Natural Family Planning (NFP) is an important way in which we place the lives of our families under the lordship of Jesus. I invite you all to explore its spiritual, emotional, and physical benefits for you and your families. Start here.
May God bless us all as we strive to find him through following his will in our lives.
Homily: 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle B
Fifty years ago, it was easier to be a religious person. This is because the culture at large supported religious practice. In fact, it was something that was expected of people who considered themselves “respectful members” of the community. Those, for example, who didn’t attend some kind of church service on Sunday were considered with suspicion as if they had some sort of “ulterior motive”. Since then, however, both the landscape of the Church and of the culture at large have changed dramatically. The Second Vatican Council ushered in a time of great renewal in the Church, while at the same time the moral fabric of Western Civilization began to unravel. Because of this, the culture’s tacit support of religious practice began to disappear. Pastors of every sort of mainline denomination were unprepared, it seems, for this change and so have struggled to adapt to the needs of the two most recent generations.
For these two most recent generations it is no longer considered a “social status” marker to be directly involved with or connected to a church. For two generations now, we’ve taught (for better and for worse) that faith is one’s personal choice, alongside choices about career, marriage, and the like. In a way, we’ve taught the men and women from these generations to be their own shepherds: to guide their own destinies based on whatever they think is best. What we’re finding now is that we seem to have two generations of people who look like sheep without a shepherd, wandering aimlessly, looking for something to satisfy the deepest longing in their hearts.
And so in this we can see an echo of the image painted for us by the prophet Jeremiah in the first reading. There it was the failure of the leaders of the Israelite people to reinforce the religious practice and devotion of the people, but the result was the same: a culture that no longer supported true devotion to God alone—a result of religious leaders who no longer shepherded their people—and so the people began to shepherd themselves: leaving them scattered, like lost sheep.
This individualistic way of treating the faith is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is missing an important element: an effort to lead people into an encounter with Christ. In the past, the cultural support of religious practice meant that people came to encounter Christ a little more “implicitly”: that is to say, they got it simply by being exposed to it in high doses through religious practice. And this was effective, as is evidenced by the many “more mature” members of our community who remain faithful to their religious practice today. Today, however, this encounter with Christ must be much more explicit: that is to say, it has to be something that happens consciously and willfully in a person’s heart. When it is, however, the effect is the same: a life-long commitment to following him and practicing that faith in a worshiping community.
In the Gospel reading today, we see how Jesus has fulfilled God’s promise that he made through the prophet Jeremiah to be a true shepherd of God’s people. Jesus had been teaching, driving out demons, and healing the sick—and his apostles had been doing the same in his name—and so when they returned great throngs of crowds gathered to hear more from Jesus. They had encountered him personally and thus nothing could keep them from following him: not even Jesus’ attempt to slip away to a deserted place with his disciples. That, my friends, is true devotion. And that is what happens when men and women have an authentic encounter with Christ.
Of course, there are many ways to lead our brothers and sisters back to an encounter with Christ: through service of others, through companionship in difficult times, through Eucharistic Adoration, and through the witness of a joy-filled life, just to name a few. Today, however, I want to highlight just one of them. Saint John Paul II often explained how the family is the place where many people first come to know Jesus. And so he encouraged all parents to help foster in the home a place where in love is lived: with spouses shepherding, loving, and caring for each other and their children. In other words, he called for the family home to be the first place where people serve one another, support one another in difficult times, and witness to a joy-filled life of faith so as to be the privileged place of encounter with Jesus.
In his Apostolic Exhortation On the Role of the Christian Family in the World, John Paul II said: “It is, in fact, to the families of our times that the Church must bring the unchangeable and ever new Gospel of Jesus Christ, just as it is the families involved in the present conditions of the world that are called to accept and to live the plan of God that pertains to them.” One of the ways in which the family accepts and lives the plan of God that pertains to them is in how the husband and wife live out the marital covenant that they formed before God. Couples have a noble vocation to embody God’s love in their marital gestures of life and love, for the good of each other, their families, and the larger society. The methods of Natural Family Planning respect God’s design for married love, which is why the Church supports its various methods. The essence of the Church’s teaching is to encourage couples to celebrate and join their love with the creative spirit of God—that is, to embody God’s love—and thus make their home a place of encounter with Jesus Christ: an encounter that transforms lives for good and forms life-long disciples of Jesus, our true shepherd.
I specifically highlight the Church’s support of the various methods of Natural Family Planning today because this week the United States Bishops are promoting Natural Family Planning Awareness Week and so I want to invite all couples—from those who have been married for many years all the way down to those who are now just planning to get married—to explore NFP as a profound way of making your homes a place of encounter with Jesus and so to begin to gather back to him his sheep who have been wandering as if they have had no shepherd.
My brothers and sisters, the culture at large has seemingly abandoned religion as one of the core elements that held it together. By embracing God’s life-giving will for each of our lives, however, we will create a new culture of encounter with Jesus that will turn the tide against the destructive forces that have scattered God’s sheep from his flock. And we will once again know the joy of communion in him with our lost brothers and sisters: the very communion we celebrate today here in this Holy Mass.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – July 19th, 2015