Friday, July 1, 2011

The Hard Sayings

This past Sunday was the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (formerly known as Corpus Christi). The mass that I attended also happened to be the celebration of a 50th wedding anniversary. The coincidence of the two events reminded me of an essay comparing marriage with the Eucharist that I read some fifteen or so years ago.

The gospel reading for Corpus Christi was from John’s Bread of Life Discourse. The sixth chapter of the gospel of John has a heavy influence on Catholic Eucharistic theology. Jesus tells his followers, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” (John 6:53) This is too much for many of his followers to accept. “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” (John 6:60) Jesus didn’t backpedal or nuance his words; rather, he let go those who rejected them.

Today, we find that the hard teachings – those that so many people are unable to accept – are those that deal with marriage. Jesus, through the Church, teaches that marriage is an indissoluble and exclusive union of one man and one woman. That means that polygamy, polyamory, remarriage after divorce, “open” marriages, and homosexual unions are excluded. The Church teaches that sex is reserved to marriage and must be open to the transmission of life. That means that fornication, adultery, contraception, and direct sterilization are excluded. To many people, these teachings are seen not as affirmations of what marriage is, but rather as prohibitions of behavior that they are unable to see undermines and corrupts marriage.

I’ve seen estimates that as many as 95% of married Catholics ignore Church teaching regarding contraception. The Guttmacher Institute (yes, I’m aware of its connection to Planned Parenthood) asserts that 68% of Catholic women who do not want to become pregnant “use a highly effective method” of contraception and that only 2% of Catholic women practice Natural Family Planning. Polls show that the attitude of young Catholics regarding sex outside of marriage or homosexual “marriage” are badly out of line with what the Church teaches. A 2010 Marist poll found that, among Catholic millenials, 80% believe that fornication is either morally acceptable or not a moral issue. It is as if they have said to themselves, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Rather than leave, though, they just choose to ignore what they believe is too hard to accept.

To them, and to us, Jesus asks, “Do you also want to leave?” (John 6:67) It’s a painful question to be asked, and all too often, the answer, for me at least, is “Of course I do! Life looks so much easier over on the other side, without all the burdens of being moral!” But there’s always the not-so-apparent knowledge that license and pleasure do not, in fact, lead to happiness, and that the yoke of Christ is easy and the burden light. May we always be open to the grace to answer, with Peter, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)

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