When I was a young man, almost an adult, I was searching for my identity as a man. We all go through something like this as we approach adulthood. Perhaps the most important discovery for me was the realization that I was experiencing a spiritual hunger for the real man, the man of virtue and courage in faith and morals; I was seeking male spirituality along with male identity. When I experienced it, this resonated with me in my bones. I still was not Catholic, but I seemed to find this ideal more frequently among men of strong Catholic faith. When I encountered men, young or old who were devoted to Jesus, to the Church and to the Blessed Mother, and who practiced their faith sincerely I found myself drawn to their example of manhood. Stories of heroic priests and lives of the saints provided me with examples that would form my character for rest of my life. Perhaps this helps explain some of the enormous attraction for me, and millions of others of Pope John Paul II. I found men of weak morals and little faith to be false, and they held little attraction for me in my formation as a man. Years later when my wife and I attended information meetings for future candidates to become permanent deacons, I told her that I had no idea if I would ever become a deacon, but I did want to associate with the kind of men we met at these meetings. The attraction of men of strong faith and morals is powerful.
Recently, I spoke in a sermon about the Ten Commandments and the importance of using them to examine our conscience and to help form moral lives. We can actually evaluate our spiritual maturity using the Ten Commandments.
In that sermon I said that often I hear things in the Confessional which are confessed as sin, but that are not sin, while people tend to overlook God’s Commandments. I stated that anger, impatience and doubts are not sins by themselves.
In last week’s sermon Jesus stated, “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.”
Jesus is referring to a kind of anger that is hateful as well as personal. Anger in itself is not sin. Anger that becomes personal and hateful is sin. If you hate your brother and call him a “fool” or worse; if you demean or diminish him or her, that is sin. Jesus is teaching us to hate sin, but to love the sinner.
This is a good example for us to help examine our own spiritual maturity. Can we tell the difference between the sins we should hate, and the brother or sister we should love?
God told Moses, “You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart. Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of him. … You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus goes further, telling us, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly father.”
In the Gospel last week, Jesus spoke of adultery. We know that temptations are human. God created man for woman, and woman for man. The attraction He created between us is completely natural and good. We study this in Theology of the Body, as taught by Pope John Paul. Jesus is not speaking about natural temptation as sinful. We need to understand this teaching, also, as something much more personal. Looking at a particular woman with forbidden intentions is sinful. Being attracted to her is not. The same goes for women. Spiritual maturity is the ability to know the difference between natural attraction and adulterous temptation. I admit to falling for attractive women. It happens all the time. It’s natural. But, I do not have a right to desire more. Our moral “muscles” grow stronger as we learn to discern the difference. Attraction is not sinful. Sexual desire that becomes personal and possessive is sinful when the soul becomes blind to the good of the other person and yourself. We mature spiritually as we become capable of knowing the difference between natural attraction and sinful desire; and we learn to control our desires and impulses. We call this “maturity”. This is how we must understand Jesus’ teaching that we have already committed adultery when we desire a woman when we look at her. It’s not the look. It’s the uncontrolled desire.
Following this theme, Jesus mentions that Moses’ law permitted divorce. Jesus answered, “But I tell you that he who divorces his wife … exposes her to adultery, and he who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
We have too many divorces in our community; too many single women with children in our community, too many couples living together as if they were married, but they are not! And too many couples not married in the Church.
Remember, God told Moses, “Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of him.” We are not absolved of our responsibility to speak out against sin. Living in sin is not OK! We need more parents, fathers and mothers and grandparents who will insist that their children marry in the Church! We need more parents, fathers and mothers and grandparents who insist upon controlling the sexual behavior of their children; and who will insist they receive good pre-marital formation in the Church. If this teaching and discipline does not occur in the family, where will our children learn these morals?
We call all couples not married in the Church to come and get married in the Church! Be good examples to yourselves, your children and your community.
I have heard too often that many couples believe that they cannot be married in the Church if they have not received the Sacrament of Confirmation or First Communion. That is not true! Let the word go forth! Spread the news! Those sacraments of Confirmation and First Communion are very important. However, tell all those couples they can marry in the Church without those Sacraments if they have never been married before. That is the official teaching of the Universal Church! Tell all not to commit adultery! It’s not just the priest’s responsibility to tell them. It is first a family responsibility to teach against adultery.
From scripture we learn about spiritual maturity in our relationship with God and with our neighbor. It is spiritually healthy to examine our consciences from time to time to grow morally. Our salvation depends upon it.