2nd Sunday, Year B, 2006
The human mind has an imposing capacity for self-deception in excusing oneself from–among other things–the law of chastity. Indulgence in various forms of impure conduct thus easily finds ready at hand compelling reasons for allowing oneself a measure of liberty in this regard. Accordingly, to have one’s pleasure in things God has forbidden is taken as a ‘need’, as something necessary as food or sleep, as a ‘natural’ or ‘normal’ human expression that should be denied no one since the good God–one assures oneself–would surely not want to withhold the pleasures of the body from any normal human being, at least a little bit, and from time to time. One must have them in order to be ‘fulfilled’, to be a ‘fully human’ person. Thus goes a line of wishful thinking, of self-deception, that gives oneself permission to do the things that God has forbidden.
It’s important to unmask this subtle mental trickery and to recognize it as a denigration of the human intellect in accommodating the moral weakness that is ours due to original sin. No matter how difficult it is to practice what is sometimes called ‘the difficult commandment’ (that is, the 6th commandment), to attempt to trick oneself by ‘letting oneself go’ into forbidden areas of conduct is neither good nor natural nor normal (never mind how common the transgressions are) but is plain and simple a lie, a falsehood. No amount of self-justification can ever excuse one from observing the law of chastity which God has decreed for every human person according to his state in life. And (it’s important to add) this law to be pure in thought and deed, is not something imposed on us by God or (as is so often said by the Catholic Church) as something imposed upon us from without, as if we were being denied something that should be ours by right; rather, chastity is a requirement that proceeds from within ourselves, from our nature, so that one who sins against the body does violence to himself (as well as to God and often also to others). No one therefore can flee from the requirement to be pure. All the rationalizing for impurity is necessarily futile, and is destined always to be a frustrating and a denigrating experience. God did not make us for that. It violates our human nature.
This is, as I have indicated, an internal law, from which no man or woman can escape. But it is also a teaching that our holy religion confirms and amplifies through the teaching of Sacred Scripture and the teaching of Holy Church. Thus we find as our second reading today this majestic passage, truncated somewhat in the lectionary, from First Corinthians. "The body is not for immorality. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Avoid immorality. The immoral person commits sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?" The fuller context of the biblical passage from which this reading has been extracted says that "the unrighteous will not enter the kingdom of God." And, to make clear whom he means by unrighteous, Saint Paul specifies this as those indulge in impurity (among other mortal sins). This truth is nowadays seldom admitted; the subject is, more often than not, not so much denied as passed over in silence. In proportion to this mysterious silence is the abundant evidence of sins of the flesh. Can anyone be oblivious to it? Can anyone not notice it? Impurity is everywhere making its offers to gain our attention and to have us give in. How some people can watch much of what is now found on television baffles me. They must have a moral strength superior to the greatest saints, since they, every one of them, fought strenuously to avoid the least suggestion of displeasing God through impurity. All will have to answer to God for their decisions, their allowances, as well as the deeds that proceed from them.
There’s no denying that fact that the desire for pleasure is inherent in our nature. Everyone needs from time to time a good meal and some other comforts of life. But there are things which are legitimate pleasures (which, even these, must be used with moderation, lest they become obsessive and domineering) and there are other pleasures that are forbidden by the law of nature as well as by the express law of God. I think we need to recognize the legitimacy of hate. It’s a good thing to hate what is hateful, that is, to hate the things that are odious to God.
We Catholic Christians also have the higher motivation to practice chastity as children of God thorough baptism. This is no mean thing. Returning to Saint Paul’s lesson today: we are not our own; we belong to God who has ‘purchased’ us through the redemptive death of Jesus. And so he concludes, ‘glorify God in your body’ and, thus, do not dishonor or shame yourselves through sins of impurity.
In order to be pure, in order to be able to resist the powerful urgings of the flesh, one must at times practice self-denial of the legitimate and good things that life has to offer. To refuse to have a little of this or that good thing from time to time trains oneself in a discipline that enables him to have the power to resist strong temptation when it comes pounding at the door of the soul. Not giving in to every whim of caprice, to every desire, and to curb one’s forward-moving tendencies is a good and necessary thing in order to live a life in accordance with the will of God. How important it is then for parents to discipline their children right from the start and not to spoil them! A little indulgence in the beginning will create a huge craving, an enlarged capacity, for sin later on in life.
Let’s revive two essential words in our vocabulary, hate and no. They are indispensable. Hate sin in order to say yes to God.