30 April 2018
It's About the Yes
Fifth Sunday of Easter
It’s a sad reality that talk is often cheap. This is not universal, but is especially true in our Western culture. We need a contract for everything. When planning for my pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I wanted to go with a local group from Palestine. However, they’re not big on contracts, and as an American that makes me leery. Because I have been to the Holy Land before, I know that, in the Middle Eastern culture, a person’s word is everything, and if they do not live up to what was agreed, that person can lose everything, including his honor. But I also know that, as Americans, we like to have things in writing. So instead of going with a more local group, I went with an American tour company that has pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
St. John reminds us that we are called to love, not only “in word or speech but in deed and truth.” It’s very easy to say that we follow Jesus, but do our actions back up what our mouths say? In fact, St. John goes on to say that loving Jesus means keeping His commandments. If we do this, then the Holy Spirit remains in us. On the contrary, if we don’t keep Jesus’ commandments, then we lack a reality of the life of Christ.
John could say this because He heard Jesus say what was in our Gospel today, which is also from St. John. Jesus told us that we need to stay connected to Him, as branches with the vine. It’s not enough to say that we’re branches, we have to truly remain connected to Jesus. If we are not connected, we’ll waste away and be good for nothing else then burning. If, however, we stay connected to Jesus, then we’ll bear fruit that proves that we not only profess faith in Jesus, but also live in the way He shows us.
Words do mean, something, however. They are cheap if they are not followed up by actions, but they can also be profound if they are connected to action. For example, a relatively recent Pope wrote about the dangers facing society. He warned against increased dangers of marital infidelity, and a lowering of moral standards. He warned about how easy it is for young people to be tempted, and how they need to be taught how to live the moral law. He also warned of a lack of respect for women, and how men could so easily make them objects of the satisfaction of their desires, rather than an equal partner “whom he should surround with care and affection.” This pope wrote about these dangers 50 years ago, in 1968. And in many ways, his prophecy, his words spoken from God, have come true. It is more and more common for spouses to cheat on each other; I don’t think anyone would argue that morality has decreased over the past 50 years; young people more and more don’t know how to live the moral law, and are exposed to grave evils at younger and younger ages; and women are seen more and more not as people, equal in dignity and respect, but as tools to satisfy lust.
These words were penned by Pope Bl. Paul VI. And he wrote this in his very famous, and often derided, Encyclical, Humanae vitae. This summer we celebrate 50 years since the promulgation of this prophetic document about human life. I know it is a very contentious document, but Bishop Boyea has asked us to preach about it this weekend. I think that one reason it is so often seen as negative is because it seems to simply say no to artificial contraception. In fact, it actually talks about the great value of human life, something that needs to be reinforced, especially in light of the Alfie Evans’ recent. Many people think that all the Church says is “no.” But in fact, while the Church does say no, that no means an ability to say yes to other goods.
The Church teaches that all artificial contraception is gravely wrong, not because it can spread out childbirth, which can be a moral decision, but because the marital act between a woman and a man is meant to be a full gift of self, and artificial contraception of any kind means holding back one aspect of the gift of self, the ability to conceive, and makes that moment a lie, because one is not truly giving his or her entire self.
But again, we can see it as no. But in fact, sometimes, in order to say yes to a good, we have to say no to other lesser goods. Think about when a man marries a woman. That man, in marriage, is saying no to every other woman that has ever or will ever come along. He is forsaking that special relationship of marriage with any other woman (and vis versa for a woman towards other men). But I have never met a man who is so focused on the no to other women. He is focused on the yes to that one woman. He can’t say yes to that one woman without saying no to all others. But it doesn’t meant it’s about the no. It’s about the yes.
And look at what has happened with the ubiquitousness of contraception: we have a lower sense of morality, marriages break apart more and more, and we have recently seen the epidemic of men treating women in a way that is beneath the dignity and respect that they deserve. Pope Bl. Paul VI’s words have been followed up by actions, a reality that is sad and has caused no small amount of pain in the lives of perhaps most families in America.
Today the Lord challenges us to not simply say that we will follow Him, but to actually do it, including in the ways that we regulate the size of our families. May we not be focused on all the things we give up by following Jesus in word and deed, but in all the greater yeses that are made possible by following Jesus “in deed and truth.”