23rd Sunday Ordinary Time
A Homily - B Cycle - 2002-2003

First Reading - Isaiah 35:4-7a
Psalm 146:7, 8-9, 9-10
Second Reading - James 2:1-5
Gospel Mark - 7:31-37

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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.

Again Jesus left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis.  And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him.  He took him off by himself away from the crowd.  He put his finger into the man's ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, Ephphatha! - that is, "Be opened!" - And immediately the man's ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly.  He ordered them not to tell anyone.  But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it.  They were exceedingly astonished and they said, "He has done all things well.  He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak."

In our Gospel this morning from St. Matthew, we hear about the rather peculiar way in which our Lord chooses to heal the deaf and mute man.  On one level, we can say that the way in which He chooses to heal this man is akin to the way that our Lord heals us in the Sacrament of Penance.  Just as the deaf and the mute man is taken away from the crowd to be alone with Jesus, the penitent in the Sacrament of Penance goes away for a few moments to confess their sins and receive spiritual healing - to be opened up to the grace of God which heals the wounds of sin.

On another level, we can say that the way that our Lord chooses to heal the deaf and the mute man is consistent with how we are created - we are body and soul composites.  Jesus could have healed the man with a few simple words or by merely willing the healing in his divine mind.  Yet, our Lord elects to heal by physical touch - to show us that God Himself is sensitive to the fact that we are not merely spiritual beings - but that we have bodies and this body/soul relationship is a crucial element of our human existence.  In our sacraments, we have visible signs that communicate grace.  Our sacraments not only involve words and prayers - they involve real matter, none more real than the Eucharist we celebrate at Holy Mass.  Our liturgy incorporates gestures and postures such as kneeling or blessing ourselves.  In other words, our bodies and souls worship God in praise.  Even the word Ephphatha means to communicate by the sense of hearing that something sacred is now occurring.

We all know that our body and soul don't always get along.  When we are down or depressed, our bodies drag and some days we just don't want to get out of bed.  Scripture says that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.  How often do we make resolutions to get in shape but after awhile, we give in to bad eating habits and a lack of desire for proper exercise?  How often do we resolve to only view wholesome entertainment, but often fall prey to impure shows and movies?  That is why we perform physical mortifications such as fasting and abstinence from meat or a favorite food or exercising custody of the eyes - so as to train the body and perfect it, not to destroy it.

So, just as much as what we do in our souls affects our bodies, we also recognize that what we do in our bodies affects our souls.  In other words, our actions make us who we are.  For example, a person who lies is called a liar; a person who cheats is called a cheater; a person who steals is a thief.  Our actions dictate who we become as persons.  This entire notion of the body/soul idea - that what we do in our bodies affects our souls and consequently who we become as individuals is largely dismissed by the culture.  Many persons today think that our actions are not self-defining; that what we do in our bodies have no bearing on who we become as persons.  In other words, it's the belief that it's entirely possible to do evil things in our body and yet somehow remain a fundamentally good person, so long as one is nice or pleasant.  We know that this cannot be true.  Persons who do evil things, whether privately or publicly are sinners for they violate God's law.

We live in a social climate today that is breaking new ground in terms of utter perversity - the logical conclusion of this idea is that what one does in the body does not affect one's soul.  We've all noticed, recently that our culture has become so enamored with the homosexual lifestyle and so I'd like to spend the rest of my time this morning elucidating the Church's teaching on this matter.  In order to protect the innocence of our children, I will refer to it as same-sex attraction or SSA.  I also want to speak with a particular deference and sensitivity to persons who struggle with SSA; their parents and relatives and those who work closely with those who struggle with SSA.  I myself have a relative who struggles with SSA and so I am particularly aware of how difficult a topic this can be.  My purpose here is not to antagonize anyone, but rather to help us understand how we can reconcile authentic Christian compassion with a vision of the human person that is consistent with our Catholic Beliefs.

Here's a rough sketch of the cultural landscape regarding this issue:  Recent judicial rulings in the highest court of our land reflect a total disregard for both the natural law and God's revelation in both Scripture and Tradition that the divinely-endowed, normative relationship of conjugal love exists between a man and woman and only a man and woman in marital love.  Last week, the California legislature passed a bill which makes potential foster parents sign a commitment sheet that says that if their adopted child should later pursue a SSA lifestyle, that they cannot impose any moral teaching on this issue.  In other words, it totally eliminates any mainstream religious person from adopting a child in California.  Just last month we witnessed how this trend significantly fractured Episcopalians.

Yesterday's Style Section of the Washing Post ran a front-page picture of two of the world's most well-known pop artists, both women, engaging in a vulgar display of lust shown on prime time television.  It seems that every network has at least one show dedicated to glorifying this so-called alternative lifestyle, as if it were just as normal as the relationship between man and woman in marriage.  In a certain sense, we ought not be surprised.  This trend is a logical conclusion of our contraceptive culture.  When the contraceptive culture can effectively separate love making from life giving in conjugal relations, then anything's possible.  When love and life giving are not bound up with each other and one can eliminate the life giving component, then all kinds of perversions enter the picture.  When we hear anyone argue in indifference that acts based in SSA don't hurt anyone or that they're perfectly acceptable so long as their consensual, perhaps we ought to take them to an AIDS ward of a hospital where so many persons who acted on their SSA tendency languish or hear the anguish of the family of the person who is dying because they acted on their SSA tendency.

Many of us here work with and have regular interaction with individuals, sometimes family members who struggle with SSA.  On the one hand, we want to be compassionate towards these persons because they are people to whom we are related or people we have befriended.  On the other hand, we also recognize as conscientious and faithful Catholics that SSA is not normal.  So, how do we reach out to these persons in a way consistent with our Catholic beliefs?

If we read the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we learn that each person, whether male or female is created in God's image and likeness and that each person has an inherent dignity raised to new heights by the fact that the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, took on our humanity.  Next, we acknowledge that the union of man and woman as husband and wife in marriage is a sacred covenant that must be open to love and life giving.  In fact, the very complimentarity of the sexes reflects the inner unity of the Trinity.  Thus, the relationship between man and woman as husband and wife is normal, designed by God and is holy.  Sexual acts based in SSA are sinful and SSA itself is intrinsically disordered.

The Catechism makes a distinction between the intrinsically disordered tendency or condition of SSA and the practice of immoral sexual acts based in SSA.  Some will argue that individuals who struggle with SSA are simple born that way - that there's a genetic link.  Even though that claim has never been proven, it's worth considering.  But we must be able to say that even though it were to be proven that SSA is 100% genetic, that does not mean that a person with SSA must act on that tendency.  To suggest that a person who struggles with SSA has no choice but to engage in immoral behavior is a total denigration of that person's intellect and free will and reduces such a person to the level of an animal who acts acts on instincts.  The Church says that the person who struggles with SSA carries a very burdensome Cross but they are not somehow predetermined to act on their disordered tendency or condition.  Rather, these persons have a high dignity with their intellect and free will to control their desires and remain chaste.  To say that a person who has the SSA tendency and must act on it is not any different than saying that the married man who is attracted to other women MUST somehow act on those feelings, and that he somehow does not have the free will to reject such temptations.

While it is not necessary to mention specifically the numerous places where the Scriptures condemn acting on one's SSA tendency or condition, we should acknowledge that acting on SSA in immoral acts violates the natural law.  Every act of intercourse between husband and wife and only husband and wife, by its very nature, as God designed it, must be open to authentic love making and the possibility of life-giving.  Actions based in SSA cannot achieve either end.

As Catholics, we are left with the monumental task of reaching out to persons who struggle with SSA, to their parents and their families and we cannot remain indifferent to their struggle.  This is a very difficult Cross that they carry.  We need to keep in mind that while we uphold the condemnation of the practice of immoral acts based in SSA, we must love the person who struggles with it.  However, our compassion must not be a false compassion that merely tolerates or accepts sinful behavior.  On the other hand, we cannot simply reject these person and remain insensitive to their condition.  Our very culture is at stake here.  So, we must encourage such persons to live chaste lives by our own example of chaste living.  There are wonderful support groups such as COURAGE, founded by Fr. Harvey in New York and which has local chapters, which help persons who struggle with SSA to remain chaste through prayer, chaste fellowship and spiritual direction. 

Lastly, we must invite persons who struggle with SSA to live up to their high dignity as sons and daughters of God, endowed with an intellect and free-will, that, by God's grace, can overcome the temptation to act on their tendencies and find the authentic freedom and glory of the children of God.  May we entrust these persons to the maternal care of the Blessed Mother, who loves each of her children and desires that they live in imitation of her perfect chastity obedient to the will of the Father.

Praise be Jesus Christ!  Now and forever!

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