Sunday, June 14, 2015

What’s Grown Depends on What’s Sown

(Eleventh Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on June 14, 2015 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Mark 4: 26-34.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Eleventh Sunday 2015]

What’s grown depends on what’s sown.

That’s a truth that all farmers and gardeners understand based on their experiences of farming and gardening.  When a farmer plants a field of corn, for example, he doesn’t expect to reap a harvest of tomatoes (at least not in that particular field).  When a gardener plants some geranium seeds in the flowerbed in front of her house, she doesn’t expect petunias to grow there.

“Fr. Ray, this is common sense.”

Yes, it is—at least when it comes to corn and tomatoes and geraniums and petunias and other plants that are grown from seeds.  But the thing is, this principle (What’s grown depends on what’s sown) applies to other areas of life besides farming and gardening.

And in many of those other areas of life, sad to say, the truth is not so obvious to a lot of people.  Either they’re unable—or unwilling—to see the connection between certain ideas that are “sown” into the minds of modern men and women, and the actions that result from (or you might say “grow from”) those ideas.

Case in point: Bruce Jenner—now known to most of the world as “Caitlyn Jenner” after undergoing what’s commonly referred to as a “sex change”.  (Although that’s a misnomer.  As Fr. Roman Manchester put it in a letter he wrote last week to the Providence Journal: “No amount of surgery, hormone therapy, makeup, and women’s clothing will ever change his Y-chromosome into an X-chromosome.”)

Now I don’t watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians on a regular basis, but after all the hoopla in the media surrounding Jenner’s actions I decided to tune in for a few moments the other night.  And I’m glad I did.  At one point two of the Kardashian daughters were having a conversation, and one proceeded to announce to the other that Bruce was having surgery that day (surgery obviously related to his physical transformation).  Well, immediately after she did that, there was complete silence between the two of them.  The two girls just stared at one another with these dazed, confused, very sad looks on their faces.

That silence—and those looks—said it all.

I think deep in their hearts they sensed what Dr. Paul McHugh, the former head of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital has been telling people for years: that “this intensely felt sense of being transgendered constitutes a mental disorder”—a mental disorder that he says calls for “understanding, treatment and prevention”.

In a column he wrote for the Wall Street Journal last year, Dr. McHugh also makes the point that so-called “sex-reassignment surgery” doesn’t solve the problems that transgendered people have.  In fact, in many cases, it only makes their psychological and emotional problems worse!  

Listen to some of what he wrote:

We at Johns Hopkins University—which in the 1960s was the first American medical center to venture into "sex-reassignment surgery"—launched a study in the 1970s comparing the outcomes of transgendered people who had the surgery with the outcomes of those who did not. Most of the surgically treated patients described themselves as "satisfied" by the results, but their subsequent psycho-social adjustments were no better than those who didn't have the surgery. And so at Hopkins we stopped doing sex-reassignment surgery, since producing a "satisfied" but still troubled patient seemed an inadequate reason for surgically amputating normal organs.

It now appears that our long-ago decision was a wise one. A 2011 study at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden produced the most illuminating results yet regarding the transgendered, evidence that should give advocates pause. The long-term study—up to 30 years—followed 324 people who had sex-reassignment surgery. The study revealed that beginning about 10 years after having the surgery, the transgendered began to experience increasing mental difficulties. Most shockingly, their suicide mortality rose almost 20-fold above the comparable nontransgender population. This disturbing result has as yet no explanation but probably reflects the growing sense of isolation reported by the aging transgendered after surgery. The high suicide rate certainly challenges the surgery prescription.

Now I must tell you, on the day I was ordained almost 30 years ago, if you had said to me that I would someday be addressing this particular topic in a weekend homily, I would have called you crazy!  So how did this happen?  How did this issue become so important and necessary to speak about?  How did we get to the point in our country where desperate acts of self-mutilation like this are actually called ‘good’ and ‘courageous’?”

Well it all goes back to the principle I mentioned at the beginning of my homily: What’s grown depends on what’s sown.

Think of the ideas that have been “sown” into the minds of Americans and others in the Western world for the last half century or so.  Ideas such as:

  • ·         Freedom means doing what you want to do, not what you ought to do.  So if you want to engage in some form of self-mutilation, go right ahead.  Don’t let anybody violate your freedom!
  • ·         Feelings matter more than facts.  So if you “feel” like a woman, it doesn’t matter that, biologically, you’re a male with XY chromosomes.  Ignore the science—ignore reality!—and follow your emotions.
  • ·         It’s your body and you should be able to do whatever you want with it.
  • ·         When it comes to sex, almost anything goes.
  • ·         Self-indulgence leads to happiness.
  • ·         You should be able to decide for yourself what’s right and what’s wrong.
  • ·         There are no moral absolutes; everything is relative.

Do those ideas sound familiar?  They should.  Those are some of the seeds—the really BAD seeds—the seeds of destruction—that have been “planted” in the minds of Americans on a daily basis for at least the last 50 years—especially in our universities, in the arts, and in the mainstream media.

And now we’re reaping the tragic harvest.  Bruce Jenner, who needs our compassion and prayers more than anything else, is just one example of it.

But it doesn’t have to be this way!  And that’s the message I want to focus your attention on as I conclude this morning.  There is still hope in the midst of the darkness.  Jesus makes that clear to us in today’s gospel text with these parables about seeds.  Here he’s talking specifically about good seeds and about the power of those good seeds—which are the seeds of the kingdom of God—to grow in the world.  These are the seeds of truth and love and peace—and true happiness!  And he indicates there that these seeds grow by God’s power, not ours.

But WE have to plant them!  That’s key.  Remember, what’s grown depends on what’s sown.  And, as every farmer and gardener will tell you, the sowing doesn’t happen magically!  When I planted a garden at my home in Barrington in the years after my father’s death, I knew that if I didn’t put the seeds and the plants in the ground every spring, only weeds would grow.

And they would grow quickly!

That’s a law of nature—but it’s also a law that applies to the spiritual dimension of our lives.

Dear Lord, give us all the desire to know the truth, and live the truth, and teach the truth—especially to our young people, who are being exposed to the bad seed of the world constantly—so that more and more of the good seed of your kingdom will grow among us.  Amen.