Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Reflections on the Readings for the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene

Yesterday, on July 22nd, the Catholic Church celebrated the feast day of St. Mary Magdalene, on of the feasts of the liturgical year that is celebrated on the same day in both forms of the Latin Rite and in the Byzantine Rite. I was lucky enough to attend Mass in the Extraordinary Form (EF) after receiving the Sacrament of Confession, and I just  briefly wanted to right down my thoughts after reflecting on the Scripture readings for the Mass in the EF, as well as the Scripture selection in the Liturgy of Hours' Office of Readings.

The First Reading in the Divine Office came from St. Paul's Letter to the Colossians 3:1-17. It was subtitled, "Your life is hidden with Christ in God". As I was reading this, waiting for Mass to start, a particular few verses close to the halfway mark caught my attention. It immediately called to mind the current state of affairs regarding the permissibility of certain sins that have become socially acceptable in the Western world, i.e., fornication, and homosexual activity in particular. Beginning from verse 5:
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you once walked, when you lived in them. But now put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
Feast of Simon the Pharisee- Peter Paul Rubens
Notice I highlighted the first two sentences.  At the beginning of the chapter, St. Paul reminds the Colossians to " Set your minds on things that are above [where Christ is], not on things that are on earth." St. Paul often talks about putting away the desires of the flesh, that is, the desires that come from the earth and not from our heavenly home. But look at what St. Paul mentions in verse 5. These are still the same problems that modern man is plagued with, and these things are usually done in excess, even by some self-professed Christians. But St. Paul reminds his readers that since we have a new nature, that rebirth and regeneration that was received in Baptism, we must put these old desires away that come from our old nature which was still filled with Original Sin.

Unfortunately, we still retain concupiscence, an after effect of Original Sin, but since we've received that "interior enlightenment", as the Church Fathers often called baptism, we can discern more clearly that the actions listed in verse 5 are something to be avoided. The more we receive our Lord's grace, the more we may be preserved from such sin. Now, you might be wondering, what exactly does this have to do with fornication and homosexual acts? Quite a bit, especially when we consider what "immorality" actually means.

The above come translation comes from the RSV:CE, where the word πορνεία (porneian) is rendered simply as "immorality" here and in the NAB translation as well. Strong's Word 4202, porneia, is more accurately defined as, "fornication- properly, a selling off (surrendering) of sexual purity; promiscuity of any (every) type." Other Bible translations, such as the Douay-Rheims and NIV, translate the word more accurately as "fornication" or "sexual immorality". The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines fornication in this way:
Fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. It is gravely contrary to the dignity of persons and of human sexuality which is naturally ordered to the good of spouses and the generation and education of children. Moreover, it is a grave scandal when there is corruption of the young. (CCC 2353)
So as we can see, fornication is an immoral sexual act that takes place between two unmarried people. This principally refers to sexual intercourse, but also includes any contraceptive act such as oral sex or anal sex that does not end (i.e., orgasm) in the conjugal act. This can also apply to homosexuality, even though fornication more specifically refers to unmarried people of the opposite sex. Since two males or two females in a sexual relationship can never become married, any sexual act between such couples can never be called good and are always sinful. That's why when I read this verse, I thought of what people like Fr. James Martin are essentially saying to those in homosexual relationships. Never do we see him tell others that sexual activity outside of marriage is gravely sinful. Still, at other times, we see some openly dissenting priests and lay Catholics say that sexual relationships between homosexuals can be a good and moral act. How can this possibly be so when we have such a clear example here by St. Paul that such desires are earthly and do not orient us towards things that are above, namely Jesus Christ?

Too often, we see our fellow Catholics telling those that are attracted to the same-sex that acting on the desire to interact sexually with the same-sex is a moral good if it's in the context of a committed relationship. But there are many male and female couples that are in a "committed" relationship that are not married. Their actions are gravely sinful. How much more so are those between the same sex? The actions committed by such unmarried couples, same-sex are not, are surely not grounded in the things that are above, as St. Paul speaks of. We see that he says God's wrath "is coming"on account of these acts. Shouldn't we then be exhorting our Christian brothers and sisters to stop engaging in such acts, and to put away these sinful actions that should've been purged on account of their baptism, instead of basically encouraging these same-sex couples to keep on going, especially those in "committed relationships"?

St. Mary Magdalene- Caravaggio
And this brings me to the woman presented in the Gospel reading of the day. The woman who washes Christ's feet is often claimed to be St. Mary Magdalene, but other scholars believe this woman is different. in any case, this is the reading that was appointed for the day, Luke 7: 36-50. In it, the woman is so sorry for her sins, and so overwhelmed at being in the presence of God, she washed Jesus' feet with her own tears, and bathed them in ointment. Jesus says, "'Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.' And he said to her, 'Your sins are forgiven'.”

It's clear that this woman was extremely sorry for her sins, for her previous way of life. Can we imagine many of the people today who expressly go against the teaching of the Church on fornication doing the same? When one embraces the lifestyle they live, and sees it as something good, then they will never ask forgiveness for what they have done. As Jesus says in this selection, "He who is forgiven little, loves little". We all need to be more aware of those things that offend Jesus, those things that wound our relationship with Him. many who fornicate or live in open homosexual relationships know the teaching of the Church, but they keep trying to justify it. The woman at Jesus' feet knew the Law too; she knew prostitution was wrong. Yet she did not embrace it. She realized she needed to ask forgiveness for her transgressions. That is the main difference between those that struggle with a sin yet try to better themselves, and those that struggle with a sin, yet call it a moral good.

May we hope and pray that those who are using their sexual faculties outside of marriage come to see Jesus' teachings through His Church as correct and true, and may they (and all of us) follow the example of this woman at Jesus' feet.

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