Sunday, September 16, 2018

A Time to be Silent, and a Time to Speak

(Twenty-fourth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on September 16, 2018 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Isaiah 50: 5-9; Psalm 116: 1-9; James 2: 14-18; Mark 8: 27-35.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-fourth Sunday 2018]

The rock group, the Byrds, recorded a song many years ago entitled “Turn, Turn, Turn”.  Some of you may remember it.  By the way, if you do remember it, that means you’re really old—like me (because it was released way back in 1965)!  It went to #1 on the Billboard chart that year—which was somewhat of a surprise, given the fact that the song is based on a passage from the Bible: Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8.  The passage reads as follows:
There is an appointed time for everything,
and a time for every affair under the heavens.
A time to give birth, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant.
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to tear down, and a time to build.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them;
a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away.
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to be silent, and a time to speak.
A time to love, and a time to hate;
a time of war, and a time of peace.

Now I wanted to use the Byrds’ musical rendition of that passage to begin my homily today, but I couldn’t.  I couldn’t do it because the line from Ecclesiastes 3 that I wanted to focus on in my homily was left out of the song.  The song begins (don’t worry I won’t sing it; I’ll spare you the penance and just read the words!):

To everything (turn, turn, turn) there is a season (turn, turn, turn), and a time for every purpose under heaven:A time to be born, a time to die; A time to plant, a time to reap; A time to kill, a time to heal; A time to laugh, a time to weep …
And on and on it goes through all the different “times” Ecclesiastes mentions in the Bible passage, except these two: “A time to be silent, and a time to speak.”  That line was left out of the song’s lyrics. 

Why?  I don’t know.  I wish I could tell you.  Maybe it was left out for the very practical reason that it would have disrupted the rhythm of the song.  One line had to be left out for the song to flow properly, and perhaps they chose that one at random.  But regardless of what the reason was, I find meaning in the fact that it was eliminated.  To me it’s a sign of a big spiritual problem we have in our modern world (a problem that we’ve had at least since 1965 when this song came out):

We’ve forgotten the value, and the importance, and the necessity—of silence!

(I think that’s one of the reasons why Eucharistic adoration has become so popular.  People find refuge there from the insanity of their daily lives.)

Let’s face it, we live in a world of constant noise and almost endless chatter.  For many people, the time to talk is “almost all the time”—which leaves very little left for silence.  And social media has only aggravated the problem.  If certain people are not texting, or emailing, or tweeting, or talking on the phone, or surfing the internet, or listening to their radio or iPod, or watching TV or a movie—then they’re probably sleeping!  Perhaps the best modern examples of how little we value silence today are the 24-hour cable news channels.  All talk; all the time—and usually very loud!  Consequently very little dialogue and listening actually takes place on these networks, because the hosts and guests are usually too busy screaming at each other—and saying things that they will later regret (or at least should regret!).

Talk is sometimes necessary, of course—but at other times silence is just as necessary.  One person who learned this lesson—unfortunately in a very painful way—was Simon Peter.  And we see evidence of that in today’s gospel story from Mark 8.  As we heard a few moments ago,  as Jesus and his apostles were travelling one day to the city of Caesarea Philippi in northern Israel, our Lord decided to ask his 12 close friends what you might call the “bottom line question”—the question from Jesus that every human person eventually must answer: “Who do you say that I am?”—“You’ve just told me who everybody else says that I am; you’ve just told me what the current ‘polling data’ is concerning me and my identity.  But what about you?  Where do you gentlemen stand on the issue?  If someone said to you, ‘Who is Jesus of Nazareth?’ how would you respond?”

Peter immediately gives the answer that every Christian echoes in his or her heart: “You are the Christ.”  In other words, “You are the Messiah—the Anointed one of God—the one our people have been awaiting for centuries!”

There is a time to speak Ecclesiastes 3 tells us, and for Peter this was one of those times.

He couldn’t have done it any better; he couldn’t have stated it any more clearly than he did.

If only he had left it there.

Jesus then begins to tell Peter and the other apostles what kind of Messiah he will be—which was definitely NOT the kind of Messiah they were expecting!  The Jews thought that their Messiah would be a great earthly king like King David, who would bring back the glory days of Israel by restoring the nation to its former greatness.

They thought the Messiah was coming to establish an earthly kingdom for one small country.

But Jesus indicates to them that he’s come not just to save Israel; he’s come to save the whole world, by offering his life as a sacrifice for sin—all sin.

Peter didn’t understand that—which is completely understandable, given the common Jewish expectation of the time.  But instead of remaining silent and reflecting on it for a while, or taking Jesus aside and saying to him, “Lord, I don’t understand.  Please help me.”, Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him: “No way, Jesus, this can’t happen to you!  You’re the Messiah; you’re the Son of David who’s going to rise to power, and assume your throne, and get rid of the Romans, and make us the number one nation in the world again!”

Jesus then turns on Peter—the man he would soon make the leader of his Church—and says to him, “Get behind me, Satan!”

Why Satan?

Because at that moment, without realizing it, Peter was saying to Jesus exactly what Satan would have wanted him to say!

Satan knew that without the cross there would be no resurrection—and consequently no salvation for the human race!

He knew that without the death of Jesus we could not be forgiven for our sins; he knew that without the death of Jesus we could not be reconciled to God the Father. So he used the words of Peter at Caesarea Philippi to try to tempt Jesus to give up his mission of dying on the cross to save the world—which, by the way, is also what he had tried to do at the very beginning of our Lord’s ministry, with the 3 temptations he threw at Jesus in the desert.  Those 3 temptations were all attempts to get Jesus to avoid the cross.

Ecclesiastes 3 tells us there is a time to be silent—and for Peter this was definitely one of those times.  But he wasn’t silent.  I can imagine Peter walking away from Jesus that day and saying to himself, “Peter, why oh why didn’t you keep your mouth shut?  Why did you feel like you had to say that stuff to Jesus?”

Well the good news is that by the time the Gospel of Mark was written, Peter had learned the lesson about the importance of silence—and he was putting that lesson into practice.  This is something we also see in this story.

Did you notice that something was missing from Mark’s account?  In Mark we have Peter proclaiming Jesus to be the Messiah followed immediately by our Lord’s prediction of his passion.  In Matthew’s version of this same story, after Peter proclaims Jesus to be the Messiah, our Lord says to him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.  And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.   Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

It’s very interesting—the part of the story in which Peter is extolled for his God-inspired insight; and given universal authority in the Church; and made, in effect, the very first pope—that section of the story which makes Peter look really good—is completely eliminated from Mark’s account!

Mark is totally silent about it, which probably means that Peter himself was silent about it. As those of you who took our Bible study class last year will remember, many Scripture scholars are convinced that St. Mark was actually St. Peter’s scribe—which means that the Gospel that bears Mark’s name is actually the Gospel that St. Peter preached in Rome.  He either dictated it directly to Mark, or he had Mark follow him around and take notes while he preached.

So apparently this is the way Peter told the story—or at least it’s the way he wanted the story to be told.

Now you might say, “But, Fr. Ray, that makes no sense.  Why would St. Peter be silent about that part—the part of the story that makes him look really, really good?”

To which I would respond, “That’s precisely the reason he left it out!”  At that later point in his life, Peter was a man of deep and profound humility, who wanted the focus to be always on Jesus Christ and his saving work, and not on himself.  So, in all likelihood, he either didn’t mention that part of the story when he preached about the event—consequently Mark never wrote it down in the first place; or Mark did write it down initially when he took notes, but Peter had him remove it from the final version of the text.  It was an event that God wanted Peter to be silent about—and he knew it.  No tweets; no emails; no Facebook posts!  It was Matthew’s call to share that other part of the story with the rest of the world.  And he did.

Today we pray to be like Peter in his later years: the Peter who had learned (sometimes painfully) the lesson of Ecclesiastes 3 about speaking at the right time and being silent at the right time.  In fact, I’ll give you a short prayer that you can say every day for that intention—and I’ll end my homily with this prayer:

“Lord, give me the grace to speak when you want me to speak, and the grace to be silent when you want me to be silent.  And give me the wisdom to know the difference.”

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The ‘Why’ of Sexual Abuse in the Church

(Twenty-first Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on August 26, 2018 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Joshua 24: 1-18b; Psalm 34; Ephesians 5: 21-32; John 6: 60-69.)

[For the audio link to this homily, click here: Twenty-first Sunday 2018]

It’s always tragic when people walk away from Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

It was tragic when the rich young man did it after our Lord challenged him to give up his possessions and become a disciple.

It was tragic when the people who heard the Bread of Life Discourse walked away, as we were told they did in today’s gospel reading from John 6: “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”

But it’s even more tragic when people walk away from Jesus Christ because of the scandalous and sinful behavior of Christians—especially members of the clergy.  When the rich young man walked away from Jesus he did it because of his materialism; when the people in John 6 walked away from Jesus they did it because their faith was weak.  But when those who’ve been abused by members of the clergy (Catholic or non-Catholic) walk away from Jesus Christ, they do so with a wound that cuts them to the core and undermines the very foundations of their faith.

It’s a wound, unfortunately, that does not easily heal.

Whenever I hear of the immoral and scandalous behavior of bishops, priests, and deacons of the Church (which has been quite often in recent weeks), I thank God for the blessings he gave me in my youth in protecting me from such things.  My mother was the secretary at my home parish—Holy Angels in Barrington.  I did maintenance work at the church as teenager; I was an altar boy; I was involved in CYO and youth ministry; I even taught CCD.  Consequently, I was around a lot of priests a lot of the time during my adolescent and young adult years.  Some of those priests you probably know: Fr. Giudice; Fr. Pat Rotondi (the pastor of Holy Angels at the time); Fr. Bob Evans (now Bishop Evans); Fr. Jim Verdelotti; Fr. Bob McManus (who’s now Bishop McManus of the Worcester diocese)—and many, many others.

Never did I have a bad experience with any of them.  Never!  They were good men who were very good to me.  I was totally comfortable around them.

For example, I can remember going into the rectory every once in a while (when I was taking a break from my maintenance work) and saying to my mom, “Would you please buzz Fr. Pat and see if he has time to hear my confession?”

So she’d buzz him on the intercom—and he normally would say yes (unless he was busy working on a homily or something else really important).  And I’d proceed to go up to the second floor into his private quarters, take a seat in his sitting room and make my confession.

Nowadays that kind of thing would never happen—and should never happen given the scandals of the last 20 years!—but back then I thought nothing of it.  Fr. Pat always treated me with respect and compassion—plus he was really smart and had a lot of wisdom.  I trusted him, and in this case my trust was well-placed.

That was typical of my experience of the priesthood in my youth.  It was almost all positive.

Well, unfortunately, as we all know, it hasn’t been that way for everybody.  All too many have been violated by despicable actions that should never have happened.  And even though this kind of abuse is rampant in every segment of our society right now (according to one study I read 14% of men and 32% of women in our country claim to have been sexually abused by some adult during their youth), that’s no excuse for the evil behavior of bishops, priests and deacons.  We preach chastity, and we’re supposed to live chastity.  It’s as simple as that.

And most, praise God, do live as they should—at least 96% do according to the 2004 study that was done by the John Jay College for Criminal Justice.  But, given the fact that we have about 35,000 priests in the United States right now (most people don’t realize there are that many priests in our country), even a small percentage of bad ones can do a lot of damage to a lot of people.

And they have.

What I want to share with you now is why we’re in this mess.  I’ve never shared this in a homily before, but I will now because it needs to be said.

You will hear from people (especially in the mainstream media) that the reason the Church has had to deal with these scandals in recent years is because the Church is old fashioned, the Church is out of date, the Church’s morality is oppressive, etc.  Their basic point is that for things to get better, the Church needs to accept modern, progressive ideas—especially regarding personal moral issues like contraception and abortion and homosexuality.  The Church, in other words, needs to “get with the rest of the world.”

That, my brothers and sisters, is totally, completely, 100% wrong.  The problem here is not that the Church needs to get with the world, the problem is that after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, a lot of people in the Church (clergy and laity alike) DID get with the world!!!  They embraced the morality of the sexual revolution, which was happening in American society at the very same time.

And many of the people who embraced these immoral ideas got PhDs and were given positions of authority in Catholic institutions like colleges and seminaries.  Some were (and are) members of the clergy, some were (and are) lay people.  This explains why some of you have sent your believing children off to Catholic colleges, only to have them come back four years later with no faith, and living the kind of lifestyle that would have made Hugh Hefner proud when he was alive.

It’s not a coincidence.

During the time when most of the abuse in the Church occurred (from the end of Vatican II in the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s) many seminaries were a mess.  Consequently any sinful tendencies seminarians had going in tended to be exacerbated.  Many, many seminarians were not taught to accept and live the teachings of the Church regarding faith and morals.  They weren’t taught the truth.  Quite oppositely, they were taught by their professors in their theology, psychology, sociology, history and even Scripture classes that everything in the Church was changing.  The Mass had changed, the fast and abstinence laws had changed, so these professors assured their seminarian students that in the very near future the Church’s moral teachings would change—so they just had to hang on and be patient for a little while.

It was a lie—a big lie!  And it was a big lie with terrible consequences.  It served to discourage a lot of good seminarians, sometimes causing them to leave the seminary; while, at the same time it encouraged a lot of bad seminarians (many of whom were active homosexuals) to stay and get ordained.

That’s why we’re in the mess we’re in right now. 

Now the good news is that the atmosphere in most seminaries has improved a great deal in the last 30 or so years.  Young priests today, generally speaking, have been well-screened, receive good formation and are taught the truth in their classes.

But the damage has already been done.

And we will probably reap the tragic consequences for some time to come.

So what should we do as faithful Catholic Christians in the face of all this?

Well, one thing we should not do is walk away from the Church, because, if we do that, in some sense we’re walking away from Jesus himself—since the Church is the Body of Christ.  The Church is also our spiritual mother; and you don’t abandon your mother when she’s sick.  And we need to try to remember that, in spite of the sins of her members, there is always great holiness in the Church.  That’s because Christ—and many saints—are always present in it.

And it’s through the Church that the grace of salvation comes to us from Jesus Christ.

Our attitude, ultimately, should be the attitude of Peter and the apostles at the end of John 6: “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

That having been said, we should also do all we can to support the victims of these and similar crimes, regardless of where they experienced the abuse: at church, at school, at the doctor’s office, on a scouting trip, at a family picnic—wherever. 

And, of course, we should also pray for them, that they will ultimately find healing for their inner wounds, and in the process find their way back to the Body of Christ.

And please don’t forget to pray for those of us in priestly ministry who are trying to do it right, who are being faithful to our vows and promises—which is the majority.  We need your prayers because the bad guys have cast a dark shadow on all of us, and that can be very discouraging.

The bottom line is this, my brothers and sisters: A good, holy priest is Satan’s greatest enemy on this earth because he brings Christ sacramentally into the world; but a bad priest is Satan’s greatest ally.  These scandals have made that fact crystal clear.

Let me end this homily on a positive note, with some words from St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests.  He’s speaking here in this text about good priests: those who are obedient, who are faithful, who do the Lord’s work quietly each and every day.  May God give us many more of them in the future.  St. John Vianney wrote:
O how great is the priest! If he realized what he is he would die… God obeys him: he utters a few words and the Lord descends from Heaven at his voice, to be contained within a small host. Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not have the Lord. Who put him there in the tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for the journey? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, bathing it one last time in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest—always the priest. And if the soul should happen to die (as a result of sin) who will raise it up, who will restore its calm and peace? Again the priest. After God, the priest is everything. Only in heaven will he fully realize what he is.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

HGTV’s ‘House Hunters’: A Metaphor for Life

(Assumption 2018: This homily was given on August 15, 2018 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Revelation 11:19-12:10; Psalm 45; 1 Corinthians 15: 20-27; Luke 1: 39-46.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Assumption 2018]

A 2016 article in the Washington Post called it “one of the most unlikely and unstoppable juggernauts on TV.”  The Post called it that because of its incredible popularity.  At the time 25 million people per month were watching it.  It wouldn’t surprise me if that number has increased in the last two years. 

I’m talking here about the House Hunters program on the HGTV network.

I confess that even I have been drawn into its “web” from time to time.  When I go to Barrington on my day off, every once in a while I’ll find my sister and my brother-in-law watching it—and invariably I’ll get hooked and end up watching it with them.

For those who might never have seen it, this is a reality show in which a couple or family searches for a new home.  In a typical episode, a local realtor presents the prospective buyers with three properties that meet their requirements and are priced within their budget.  Then, at the end of the show, the couple or family chooses one of the three to purchase.  Part of the fun of watching the show is trying to anticipate which property they’ll pick.

By the way, I almost always get it wrong.  I guess that’s one reason why I don’t sell real estate!

Fr. Ray, what does this have to do with Mary and the feast of the Assumption?

Actually, quite a bit.  It also has a lot to do with us.

You see, I have a theory as to why this program, House Hunters, is so popular.  This is just my idea; you can agree with it or disagree with it—but I think it’s true.

I really believe that House Hunters is as popular as it is, because the show is actually A METAPHOR FOR LIFE!

From one perspective, you could say that the purpose of this earthly life is for us to “choose a house”—a house that we will live in for all eternity!  Jesus himself indicated this in John 14 when he said, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”

That’s one of the possible choices that we can make: to live in our heavenly Father’s house with Jesus Christ and all the saints for all eternity.

Of course, we can also make another choice: to live forever in another house—a house where it’s very hot (even a lot hotter than it’s been in Westerly in recent weeks).

And just like the couples on the House Hunters television program, we must make a choice!  It’s not optional.  The only difference is they have three houses to choose from on the TV show, but we have only two in life.

Today the Church celebrates the choice that Mary made.  That’s what the feast of the Assumption is all about.  “From this day all generations will call me blessed,” Mary said in her Magnificat.  (We heard that a few moments ago in our gospel reading.)  Because our Blessed Mother never sinned and was always obedient to God, she was blessed at the end of her earthly life by being taken up—soul and body—to the special “dwelling place” that God the Father had prepared for her in his incredibly big house. 

This is the common destiny of all those who leave this life in the state of grace—which is a group that will hopefully someday include all of us!  Although for us it will only happen at the resurrection of the dead at the end of time.  Mary’s soul was never separated from her body, even at the end of her earthly life.  Our souls, on the other hand, are separated from our bodies when we die.  Our bodies then go in the ground; our souls go either to hell or heaven (or to purgatory on their way to heaven).  It’s only at the end of time that our bodies will be raised up and become like the bodies of Jesus and Mary.

Therefore, what happened to our Blessed Mother 2,000 years ago when she was assumed into heaven is an anticipation of what will happen to the rest of the saved at the end of the world.

This should motivate us to examine our consciences each and every day so that we can identify and repent of our sins (if necessary by bringing them to the sacrament of Reconciliation).  In today’s meditation in the Magnificat prayer book, the author—a Carmelite nun from England—says this: “Jesus is what he is because of his life on earth, because he fulfilled to the last iota the Father’s will.  So also Mary is what she is because of her life on earth.  The glory, the holiness, which now shines resplendent in heaven was forged here below.”

Mary, in other words, chose the right house in eternity, by making the right choices in time.  May God help us to repent of our sins and to follow Mary’s example of holiness in our own lives here on earth, so that in the end we will also choose to live forever—body and soul—in the Father’s house and not the hell house.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Pope Paul VI’s ‘John 6 Moment’

Blessed Paul VI

(Seventeenth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on July 29, 2018 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read 2 Kings 4: 42-44; Psalm 145: 10-18; Ephesians 4: 1-6; John 6: 1-15.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Seventeenth Sunday 2018]

He went from almost becoming a king, to almost being completely abandoned.  I’m talking here about Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior—specifically the Jesus we read about in the 6th chapter of the Gospel of St. John.  Today we heard the opening lines of that chapter, which tell the famous story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.  We will hear excerpts from the rest of John 6 in our gospel readings for the next 4 Sundays.  (It’s a really long chapter!)  In these opening lines that we heard a few moments ago, we were told that Jesus fed 5,000 people near the Sea of Galilee.  He fed them with bodily food.  He worked an incredible miracle, and gave them all a meal of fish and bread.

And they liked it so much that they wanted to make him their king (probably so that they could get a few more free meals!).  Jesus, of course, didn’t come down from heaven to be an earthly ruler of an earthly kingdom, so before they could crown him he slipped away and hid himself on a nearby mountain.

But Jesus saw this same crowd again the following day; this time on the opposite shore of the Sea of Galilee.  And there he began to speak to them about another food that he intended to give them in the very near future: a spiritual food that would bring them eternal life, namely, the Holy Eucharist. 

Which caused most of the men and women in the crowd to (for lack of a better expression) “freak out”—especially when Jesus began to say things like, “My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink”; and “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world”; and “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you do not have life within you”; and, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.”

The truth about the Holy Eucharist was too much for most of these people to handle, and so the majority of them walked away after Jesus gave this teaching—even some who had been following our Lord for quite a while.  The text says, “As a result of this [teaching], many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”

Thankfully, the twelve Apostles did remain faithful to our Lord, even though at the time they didn’t fully understand the message Jesus had given.  When Jesus asked the Twelve if they were going to leave too, Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

But most of the other followers of our Lord did not continue in their discipleship.  They “threw in the towel” as his followers—perhaps forever (although we can hope and pray that at least some of them eventually returned).

Which brings us to Pope Paul VI.  Blessed Paul VI, who will be canonized a saint later this year, understood what Jesus went through in John, chapter 6, in a way that most of us (thankfully) never will.  Pope Paul had what I would call his “John 6 moment” fifty years ago this past week, when he published an encyclical entitled “Humanae vitae” (which in Latin means, “Of Human Life”).  In that document, which is mostly about the beauty and dignity of marriage, the Holy Father did what many people were convinced he would not dare to do in the midst of the sexual revolution: he reaffirmed the traditional Christian teaching condemning the use of artificial contraception—even within marriage.  Now notice that I call it “the traditional Christian teaching” as opposed to “the traditional Catholic teaching.”  I do that because, prior to 1930, most (if not all) mainline Protestants believed the very same thing that Catholics believed: that contraception is immoral.

Many Protestants (and many Catholics!) today are not aware of that fact—but it’s true.  This was a universal Christian belief.

Then at their Lambeth Conference of 1930, the bishops of the Anglican Church caved in to social pressure.  They decided that contraception could be morally acceptable in some limited circumstances.  Well, shortly thereafter “some circumstances” turned into “all circumstances”—and every other mainline Protestant church followed suit.

Which is where we’re at today.  What ALL Christians believed about contraception for over 19 centuries, only the Catholic Church still believes and still teaches today—thanks, in large part, to the courage of Paul VI.

But he suffered for it—from July 25, 1968 (the day he published Humanae vitae) until August 6, 1978 (the day he died).  Like Jesus in John 6, Pope Paul had to deal with opposition from people in his own flock—especially the intellectuals, who wasted no time in stirring up an internal rebellion in the Church—a rebellion that’s had a negative effect on Catholic life in the United States for the last 5 decades.  Within a week of the encyclical’s publication, more than 600 theology professors from around the country signed a “statement of dissent” objecting to what the Pope said in the document.  And it’s gone on from there, such that now only 20% of Catholics accept the traditional Christian teaching.

Which is one of the reasons why the divorce rate among Catholics right now is pretty much the same as the divorce rate in the rest of society.  Catholic couples who practice Natural Family Planning, on the other hand—who do follow Church teaching—have an almost non-existent divorce rate.

A coincidence?

Not according to Blessed Paul VI.  The Holy Father warned the Church and the world that when you separate the unitive and procreative dimensions of the marital act through artificial contraception, certain consequences—though unintended—naturally follow.  He accurately predicted in Humanae vitae that an acceptance of birth control would lead to an increase in sexual promiscuity and marital infidelity; that men would begin to treat women more and more as objects to be used for their own selfish pleasure; and that people would be pressured and even forced at times by civil governments to limit the size of their families.

Pope Paul VI was laughed at and ridiculed when he said these things in 1968, as I’m sure Jesus was laughed at and ridiculed when he gave that teaching on the Eucharist 2,000 years ago.  But the Holy Father was right!  He was right on every count.

What was supposed to empower women and strengthen marriages has had the exact opposite effect in the last fifty years.  The widespread use of contraception (even by practicing Catholics) has resulted in the further objectification of women, an increase in adultery, more broken marriages and families, a greater number of sexually-transmitted diseases (some of which are life-threatening), and a divorce rate that is sky high.

So, contrary to what you’ll normally hear (especially in the secular media), soon-to-be St. Paul VI was a man ahead of his time.  He was a humble, courageous and steadfast prophet of God, who spoke the truth about married love and the transmission of life to a world that desperately needed to hear it.

And still does.