Monday, July 14, 2014

Seeds and the Soul

[The was originally preached at Sunday mass, 7/13/2014. The readings for that day may be found here: USCCB.]

As the rain falls down it does not return to the heavens until it has accomplished its task. So it is with God's word which he sends down to earth constantly. In our mass this day we receive God's word twice. The first is through Scripture, which teaches us about the history of God's saving work and reveals to us who we are. The second is Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. When we receive Him, not just in word but fully, He dwells in us and we in Him.

But consider for a moment how rain falls upon the earth. When it rains it falls on every sort of terrain: fertile soil, dry and cracked earth, grasslands, and forests. While fertile soil receives rain and produces fruit, the other sorts of terrain will produce little more than what they already have. Fertile soil needs to be prepared to receive rain and produce fruit. As you receive God's word this day, how have you prepared yourself to receive it? What will you do once you receive it?

Perhaps this story will aid you in meditating upon these questions:

There were once three neighbors who each had a plot of land behind their houses. The land was set up to be a garden. Because each had many concerns they left their gardens for another time. As time went on wild grass and weeds covered the whole area. One day, each neighbor was inspired to dedicate time to making their garden look as each one desired. After many long hours of toil the land was cleared and prepared. They took many types of seed, planted them, and they quickly grew. But then came trouble:

The first man became distracted by other concerns again. When he saw some of the weeds growing and how they had flowers he assumed that this was what he planted and let them grow. While the seeds he planted indeed grew the weeds and grass also grew up and consumed the whole garden once more.

The second man was more attentive. He made sure to pull weeds and care for the land. He took care of what he had planted diligently. One day, however, he had to leave on urgent business and left the garden unattended for a week. When he returned, his hard work had prevented everything from being lost but his garden was a mess and he lost much of his progress. When he asked his family, “Why did you not care for my garden?” they replied, “You never asked us to help you.”

The third man was as attentive as the second one. He cared for the land with great fervor. When a crisis arose that distracted him he told his family, “I am troubled by what has happened but I also fear that while I am away my garden will be destroyed and overrun. Will you help me care for it?” His family all helped him. When the crisis passed and he was once again able to focus on his garden he found that the many plants he had cultivated had now matured. His family rejoiced with him as the garden produced vegetables, spices, and flowers. He shared his produce with his family and even his neighbors and all praised him for his work.

Are you confused at all, brothers and sisters, as to the meaning of this parable? The garden is our soul and the seeds planted in them is the Word, Jesus Christ, and all he taught. God has also planted in us many kinds of virtues and talents which require diligence and effort. God does not give us anything fully mature, but only as a little seed.

The weeds are the many sinful inclinations each of us have. Some of them are small and can be easily uprooted. Others need to be held with both hands and ripped out. Some grow because we are inattentive. Others grow because they appear good and attractive. Whether big or small, if we are inattentive to our sins and our bad habits, they can overwhelm the good we have and they can set us back.

And how often, brothers and sisters, does work, illness, family issues, and stress take us away from our garden? The second man did not ask for help and when life turned him away from his soul he found that he had sunk back into his old habits. The one who sought help, who asked his loved ones to keep him honest and attentive when he couldn't be, returned to find his soul at peace and in it more mature fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Let us not fool ourselves, however, and say that every good thing we have is the work of our hands. God has given us the seeds and he sends forth the rain, His grace, to aid us in our life. But God has also given us the capacity to work alongside Him, to cultivate and personally own the good He has given us.

He teaches us through Scripture, but we must own Scripture for ourselves too. He has given us the saints to inspire us, but we too are called to be saints through a life of faithful endurance. He has given us the Church to guide and protect us when we falter, but we must also choose to walk with her. And God has given us His only Son and, when we receive Him, do we mean what we say when we say “Amen”?

So this day, my brothers and sisters, do not delay in entering the garden of your soul, preparing it to produce many good things. Indeed we all have harvested many good things already. When we discern what is good and what is evil and sinful we can catch ourselves before we're overrun. Rely and trust on each other, for we are all brothers and sisters in this one house and in this one, holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. It is then that we share in God's many gifts, being supported when we are burdened and supporting others who need us.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Hobby Lobby: Issues at Hand

The popularized conception of the Hobby Lobby case is that it's about contraception and, to a lesser extent, how big corporations are oppressing our women/pushing their antiquated beliefs on them. I hope to reflect a bit on the first and indirectly about the second.

There is a difference between medicines which are contraceptive as a side effect and those things which are contraceptive as for the sake of a lifestyle or sexual choice. Childbirth, and impregnation, are results of sex and thus natural, i.e., part of the natural process and natural conclusion of a natural act. Those things which impede the natural process as a side effect for the sake of a medical benefit are not the issue. Despite moral objections others or I may have to the actual reason for their use we cannot assume in any way that their use is intended for a moral evil. There do exist alternatives, of course, but at that point we can only suggest them.

One issue emerges, however, from paying for contraception not as a health issue but as a lifestyle choice. One example is that someone is likely to take contraception to impede natural processes if they desire to be sexually active. This sexual activity is not necessary for their health or well-being, however much it may (or may not) contribute to, enhance, or supplement their physical and emotional health. Indeed, increased sexual activity may also increase the risk of diminishing one's health. Regardless, this vision of health is not based on necessity but choice, and I think in these instances employers have reason to take issue. Furthermore, contraception that induces abortions, i.e., those contraceptives that disable the fertilized egg from implanting itself on the uterine wall is, according to others and my consciences, terminating a life.

There are strong cases that can be made scientifically that that fertilized egg is a human life, even if it does not have the capacity for action that a fully developed man has. Many argue that pregnancy begins at the moment the zygote is implanted, and that human life likewise begins here. This is based on other scientific reasoning, perhaps, but it is additionally based on popular beliefs that this life is worth “less” than the mother or that the fertilized egg is just “a mass of cells” as opposed to a human being.

No one is forcing anyone to believe one or the other is true by this ruling, but it is forcing those who want these abortofacients that we do not share this definition that they have, even if the phenomena of the fertilized egg occurs in the woman who believes it is not a human life.

Sadly, to us, she may still choose to abort this child. At the very least we who hold very strongly that this zygote is a human life in no way desire to participate formally (by consent) or materially (by providing proximate or satellite means) in that termination of life. This particular ruling with Hobby Lobby confirms this belief.

This being said, matters are not always as clear as they appear, even after bringing about better distinctions about what this case is and is not about.

This ruling, then, is not about denying a woman's health. I also believe that there has been for some time and that there should be a more public discussion about what dissenters of this ruling define “health” as, especially how they describe purely contraceptive/abortofacient means as “health”—I can only see them defining contraceptives as a form of preventative health, which to me is a curious evaluation of health (the term) anyhow.

Likewise, I think the great disagreements over this case, often encapsulated by the popular phrase “Keep my boss out of my bedroom,” also strikes at the heart of the public practice-private beliefs issue. In short, our private beliefs inform our public practices. To claim that they could ever be truly separate is at worst a lie and at best a delusion. Any discussion of justice or rights comes from living together and discovering which values are best for the common good and not which values merely allow each to have what he wants—this perhaps is a biggest disagreement and is an answer that has yet to be found, ever. This claim, however, strikes at the heart of the matter. Where we would like to construct a value system that gave us what we wanted, our values may inevitably conflict with the beliefs and values of others.

We could, as some have tried, to struggle so that our values are so valueless that each gets what he wants. Human beings, however, do not regard beliefs as valueless. Even the desire as some to find the perfect value-neutral rules hold these rules as having supreme legal, personal, or rational value. Ultimately, if the Hobby Lobby case has taught us anything, is that we as men and women living together in society can not escape a serious discussion about values. Public policy and the common good don't make sense otherwise.

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