Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Sodom, hell and hope (Sunday homily)

The first reading mentions the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, so let’s start there.
The passage we heard doesn’t spell out the sins involved, 
but I think most of us know; in any case, 
you can read about it in chapter 19 of Genesis if you want.

I’m going to talk about three things in this homily. First is the sin of Sodom. 
The second is hell. And the third is hope.

So let’s talk a little about what was going on in Sodom.

Until not that many years ago, 
there wouldn’t have been that much controversy
in reiterating that sexual behavior involving two people of the same sex 
is a mortal sin. 
But our society is changing rapidly, 
and now there is intense social pressure for us to keep quiet. 
After all, we can always talk about something else, can’t we? 
But when the subject comes up, you and I have a duty to speak up. 
It came up in the readings, so I’m speaking up.

One of difficulties in talking about the issues relating to homosexual activity
is that our society has language and concepts that are problematic, 
and first we have to address that. 
So, for example, many people tend to identify and define themselves by an attribute. 
But does this make sense?

Let me use a personal example.* My “ampleness” isn’t a result of a bee sting! 
It’s a result of eating too much over the years. 
That’s a moral failing of mine; it’s one of the deadly sins, gluttony. 
That doesn’t define me, however. But there are people who do, 
indeed, shape their lives around food and eating. 
You can see a whole cable channel dedicated to this; and on another channel, 
a show about people who are over 600 pounds as a result.

Also, when we talk about this subject, 
it sometimes seems like we’re making it out to be the worst possible sin. 
There are Ten Commandments, 
and it’s possible to commit mortal sins involving all ten. 
So we don’t want to overstate the matter.

It’s also necessary to make very clear that feelings aren’t sins. 
A husband’s eye may stray, and his wife may think murderous thoughts 
when she sees where he’s looking, 
but virtue lies not in impulses, but in our choices.

The real problem with Sodom and Gomorrah wasn’t only lust, 
but a more general state of moral madness. 

I read an article recently by Catholic scholar Anthony Esolen called 
“The Uses of Disgust.” 
It’s an excellent article, you can find it online. 

He makes the point that all of us have, built in, 
a faculty for disgust, for revulsion, and he compares it to our sense of smell. 
He writes, “What smells good to a vulture, flesh rotting in the sun, 
smells repugnant to us, because eating such flesh would be bad for us. 
The smell is then protective; 
it keeps us from tasting even a little of something that would sicken or kill.”

And his point is that our moral sense is meant to work that way, too. 
But, of course, if we ignore – or kill off – that faculty of moral repugnance…
then we will find ourselves consuming what is bad for us, and claiming to like it.

And that’s what was wrong with Sodom and Gomorrah. 
It wasn’t just one moral failing. They’d completely lost their way. 
Understanding that explains why God would talk of destroying the city; 
because it means they had reached the point of no return.

There is another word for the point of no return: it’s called hell. 

The clear point of this whole episode is not, fire and brimstone,
but God wanting to rescue all that he can. 
If you read on, there aren’t even ten innocent people. 
There are four, that is, Abraham’s cousin, Lot, his wife and two daughters; 
and if you read the next chapter, they weren’t exactly innocent, either. 

But what they were was salvageable. They weren’t beyond hope. 
So God sends his angels to rescue them. 
And many of us have had that experience: 
whether being saved from moral danger or physical danger. 
I can distinctly remember a time I was riding in the back seat of my dad’s car, 
and I had my head out the window. 
Something made me pull my head in; and just after I did, 
a car coming the other way came frighteningly close. 
And there have been many times in my life when I wanted to do the wrong thing, 
and something blocked my way. And I bet that’s happened to you, too.

So when we wonder why God cares – about two people of the same sex,
 or about whether we wait for marriage, or contraception, 
how we might entertain ourselves…this is why: 
because God knows these things, however attractive, distort us. 
It’s not all at once, it’s little by little. 

If there is a hell – and Jesus talks about it a lot, so I think there is one – 
do you think many people really set out in life to go there? 
So then, how do people end up there? By losing – by destroying – 
that sense of revulsion from what is evil. 

All right, enough fire and brimstone. Let’s turn to what Jesus said in the Gospel. 
He told us: God wants to give us good gifts. He is eager to give them to us! 
He wants us to want them. 
Notice what Jesus said: “how much more will the Father in heaven 
give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?"

The Holy Spirit in us is what helps us revive our moral compass, 
if it’s been beaten up,
 and to help us turn our hearts and desires from what seems good, 
to what truly is good. 
We first receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism. 
As Saint Paul makes clear, the gift of baptism, the gift of God himself, 
washes away all transgressions. They are, as he says, “nailed to the cross.” 

And, after baptism? That’s what the sacrament of confession is for: 
renewing the grace of baptism, and applying that powerful solvent 
to any and all sins we may confess. 

I’ll say it again: the Father wants to give us good gifts. 
He offers us total and complete forgiveness. He offers us chance after chance. 
He offers us life in the Holy Spirit. 
He offers us life with the Trinity forever. It’s so easy! 

“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; 
knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; 
and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, 
the door will be opened."

*At the 5 pm Mass, I used the example of my being left-handed. Afterward, I decided an example of a moral failing would be more apt.


John F. Kennedy said...

A great homily. I wish I was there to hear it!

Jenny said...

Oh, I'd give anything to be a parishioner at St. Remy's! I follow three parish-priest blogs just to keep my head above Catholic waters. It is so lonely out here trying to "keep the faith, baby"... Thanks, Father for being ther for us.