Sunday, August 02, 2015

‘Futility of Mind’ as Evident in the People of Planned Parenthood and in the Editors of the New York Times

(Eighteenth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on August 2, 2015 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 2015]

I’m sure you’ve all heard about it—but probably not nearly as much as you should have!

I’m talking about the recent scandal involving Planned Parenthood—an organization, incidentally, that receives millions and millions of taxpayer dollars every year to finance its dirty work of killing innocent babies in their mothers’ wombs.

The controversy began when an undercover video was released which shows Planned Parenthood’s Senior Director of Medical Services, “Doctor” (put Doctor there in quotes) Deborah Nucatola, describing how her organization sells the body parts of aborted children (which is illegal in this country), and admitting that she uses partial-birth abortions when her customers want intact body parts.  She does it very matter-of-factly—with all the coldness of a Dr. Mengele—as she’s enjoying her lunch at a nice restaurant in the L.A. area with some prospective buyers from a human biologics company.

Or so she thought.  The people she met with that day were actually actors who were secretly recording and videotaping the entire event.  And God bless them for doing that!  God bless them for helping to reveal the truth to the world!

And they really must have been great actors, because I don’t know how anybody with a well-formed conscience could sit there and listen to Nucatola’s graphic descriptions of what they do to these little babies without throwing up!

Don’t worry, there won’t be any “graphic descriptions” in this homily.

Now what has sickened me even more than this video is the way some pro-choicers have publically defended what Planned Parenthood has done!  The editors of the New York Times, for example—who are not my favorite journalists on planet earth—wrote this in an editorial the other day:

A hidden-camera video released last week purported to show that Planned Parenthood illegally sells tissue from aborted fetuses.  It shows nothing of the sort.  [That assertion has me wondering what the editors of the Times smoke before they write their editorials!]  But it is the latest in a series of unrelenting attacks on Planned Parenthood, which offers health care services to millions of people every year.  The politicians howling to defund Planned Parenthood care nothing about the truth here, being perfectly willing to undermine women’s reproductive rights any way they can.

Ah yes, the “war on women” card!  They love to play that one whenever they have the opportunity.

Then, of course, they go on to tell us about the great medical advances that are sure to come from fetal tissue research—which clearly demonstrates that the Times’ editors need to go back to college and take a course in basic ethics, where you learn that the end doesn’t justify the means.


Which brings us to our second reading today—this text from Ephesians 4.  St. Paul talks here about what he calls “futility of mind.”  That’s such a great expression.  Listen again to this passage (and here I’ve added a few of the verses which were not included in the Lectionary):

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, they have become callous and have handed themselves over to licentiousness for the practice of every kind of impurity to excess.  That is not how you learned Christ assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus, that you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.

Futility is uselessness.  Our minds were made to know truth (that’s their purpose)—like the truth that human life begins at the moment of conception. But when our minds reject the truth—in this particular case a scientific truth—they do become, in a very real sense, useless!  They don’t do for us what they’re supposed to do for us.  Instead of guiding us toward heaven by leading us to live lives of virtue rooted in truth, they point us toward “the other place” by leading us to commit acts of vice which are rooted in lies!

Or at least to support and condone acts of vice, as is the case here with the editors of the New York Times.  By the way, I wonder if the Times’ editors realize that, according to their line of thinking, we should all lend our support to many of those bad priests who’ve been convicted of doing horribly evil things with children.  Did you realize that?  The editors tell us, in effect, that we should ignore the gross moral evils committed by the people of Planned Parenthood because of all the good things they’ve done for people over the years.  Well, many of those bad priests did a lot of good things too—they helped many people in many different ways during their priestly ministries.  So does that mean we’re supposed to ignore all the horrific things that they also did?  Are we supposed to pretend that those crimes never happened?

I don’t think so!  But that’s the logical conclusion that you must come to if you honestly follow the line of reasoning the Times indicates that you should follow with respect to Planned Parenthood.

This is the kind of thing that happens, my brothers and sisters, when you have otherwise intelligent people who are writing editorials and doing other things “in the futility of their minds”; whose understanding, as St. Paul says in Ephesians 4, is “darkened”; who are “alienated from the life of God” because of what Paul calls “their ignorance” and their “hardness of heart.”

In chapter 4 of Ephesians, St. Paul has a lot to say about sinful behavior.  But before he speaks in that chapter about sins like lying and slander, he focuses on thoughts; he focuses on what goes on between people’s ears—that is to say, in their minds. 

Paul did that because he understood that every sin, every vicious action in this life, begins with a thought.

But if that’s true (and it is!), then the good news is that the opposite is also true.  If sinful and vicious actions begin with the thoughts that pass through people’s minds, then so do virtuous, loving actions.  They also begin with what goes on between our ears.

So obviously the key for us as Christians is to cultivate good thoughts—holy thoughts—thoughts that proceed from faith and right reason—thoughts, in other words, that are rooted in truth!

This is what St. Paul is telling us in the last few verses of today’s second reading.  After he speaks about futility of mind and the actions that follow from that way of thinking, Paul encourages us to allow God to renew our minds so that we will think clearly and rightly.  Referring to the way people like the editors of the New York Times think, Paul says:

That is not what you learned when you learned Christ.  I am assuming, of course, that he has been preached and taught to you in accord with the truth that is in Jesus: namely that you must lay aside your former way of life … and acquire a fresh, spiritual way of thinking.  You must put on that new man created in God’s image, whose justice and holiness are born of truth.  (New American Bible, 1971 edition)

If you are renewing your mind by praying daily—especially with the Scriptures; if you are renewing your mind by actively participating when you’re at Mass (not just sitting there with your mind somewhere else, but truly listening and praying with an open heart); if you’re renewing your mind by exposing yourself to the truth as often as you can by good conversations with other Christians, by good spiritual reading, by listening to good music, and by seeking out healthy forms of entertainment, then you are putting St. Paul’s words into practice.

And that will (or at least it should) make a big difference in the way you think: in the way you think about God, and others, and yourself—and the issues of the day.

Have you ever noticed that whenever they do a poll of Catholics on a particular issue, there’s always a difference—sometimes a huge difference—between the way practicing Catholics respond and the way non-practicing Catholics respond?  Practicing Catholics always support the right causes in far greater numbers than non-practicing Catholics do: they’re more pro-life; more of them support traditional marriage and family living; and more of them oppose evils like euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.

Is that a coincidence?

I don’t think so.

To me the difference can be explained very simply and very easily: it all comes down to renewed minds versus futile minds.

Dear Lord, today we pray for minds to be renewed: in us, in the members of our families, in all Catholics—and especially in the people who work for organizations like Planned Parenthood and the New York Times.