Sunday, August 05, 2012

“Futility of Mind”—What is It?

Dan Cathy, President of Chick-fil-A

(Eighteenth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on August 5, 2012 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Ephesians 4: 17-24.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Eighteenth Sunday 2012]

As Biblical expressions go, it’s a classic (at least I think it is!).

It’s concise and to the point.

It’s clever; it’s clear; it’s unambiguous—and it packs a real punch, to boot!

What are you talking about, Fr. Ray?

I’m talking about the expression St. Paul uses in today’s second reading to describe “the Gentiles.” (By the way, the term “Gentiles” is used here to signify people who do not know and follow the one, true God—today we might describe them as “pagans.”)  He says that these people live “in the futility of their minds.”

What a great expression!  The futility of their minds.  Futility is uselessness.  Our minds were made to know truth. But when our minds reject truth—in this case spiritual and moral truth—they do become, in a very real sense, useless!  They don’t do for us what they’re supposed to do for us.  They don’t guide us toward heaven by advocating a life of virtue; rather, they point us toward “the other place” by advocating a life of vice!

Many people think that a pagan, ungodly lifestyle begins with actions—evil actions; but it doesn’t.  A pagan, ungodly lifestyle begins in the mind.  It begins with how people think about things.

As the old saying goes, “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”

St. Paul understood this as well as anyone.  That’s clear from what he says in Ephesians 4 (which is where today’s second reading is taken from).  Now, it’s true, in that particular chapter of the Bible Paul does eventually speak about evil actions, but first of all he focuses on how people think—because that’s key in the process.  He says (and here I’ve included a few lines that they left out of the Lectionary): “Brothers and sisters: I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; darkened in understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance, because of their hardness of heart.”

Now the interesting thing is, sometimes even people who DO believe in the one true God—and in his Son, Jesus Christ—live in the futility of their minds.  This is not just a problem for unbelievers!  Look at the Israelites in today’s first reading.  After God had worked all those miracles for them to rescue them from slavery in Egypt: the ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the annihilation of Pharaoh’s army; after all that, they still didn’t trust him.  And so, they moaned and groaned and grumbled and complained.

In spite of the fact that the Israelites were God's chosen people, they very often lived in the futility of their minds—with darkened understanding—and with hard hearts. 

It seems that every age has at least one major issue where futility of mind abounds; one issue, in other words, where even many believers get confused as to what’s right and what’s wrong.  In the 1960s, for example, it was contraception.  In spite of warnings from Pope Paul VI and others, many Catholic couples bought into the lie that artificial birth control would make their marriages happier and more stable.

That, of course, has definitely NOT happened!  And if you don’t believe me, just read the statistics on divorce.

In the 1970s and 80s, it was abortion.  With their understanding darkened by pro-abortion politicians and journalists, many Catholics and others were not able to see what the science of genetics has since proven beyond a shadow of a doubt: that human life begins at the moment of conception.

Thus we now have millions of wounded women walking around: women who believed the lie that it’s just “a cluster of cells” or a “non-viable product of conception.”  I know, because I’ve dealt with many of them in the confessional, trying to help them find the peace and healing they so desperately want and need.

And now in the new millennium we have yet another major issue where futility of mind is rampant—a new major issue that we can add to the other two (because, unfortunately, contraception and abortion are still around).  The issue surrounds what is commonly called, “the gay lifestyle.” 

Just look at how the president of Chick-fil-A has been called every name in the book in the last two weeks for announcing that his company opposes so-called “gay marriage.”  It’s been amazing to me how all these “open-minded” people who defend free speech to the hilt when it comes to things like pornography, all of a sudden become close-minded censors of the worst kind when a guy wants to voice his support of something like traditional marriage!

I ask you, who are the real bigots in all this?

I had a conversation with a young college student the other day on this issue of the gay lifestyle, which is typical of the conversations I’ve had with many people in recent months.

This young man came to see me because he’s currently struggling with his faith.  He said to me, “Fr. Ray, I’m not sure I want to be Catholic anymore.”

I said, “Why not?”

“Well," he said, "my family all goes to church; and I did too, when I was in high school.  But when I went away to college I became friendly with some people who are gay, and I know that as Catholics we’ re supposed to hate gays.  But I don’t hate these people; I like them.”

I said, “As Catholics, we’re not supposed to hate anybody.  We may not approve of some of the things they do; but even then, as the old saying goes, we’re supposed to ‘love the sinner, and hate the sin’.”

We talked for awhile longer.  I tried to explain the teaching of the Church—that it’s not a sin to experience same-sex attraction; that the sin comes with certain actions that follow from the attraction.  I also reminded him that so-called ‘straight’ people can commit sins that are equally serious if they act on their sexual impulses in the wrong way.  I even said to him, “I know people who experience same-sex attraction—and I don’t hate them.  In fact, I consider some of them to be my friends.  Now if they’re committing a serious sin and I find out about it I certainly don’t approve of it—I don’t approve of anyone’s sin, including my own!  But I definitely don’t hate them—or anyone else for that matter.”

Well, he still had some difficulty getting his mind around this idea of loving the sinner and hating the sin, so I finally said to him, “Let me ask you a question.  Do your parents love you?”

He said, “Of course they do.”

“You’re sure of that?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Well,’ I said, ‘do your parents approve of everything you do?”

He smiled a little, and said, “No.”

I said, “THEN THEY MUST HATE YOU!  You’re saying to me that Catholics hate gays because they disapprove of some of the things that gay people do.  Well, according to that logic, your parents must hate you, because they sometimes disapprove of some of the things that you do.”

At that point, I think a ‘light bulb’ finally got turned on, and he left with a promise to reflect on what I had said.

I share this story with you today because this young man is not unique.  There are lots of people—both in and out of the Church—who think and reason in precisely this way.

To equate ‘hatred’ with ‘disapproving of another person’s actions’ is not only wrong, it’s not only misguided and unfair, it’s also a perfect example of what St. Paul means when he talks about “futility of mind.”

Dear Lord Jesus, please deliver us from this futility!

And please deliver us from it soon.