Sunday, December 2, 2007

Homily anomaly

I felt embarrassed last week when, during my visit to a reading group at Northern Virginia's Our Lady of Hope to discuss The Thrill of the Chaste, Father Bryan Belli, the church's parochial vicar, asked me for advice on preaching about chastity.

As I explained to the priest sheepishly, although he didn't realize it, he was in effect calling me out on a generalization that I usually make when I speak on chastity to college students or young adults; I note that "it's not a word you normally hear from the pulpit" —

"But you're right," Father Belli said. "It's not."

Duly encouraged, I thought for a moment and offered a few points that could pique parishioners' interest — without, one hopes, throwing them into fits of pique (though some things can't be helped). In particular, these may help them understand that chastity goes beyond mere abstinence-'til-marriage:

  • Chastity is for everyone. The Catechism, says "all the baptized are called to chastity .... according to their particular states in life" (section 2348).

    A homily about chastity for lay people should explain that there is unmarried chastity and married chastity. It should explain that "chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being" (2337). Part of that does mean reserving sex for marriage, but it also calls both the married and the unmarried to integrity and authenticity in their personal relationships. It requires shaping all one's relationships in "charity" — that is, love. "Charity is the form of all the virtues. Under its influence, chastity appears as a school of the gift of the person. Self-mastery is ordered to the gift of self. Chastity leads him who practices it to become a witness to his neighbor of God's fidelity and loving kindness" (2346). In marriage, chastity is inextricably linked to complete self-giving to one's spouse, and to appreciating one's spouse as a gift. It means having true, loving respect for him or her as a human being with dignity, as opposed to an object or a thing to which one is entitled.

  • To parents, it should be stressed that the greatest gift you can give your children are parents who love each other. This is connected to chastity because, in my view, too many parents want their children taught about chastity but are unwilling to work on their own relationships so that they are modeling chastity — as charity — for one another. As with charity, chastity begins at home, and the most important ways that it is conveyed to children is in the parents' relationship. Parents need to take the time to show their love to one another and invest in their relationship — even if it sometimes means spending a bit more one-on-one time with each other and less time with their kids. The time they do spend with their children will be more valuable for it.

  • Everyone is called to spiritual parenthood. I first learned about spiritual parenthood in Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen's Three to Get Married, but the concept's roots run deep in Church teachings, and it is a fundamental part of Pope John Paul II's theology of the body. As Dr. David Delaney of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign's Institute of Catholic Thought writes,
    John Paul says that, fundamentally, all men are created to be fathers and women to be mothers. Our vocation in this regard is also our uniqueness, in the end. Even if we do not become biological parents, we still are called to be fruitful and multiply others as spiritual children in Christ. Teachers do this by begetting spiritual children in an intellectual manner. But they and everyone else are called to live a life of holy witness such that others see and live the truth because of their example. We are charged with giving others less spiritually mature than we the benefit of our journey and acquired wisdom (even if we do not particularly see ourselves has having much of the latter). Spiritual parenthood is not optional. It is something that everyone is called to. It is an important way that we give ourselves to others which in return completes and fulfills us. God will judge us individually, but he saves us together. That is the reason He created a Church. We are called to grow in love and holiness as a family.
    I would stress a point made by Sheen that parents of biological children are not exempt from the duty to have spiritual children. As an unmarried woman, it can seem like all the pressure is on single, childless people to be spiritually generous, while parents only have to take care of their kids. It encourages me to see that the Church actually teaches that a married couple's fruitfulness is likewise not intended to be limited to the fruit of their bodies; their love should overflow into all their relationships. For the unmarried, the concept of spiritual parenthood accentuates the importance of "redeeming the time" that God gives one to be single — using it to grow in love of God and one's fellow man.
For more (and better) advice, see the comments to "Altar call."