Sunday, June 28, 2015

Talitha koum

The lectionary readings we hear every Sunday at mass are predetermined and rotate on a three year cycle. I am always amazed at how timely they can be.

Last week’s Gospel told the story of Jesus calming the wind and the waves. Jesus told the apostles to get in the boat and go to the other side. On the way a strong storm blew in and tossed their boat. Seasoned fishermen who were well accustomed to sailing that same lake feared for their lives that the boat would sink. All the while Jesus was peacefully asleep. When they woke him he rebuked to storm and it became calm immediately, then he rebuked them for their lack of faith.

This week’s Gospel features the story of Jairus’ daughter and the woman with a hemorrhage. Jesus and the apostles are met by Jarius, a leader of the local synagogue. He pleads for Jesus to come to his home and heal his daughter who is deathly ill. On the way a woman who had suffered from bleeding for twelve years reaches through the crowd hoping to touch just the hem of Jesus’ garment so as to be healed. While Jesus stops to confront her and commend her for her faith friends of Jairus deliver devastating news, his daughter has died. Upon hearing this Jesus tells Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just have faith.” They continue to Jairus’s home and Jesus raises his daughter from the dead.

These readings are the perfect bookends for the tumultuous week we’ve just been through. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage many Christians are fearful of what the future holds. Will we see an increase in the secular culture’s push back against religion in general, Christianity in particular, and especially Catholicism as church’s and ministries fail to change their definition of marriage? Will religious institutions run the risk of losing their tax exempt status? Like the apostles on the boat, many of the faithful feel the weight of the wind and the waves. Looking at the White House, Niagara Falls, and the Empire State building lit up in the colors of the rainbow to celebrate the decision makes it seem that any hope for preserving traditional marriage is gone. Just scrolling through Facebook, watching ads on TV, movies, television programs, the evening news, and com boxes on websites can certainly leave you feeling hopeless and defeated; just as Jairus likely felt when his friends told him his daughter was dead.

We must look to the Gospels and Jesus’ words and actions as our example of how to react when the storms of life and impossible odds seem aligned against us. We serve a God who is in control and because of that we must not fear. We must not give in to despair. We must have faith and believe. Only then will we get to see the glory of God. From age to age the people of God have always faced the same enemy: Sin, the World, and the Devil; and through every age the Church still stands. Jesus rebuked the disciples in the boat because he told them BEFORE the storm that they were going to the other side. He told Jairus not to fear because BEFORE his daughter died Jesus had decided that he would heal her. It is so easy to allow the storms to distract us from the mission, to forget what we were told BEFORE the storm. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:3) Like the old song goes, “He’s got the whole world in his hands.”

Finally, don’t forget the words of Psalm 2 when you are tempted to worry about what the world may be plotting.

Why do the nations conspire
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
    and the rulers band together
    against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
“Let us break their chains
    and throw off their shackles.”
The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
    the Lord scoffs at them.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Reflecting on Gay Marriage

A few random thoughts and reflections about the Supreme Court’s decision on same sex marriage.
  • All people regardless of sexual orientation, regardless of behavior, are created in the image and likeness of God. Jesus Christ took on flesh, suffered, died, and rose from the dead out of love for each and every one of us. He commands his followers to unconditionally love others. As a disciple of Jesus I try to follow this command as best as I can and harbor no ill feelings towards anyone in the LGBT community.
  • Your true identity is rooted in the reality of being made in the image of God. You are NOT what you do.
  • I believe that homosexual behavior is a sin, as is heterosexual behavior outside the context of marriage. I don’t think that gay sex is any worse than any other number of sins such as drunkenness, gluttony, envy, lying, stealing, etc. All sin acts to separate us from God. I think that the significant difference about homosexual sin today is that our culture celebrates it and demands more than tolerance, but full blown, unquestioning acceptance of it by all.
  • I believe that marriage was instituted by God to be a life-giving and loving (pro-creative and unitive) covenant between a man and a woman. I believe that this human relationship is a sacramental sign of the very nature of who God is, and also a witness to his relationship with us. In fact, scripture conveys these very facts (Gen 1, Hosea, Matthew 19, Ephesians 5, Revelation 19, etc.).
  • I do not believe there is a constitutional “right” to marriage. States limit marriage all the time apart from just same sex couples. Incestuous marriages are not allowed. Polygamous marriages are not allowed. Marriages between adults and children are not allowed. This is not to imply that any of these, including same sex marriage, are absolute moral equals, but rather to point out that two individuals having strong romantic feelings for each other does not create a “right”.
I’ve seen various comments by pro-SSM supporters on Facebook and internet articles over the past few days, and I just have to comment on some of them.
  • You can’t legislate morality. – This is a complete fallacy. We legislate morality ALL the time. All laws are attempts at legislating morality. Laws supporting gay marriage are legislating morality. The issue is what morality will we legislate. That is why questions like gay marriage should be left to the legislative process and the people to decide and not the courts. As a culture and society we must be able to have open and honest discussions about what kind of morality we want to legislate.
  • Jesus never talked about homosexuality or same sex marriage so Christians can’t say he was against it. – First of all, no society at any time in history, even those that embraced homosexuality as morally acceptable, ever tried to redefine marriage as between two people of the same sex. Jesus didn’t talk about it because no one was suggesting it. I’d also like to point out that Jesus also never explicitly condemned any of the following: nuclear war, predatory sub-prime mortgage lending, burning fossil fuels, racial segregation, using the F-word, etc. Homosexual behavior was universally condemned as a sin by Jewish law so there was no need to comment unless he wanted to change that and he didn't. Jesus did affirm the original divine intention of marriage as between a man and woman for the purpose of becoming one flesh (Matthew 19). BTW, his comments in that same passage about eunuchs for the Kingdom had nothing to do with gender identity, but acknowledged that some would choose celibacy to serve God.
  • Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed for lack of hospitality, not homosexuality. – It’s amazing how we can make scripture say what we want. I’ve seen this brought up in two ways. First, a quote from Ezekiel 16:49, “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” Secondly, some point to Jesus’ warning in Matthew 10:15 regarding towns that refuse to listen to the apostles when they were sent out to preach, “Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” The sins of S&G were great (Genesis 18:20-21) and undoubtedly included not caring for the poor. However, it was their sexual immorality (Jude 1:7) and their pride (Isaiah 3:9) that truly stand out. Jesus’ reference to their destruction had nothing to do with hospitality, but was a warning of the fate that awaits those who reject the call of the gospel to repent of their sins. Although it may not have been homosexual sins alone, sexual immorality was central to their destruction.
  • Paul wasn’t talking about same sex attraction or marriage in his letters. – St. Paul condemns homosexual acts in Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and 1 Timothy 1. It is likely that he was specifically condemning the practice of men keeping boys as prostitutes, however, his condemnation always appears in the context of condemning all types of sexual activity outside of marriage. Again, NO ONE in the ancient world was suggesting same sex marriage so Paul would not have a reason to comment on it.
I find the phrase “gay pride” ironic. Pride is the root of all sins, it is the oldest sin, it is man rejecting God in favor of himself. Look again at the passage from Isaiah 3:9, “The look on their faces testifies against them; they parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it.” It wasn’t merely that Sodom was sinful, the city boasted and reveled in their rebellion. The movement’s message extends beyond seeking acceptance of people with a particular sexual orientation or attraction to the prideful demand to accept homosexual acts and behaviors.

It’s also ironic how the symbol of the gay pride movement is the rainbow. The rainbow is the symbol of the Noahic covenant following the destruction of the world because of its abject corruption and wickedness that was specifically focused upon sexual immorality. In his book Jesus Shock, Peter Kreeft commented on how the devil likes to twist the words and actions of God. He did it in the Garden when he twisted God’s words when tempting Eve. Kreeft points out how the abortion movement’s mantra of “It’s my body” to defend the ultimate selfish action of killing one’s own child stands in stark contrast and opposition to Christ’s gift of his very self in the Eucharist through the words, “This is my body.” I'm not accusing individuals in the LGBT of actively doing the devil's work, but I do acknowledge that our battle isn't with "flesh and blood" but "against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" and there are spiritual realities behind that movement.

Ultimately, the battle for marriage was not lost in 2015, but in 1930. That was the year that the Anglican church allowed for married couples to use artificial birth control. Until that event every Christian denomination held the same teaching that artificial contraception was a grave sin. By allowing for couples to make their own decisions on the use of contraception the Anglicans opened the Pandora ’s Box of subjective sexual morality. Most Protestant denominations quickly followed in changing their teachings and many Catholics followed in practice even if the Church maintained its teaching. Mary Eberstadt, in her great book Adam and Eve After the Pill points this out: 
“By giving benediction in 1930 to its married heterosexual members purposely seeking sterile sex, the Anglican Church lost, bit by bit, any authority to tell her other members—married or unmarried, homosexual or heterosexual—not to do the same. To put the point another way, once heterosexuals start claiming the right to act as homosexuals, it would not be long before homosexuals start claiming the rights of heterosexuals...Thus in a bizarre but real sense, did Lambeth’s attempt to show compassion to married heterosexuals inadvertently give rise to the modern gay-rights movement—and consequently, to the issues that have divided their church ever since.