Discernment in Action Week 1: Masculinity & Femininity

(Homily for Twenty-Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B)

Message: I ask you to prayerfully reflect on Jesus' words taking us back to the beginning - and to thank God for the gifts of masculinity and femininity.

Last Sunday we concluded a five-part series on Discernment of Spirits. I now invite you to join me applying those principles to specific issues.

As I you may remember, I told that I feel like a guy who wanted to take you to the top of Mount Rainier but then winds up giving you only a postcard! St. Ignatius has 14 rules for Discernment of Spirits. From them I have taken three principles:

1. Prayer: If you donít pray, you donít have a prayer against Satan. Like Pope Francis we need to carve out time each day to speak to God and listen to him.

2. Gratitude: Radical thankfulness can move a person from desolation to consolation. Remember Stephen Colbertís quote from Tolkien Ė What punishments of God are not his gifts?

3. Focus: As Jesus says in the Gospel, what matters is where you and I spend eternity Ė with God or separated from him. Focus on what matters and donít sweat the small stuff.

With these three principles in mind, let's now hear what Jesus says about the first and most basic vocation: marriage. When the Pharisees ask Jesus about divorce, he quotes from Genesis. "From the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female....'" This may seem obvious, but we need to keep going back to square one - especially today.

We live in a culture with two extremes regarding human sexuality. On one side our culture says that sexuality - being male and female - is no big deal. It does not matter much what you do with your sexuality - even if you want to remake it. A couple months ago, when I signed up for gmail, I got these options: male, female, other! It reminded me of the old Phyllis Diller joke. She says that when she was born, her dad asked the doctor, boy or girl? The doctor replied, "no." Maybe Phyllis Diller was not so much a comedian as a prophet. Our local school district now has bathrooms for boys, girls and other.

That's one side: sexuality - being male or female - does not much matter. On the other hand, if a person turns on prime time television you get a different message: Sexuality is the only thing that matters! We live in the shadow of Sigmund Freud. He posited that from our earliest days hidden sexual desires drive us. His theory of childhood sexuality shocked the medical profession along with society in general. For Freud this shock confirmed his theory. Better, he says, to stop repressing our sexual drives. Our society has followed his advice for decades. The results are not pretty, but we keep hoping: Just a little more openness, a little less repression - and things will be OK.

So we have two extremes: Sexuality doesn't matter much - except that it is about the only thing that matters. The Bible steers a middle course between those extremes. Genesis and Jesus make it clear that sexuality is not what matters most. The first thing the Bible says about us is that God created us in his own image. We have a radical equality because of our relationship to God.

But the Bible immediately adds, "male and female he created them." The gift of sexuality makes possible fatherhood and motherhood, "Be fertile and fill the earth." As revelation advances in the Old and New Testament we see that being father or mother has a meaning deeper than continuing our species. Fecundity means that we have spiritual as well as physical children.

Jesus wants us to learn spiritual fatherhood and motherhood. A few weeks ago I remarked: Men are depressed because we're not sure what our role is. And women are depressed for the same reason: because we men don't know who we are! I was being a bit playful, but there's a serious issue here. Pope John Paul expressed it these words: "It is the duty of every man to uphold the dignity of every woman." Today's widespread depression comes in great part from men not fulfilling that duty.

Because of that failure women get the message that their worth depends on some impossible ideal of physical attractiveness. I don't know about you, but it breaks my heart. I don't have an easy solution, but I have known young women and men who have experienced liberation by studying Pope John Paul's Theology of the Body. Beginning with today's Scripture verse, "male and female he created," he calls young people to a "beautiful love."

The coming Gospels will help us understand the call to beautiful love. For today I ask you to prayerfully reflect on Jesus' words taking us back to the beginning - and to thank God for the gift of masculinity and femininity. Amen.

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Spanish Version

Plan for this mini-series:

October 4: Discernment in Action Week 1: Masculinity & Femininity
October 11: Discernment in Action Week 2:
October 18: Discernment in Action Week 3:

From Archives (27th Ordinary Sunday - Year B):

2012: A Difficult and Controversial Gospel
2009: Male and Female He Made Them
2006: What God Has Joined
2003: Nuptial Meaning of Human Body

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