Monday, August 31, 2009

22nd Sunday - homily

Those of you who know the story of St Augustine know that it is an amazing one. His is one of those stories of a great sinner becoming a great saint. He lived in Africa in the fifth century, and in his early life was a big party-er. He was a pagan and a playboy. This troubled his mother, St. Monica, so much that she prayed every day for thirty years (!) for his conversion. Sure enough, her prayers worked. Augustine had a huge conversion and left his life of debauchery. He became a Catholic, was ordained a priest and bishop, and has been made one of the “doctors” of the Church because he was such a great theologian. As he was trying to move away from his playboy lifestyle, though, Augustine did initially struggle with living chastity. He has a famous quote from this period in his life: “Lord, give me chastity, but not right now”.

When young people ask me why sex outside of marriage is so wrong, I mention today’s Gospel – Mark, chapter 7. In the passage that we just heard, our Lord mentions evils that defile a person. He puts unchastity right there with murder, adultery, and theft…in the same sentence! So, it is from the lips of Jesus himself that unchastity is seriously wrong. Sins against chastity which, as the Catechism tells us, include fornication (sex outside of marriage), pornography, and masturbation, are grave offenses against our Lord. Why? Because the gift of sex is a sacred gift from God that needs to be treated with respect and reverence. We are all called to live chastity – whether we are married, religious, single, young, or old. Chastity, simply put, is sexual purity.

It is hard for any of us to live chastity because our sexual desire is our strongest desire. In a world that bombards us with sexual images constantly, it is challenging to consistently live out God’s command to be pure. But, it is so freeing to do so! One time, I gave a talk to a men’s group about chastity. There were about seventy men there, ranging in age from 15-75. And, it was early on a Saturday morning! (popular topic!) I spoke very candidly about chastity, especially with regard to pornography and masturbation, and how addictive impure, sexual habits can be. So many of them were struggling in these areas so they very much appreciated the discussion. I offered some suggestions for living chastity consistently – one guy has told me since then that that discussion changed his life and saved his marriage. Praise God! Like Augustine, he has made the necessary changes and is now living chastity. He and his wife are now happier and more intimate than ever before. It is possible to live chastity.

And, when we live chastity, we find freedom. Scripture says that we are slaves to sin. That was the experience of those guys in that men’s group; that is the experience of so many people. We are slaves to our sexual desires and think there’s no way to control them. But, there is. With the help of God’s Grace – especially through Confession, the Eucharist, and the rosary , we can choose to be chaste. And, how freeing it is! How freeing it is to see others as persons and not just objects of our desire. How freeing it is to look at others and see their souls in addition to their bodies. How freeing it is to appreciate the internal gifts of someone as much as their external gifts. God intends for us to be free sexual beings. When we experience the freedom of chastity, we experience true happiness.

Finally, the gift of sex is so sacred that it is analogous to what we do here at Mass. In a few moments, we will unite ourselves with the Eucharist, the flesh of Jesus Christ. In Holy Communion, we become one flesh with our God. This is analogous to the one-flesh union of a husband and wife in the sexual act. In fact, some theologians have made the analogy between the bedroom of a married couple and the sanctuary of a Church. The beautiful gift of sex is sacred! Through the help of the Eucharist, may each of us live chastity. May we live sexual purity. May we find true happiness through the freedom of chastity.

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