Saturday, November 04, 2006

The frame and the purpose of life (Sunday homily)

Have you ever helped build a house or a garage?

During the past few months,

I’ve watched my neighbor,
over on Wood Street, build a new garage.

His previous garage leaned way over:

it had a bad frame!
So, he knocked it down to build a new one.
A few months ago, he had almost finished the frame,
when we got a strong windstorm
that knocked part of it down. He had to fix it.
He knew that frame had to be solid and straight.

When it comes to our lives,
the frame that holds everything straight
is that first commandment: Love God.

Some think they don’t have time to do that.

Ten minutes a day:

five at the start, five at the end.
If you do that, I predict you’ll see
those few minutes hold everything else together.
Same thing with Sunday Mass, week-to-week:
it’s a frame that supports everything else.

A building not only needs a frame—
It has a purpose.
And the second commandment,

“Love your neighbor,”
is what gives purpose to our lives.
They go together.

Watch what happens when you pull them apart.
Look the terrorists: they’re all about honoring God—
But they consider people expendable!

And if we try to love our neighbor, without God?
It always turns into manipulation,

control, and oppression.

At the most extreme, we think of
Communism, Nazism, and Racism—
all in the name of “the people.”

But what about when we get caught up in a cause—
a political campaign, a union,
some environmental or ideological effort—
and we’re going to save the world.

Notice, if we forget to keep God first,
how easily people become a means to an end.

Here’s an example straight from the headlines:
Stem-cell research.

Everyone is for research that saves lives.
The problem arises when it destroys human life.
Now, you’ve been led to believe we can’t do this research
without destroying embryos—but that is not true!

Did you know there are two kinds of this research:
one that destroys human life, and another that does not?

And did you further know the stem-cell research
that does not destroy human life
is the only one that’s produced results?

The research that respects God’s law, is working;

meanwhile, the version that defies God’s law,
is having problems. Isn’t that interesting?

Notice what the advocates keep saying:
Don’t bring God into it—we just want to help people!
But by leaving God out,
the result is destruction of human life.

I would be remiss if I did not point out
how we got into this mess.

These embryos come from “fertility clinics,”
where human life is created,
outside of human acts of love.

When this business of “test-tube babies” got started,
the Church said, this is gravely sinful;
a child is a gift, and every child has the right
to be conceived in a human relationship, by parents—
not in a dish, by a technician.
That was not popular.
Not being able to conceive is extremely painful
and it seemed the Church didn’t care.

But Pope John Paul predicted this would lead
to the manipulation of human life.
Here’s what he said, 20 years ago:

Before long,

“the researcher will usurp the place of God…
as the master of the destiny of others…”
Reducing human life to it’s worth
as a “pure and simple instrument
for the advantage of others.”

That is precisely where we have come.

When we separate love of neighbor from love of God,
it will always go sour.

Better to listen to Jesus: Do both.

Pope Benedict recently pointed out,
If I have no contact with God in my life,
how can I see the image of God in other people?
I can’t!

Likewise, only when “I serve my neighbor
can my eyes be opened to what God does for me
and how much he loves me.”

The frame that keeps our life upright
is the first commandment: love God;
We find purpose and meaning in our lives,
By keeping the second commandment: love your neighbor.

I suspect most of us would admit we are good at one,
or the other, of the commandments.
This week, whichever one you’re not so good at—
why not try to work on that, a little more?

The man in the Gospel came to Jesus.
The Lord not only gave him the answer he sought,
he was ready to help him all the way.
He said, you’re not far from the Kingdom!
All he had to do was stay with Jesus—and he was there!

It’s the same for us!
Let him speak to your heart; let him be in charge—
And you and I will also hear,
“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

17 comments:

Rachel said...

Father, I loved that you addressed in vitro fertilization. It makes me want to cheer whenever someone (and especially a priest in a homily) dares to speak a truth that'll get him called mean. You're absolutely right to connect stem cell reserach to IVF; I have a co-worker who argued to me, "What good are all those frozen embryos if you don't use them for stem cells?" We need to stop creating bunches of embryos outside the womb in the first place.

Deacon Jim said...

Excellent.

Anonymous said...

Amen, Father!

Ohevin

Anonymous said...

Amen, Father!

the Joneses said...

Very good.

Do you mind a little constructive criticism?

"Ten minutes a day:
five at the start, five at the end.
If you do that..."

What is "that" referring to? Prayer? Bible reading? A vague feeling of affection toward God? It seems unclear to me, unless this was a reference to something that you'd brought up in an earlier sermon. In which case, it would be clear to the congregation, but not to us blog readers.

God bless, and thanks for posting these. It's good to have something to look forward to on Monday mornings :)

dpt said...

Yes, very nice father.

Father Martin Fox said...

The Jones:

I appreciate the constructive criticism; it doesn't bother me at all.

When I delivered the homily, I realized what I'd written was a little vague, so I expanded on it to make it clear it was some form of prayer, but I didn't specify what type of prayer.

Perhaps I ought to have gone on to flesh out various options for prayer, but I wanted, instead, to talk about the relationship between both commandments.

"Father Barry" said...

God bless you for this, Father.

Having priests like you and Fr. Johansen speaking on these sorts of things does wonders for my psyche.

Feeling strongly about such matters is one thing. But feeling strongly and being given evidence that the feelings are seen as both important and right by our shepherds is a much different matter.

(And I agree particularly with the point Rachel makes. IVF is closely connected to this entire problem, as JPII foresaw.)

Good for you!

barbfromcincy said...

This is the first time I've ever seen the issue of IVF addressed in a homily. Twenty years ago, when IVF was in its early years, my husband and I were dealing with the pain of infertility. Our only child had been stillborn and we hadn't been able to conceive again. My infertility doctor suggested that we try IVF. I declined, saying that we were Catholic and he laughed at me and proceeded to tell me that many Catholics were using it. I answered "that doesn't make it right". It was difficult to give up that possibility knowing that it probably would have worked for us, but instead we ended up adopting three beautiful children.
So many people do have the mistaken notion that children are a right, not the gift from God that they actually are.
We feel that we have the family God intended us to have...
Thank you for speaking out on this issue.
A blessed day to you, Father.

Anonymous said...

So much Catholic conversation and theology seems centered on reproduction or sexuality, to where it seems almost oppressive.

Truly, abortion and IVF are wrong, but these are only two wrongs in a whole sea of wrongs in the culture we live in. It's like the obsession with reproduction and sex obliterates all other concerns.

It's bad to murder an embryo. But it's also bad for infants and children to be abused in the variety of ways we read about in every morning newspaper - where is the church in teaching better parenting to those who have children and then fail to nurture them?

Another horror is abuse and neglect of the elderly. Why does this problem seldom gain a mention among Catholics?

What about the hideous exploitation of females in our society, from the entertainment industry grinding out one sleazy program after another (such as CSI) showing young females being subjected to violence and degradation?

What about alcohol and drug addiction and all that it leads to, among our young? Have these troubled children lost their importance by maturing beyond the embryonic state?

What about the sick, who are forgotten and abandoned, and the mentally ill. What about prisoners, cut off from normal life and living in ways that can never result in rehabilitation. What is done about the homeless other than the occasional food drive sponsored by schools & churches? Getting a sack of groceries a couple times a year doesn't solve their problem.

There are just so many injustices and so much suffering, so much horror, yet the church gets tangled up in nitpicking and/or repetitive discussions & rehashings of the reproductive issues, all the way from, "Did Jesus really have brothers and sisters?" to stem cell research.

It just seems weird to me.

Father Martin Fox said...

Anonymous:

I'm glad you visited.

Honestly, I don't know what your exposure to the Catholic Church is, based on your comments.

"[I]t's also bad for infants and children to be abused in the variety of ways we read about in every morning newspaper - where is the church in teaching better parenting to those who have children and then fail to nurture them?"

I suppose there's always more one can do, but have you ever heard of Catholic education? We have schools K-12, and then colleges, too.

"Another horror is abuse and neglect of the elderly. Why does this problem seldom gain a mention among Catholics?"

I dunno. I might point out the Church's consistent ethic about human life, including the elderly, under threat from euthanasia.

"What about the hideous exploitation of females in our society, from the entertainment industry grinding out one sleazy program after another (such as CSI) showing young females being subjected to violence and degradation?"

Certainly more can be said about the entertainment industry. The Catholic Church used to be more outspoken with it's "Legion of Decency." I talk about it from time to time. Again, modesty is something our schools address, less well at colleges.

"What about alcohol and drug addiction and all that it leads to, among our young? Have these troubled children lost their importance by maturing beyond the embryonic state?"

Are you award of the number of AA and other Twelve Step programs that meet in church basements? I frequently cite the Twelve Steps and talk about addiction.

"What about the sick, who are forgotten and abandoned, and the mentally ill."

Did you know the Catholic Church operates hospitals? Not as many as we used to, sad to say.

"What about prisoners, cut off from normal life and living in ways that can never result in rehabilitation."

More could be done. I do what I can to visit prisoners -- usually certain priests are given that duty, those who live near prisons -- and I know of folks who organize retreats in prisons. Last week I blessed cookies taken to one of them.

"What is done about the homeless other than the occasional food drive sponsored by schools & churches? Getting a sack of groceries a couple times a year doesn't solve their problem."

In Dayton and Cincinnati -- the two major cities in this diocese -- are Catholic-supported homeless projects. I can't recall the name of the center in Cincinnati, but in Dayton it's the St. Vincent Hotel. I've been there; spartan, but clean and safe. I think you'll find such projects in cities all over the U.S. I don't know about other countries.

I might further point out Catholic organizations that get involved in poverty issues, war and peace, and opposing the death penalty, to name three.

In fact, if you do a little checking, you'll discover something of a tug-of-war between more liberal, politically active Catholics stressing these latter issues, vs. more conservative, politically active Catholics stressing abortion, stem-cell and marriage issues.

Were you really unaware of all this?

Rachel Gray said...

Anon, accusing the church of not being concerned enough about all those other issues doesn't justify ignoring the church on *this* issue.

Of course all those other things are important. We need to try to uphold God's standards in every area of life, including sexual matters. If sex and reproduction are spoken about frequently, that's probably because that's where much of the battle for a holy life is being fought is this culture.

But sadly, I don't think they *are* preached on nearly as often as your post suggests.

Thanks for your post, barbfromcincy! You truly made a sacrifice for what you believed.

journeyman15 said...

Father,

I have been reading you homilies on line for a while and I find them to be excellent for the straight forward Catholic content desperately, needed today. Your homilies make me reflect on “living the Catholic Way”. I really appreciate the way your thoughts lead one down the path to being the Counter-Cultural Catholic we are all called to be.

cjmr said...

Excellent homily, as always, Father Fox. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Father Fox, I greatly appreciate your reply to my sincere concerns, and as always I respect and admire your comments very, very much.
Without being argumentative, I would say my experience of the Catholic church is that of a layperson and in particulara an
involved layperson. I have attended countless (well, many hundreds)Catholic meetings where the two topics - reproductive concerns and sexuality (in the sense that "virginity", not service or worship, is the highest spiritual aspiration) - are the only matters of concern to
anyone. I have tried to bring up different but equally compelling issues, naively supposing that others just hadn't thought of them, but each time the group response has been uniformly negative, resistant, and unfriendly. I don't know why.
I can only imagine that it's easier to sit around playing "ain't it awful" about frozen embryos than it is to volunteer at hospice or a nursing home.
While it is important to declaim practices like euthanasia, there aren't as many elderly being euthanised as there are elderly being mistreated, neglected, and abandoned in nursing homes and neighborhoods.
While the church does operate hospitals, there are scores of sick or disabled Catholics in every parish who experience total indifference from their fellow Catholics. I know this because over a lifetime as a Catholic I've seen it happen to people in my own parish as a general practice, not as an exception to the rule.
The church may be against underage drinking, yet Catholic colleges are known throughout the country for their partying and frequent destructiveness during drunken episodes. No, it cannot be the press persecuting the church all the time. (Many members of the press are strong Catholics themselves.)
I'm not trying to bash the church, which is a label often pasted on anyone who brings out these discrepancies no matter how respectfully. I just want to point out that we can broaden our perspective, be more active in ways that make a difference, and
not get mired down in theory when action is needed.
I do considerable volunteer work among the elderly and a small amount among prisoner rehab. I have seen first hand the suffering I describe here. It cries out to heaven for solace.

joeh said...

Father, once again an excellent sermon on a timely issue. I make your blog part of my day of rest.

Anon, I would urge you to continue to bring up things at the parish level and to volunteer to start and support programs that deal with issues of concern. I now have one program that I started and continue to support and one that I added my prescence to focus on an area of interest and concern.

Anonymous said...

Sorry it took me so long to find your blog, excellent homily.
Dean