasters such as the terrible earthquake that threatened the lives and welfare of people in Indonesia.
The second kind are unnatural and closer to home—allegations of abuse and cover-up that just keep sending Catholics reeling, asking ‘what’s next?’
There’s no avoiding the fact that these are difficult and painful days.
The natural disasters will, judging by past experience, have a positive side amidst the terrible human tragedy. Generous people will bring material aid and comfort to the victims, making visible the basic goodness of the world even in the face of suffering.
Moral disasters, however, rarely have an upside. They bring only discouragement and confusion, and when they involve the Church they make it that much more difficult to carry on the saving work of Christ.
The failures of Church leaders lead both believers and non-believers to ask many questions.
Today, I’d like to tackle just one set of questions: Why is the Church so concerned about human sexuality, about the institution of marriage, about what people do in their private lives? 

Why can’t the Church—and its now-suspect celibate clergy—stick to a “religious” message? Why does it need to make an issue of “political” things, things like the provincial sexual orientation and gender identity curriculum, known as SOGI, or same-sex “marriage” and the like?
Aren't we just setting ourselves up for a fall, for the charge of hypocrisy?
I’ve heard these kind of questions often enough, even from loyal Catholics. So today I want to answer them by speaking about the Church’s mission, calling, duty, and obligation to preach a message about human sexuality and its place in securing the good of both individuals and society.
Of course we all know folks who consider themselves Catholic but disagree with various moral teachings of the Church. I’m not really talking to them today. I want to address those Catholics who don’t see why the Church has to preach a message about the plan of God for marriage and the family.
We do a crummy job of getting this message out. There are sincere Catholics who think that the Gospel message is exclusively — in quotation marks — a “religious” message. They don’t recognize that the Good News of Jesus Christ embraces both those truths we tend to think of as religious — forgiveness of sins or the saving sacrifice of the Mass, for example — and truths which are more broadly speaking natural, indeed pre-Christian.
Much of what the Church teaches about God’s plan for man and woman is found in the Book of Genesis, which we heard in today’s first reading and which Jesus quotes in today’s Gospel.  Certainly the New Testament provides an expanded and enriched understanding of the Genesis teaching. But, foundationally, what is true about the human person, what was true at the moment when God brought man and woman into existence, belongs to the deposit of Faith that the Church must preach in season and out of season.
I can’t stress this enough. The Church is called to preach the whole truth. And the Church is called to preach that truth to the entire world.
Many well-intentioned Catholics think that we should keep our nose out of public debates, and preach to our own. Many Catholics do not realize that the Church has a mission to the world. We do not go out to the world and say, “Jesus Christ is Lord; be baptized so you can come to Mass and receive the Eucharist with us.” We say: “Jesus Christ has come to bring life, and to bring it to the full. To you, in every aspect of your being.”
There’s no such thing as a purely “religious” truth.
Things are true or they are not true. And if they are true, if they bring life, then they are part of what the Church proclaims. The American philosopher William James put it neatly when he said “If a thing is true, it makes a difference.  And if it makes no difference, it’s not true.
Both the first reading and the Gospel at Mass today present the divine plan written into our bodies: the creation account of Genesis reveals the distinct order of nature—man and woman we were created. Man and woman. And man and woman were created that they might be one. One flesh in the divine perfect plan of creation.
The Church must proclaim this. We cannot step back from these truths, for fear of mockery in these difficult times, or for fear of losing government funding for schools or hospitals. The truths about the human person, about marriage and the family are Gospel truths. They come to us from Jesus—how many times have I heard people say that the Catholic Church is against divorce and remarriage. This is not a teaching of the Catholic Church but of Jesus himself, as our Gospel passage today makes clear.
The word Gospel means “good news.” Now if our moral teaching is only rules and regulations, it can’t be understood as good news, surely. Yet many Catholics have never heard a word about this kind of good news, and for that we preachers must apologize.
The teaching on divorce, particularly, and the complex area of annulment is worthy of homily all to itself, but I’m not going to give it today. The Church’s teachings on responsible parenthood and artificial contraception are sometimes rejected by people who really haven’t heard them; no-one’s ever told them the reasons that might help them accept freely and joyfully what the Church proposes.
There’s more I’d like to say at this painful moment for the Church if I had the time. It is painful, certainly. But it’s also a reminder that the times in which we live make it increasingly tough to remain a complacent Catholic.  If we doubt that the Church has a message of truth from the Creator, and if out of embarrassment or sheer frustration over human failures in the Church we want to shrink Catholic truth to things around the altar, we will soon, I think, be dissatisfied with the broader, and indeed, true notion of Church.
Let’s not allow that to happen. As a first step, many of us need to know more about what the Church teaches, and why.
And let’s be glad, not sad, that the Church can proclaim a liberating, holistic, helpful, and healing message… even in her human frailty. It's something to be thankful for.

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