Question: My sister-law is hostile to the Church and says that we are obsessed by sex and abortion and don’t care about the same things Jesus did, like the poor. Is there an effective answer to this charge?
— Name withheld, Newark, New Jersey
Answer: The charge that the Church is “obsessed” with sex and abortion — and many today add homosexuality — is not sustainable.
Any look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church will show a holistic concern for the human person ranging from the call to faith, accepting our dignity of being made in the image of God, how God reveals himself to us, how he saves us, liturgy, prayer and spirituality, and the whole scope of the moral life, including care for the poor.
The American bishops and the pope speak on a wide range of issues such as immigration, trafficking, education, the economy, etc. And yes, they do also speak to life issues, and issues of sexuality and marriage.
Anecdotally, most practicing Catholics not only fail to see an “obsession” about sex in the Church, but note with frustration a silence from parish pulpits regarding critical issues related to sex and family life.
So it is hard to see how the charge of obsession in the Church with such issues can stand. If there is an obsession with these issues, it is more likely to be found in popular culture. It is in the movies, music, on the news, and in recent years there have been strident demands for legal recognition and support of abortion, cohabitation, pornography and now same-sex unions and the redefinition of marriage.
To such initiatives with their strident and increasingly absolute demands, the Church must make a response. But it is a response to an already existing revolutionary issue that is passionately demanded along with legal penalties for objectors. Hence these issues look to be very obsessional in themselves.
Jesus certainly did care for the poor. And the Catholic Church, too, has long practiced extensive care for the poor, the sick and the dying.
But Jesus also spoke to other moral issues such as lust, divorce, greed, anger, the requirement of faith, etc. Any survey of the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7) will reveal that. So Jesus ought not to be reduced to a social activist who only cared about the poor and social justice. He spoke and taught on many issues.
Call of discipleship
Question: Why did Jesus tell a man whose father had just died to let the dead bury their dead and that he should follow him immediately? This seems very harsh.
— Mary Ludwig, via email
Answer: The context of Matthew 8:22 is not necessarily that the man’s father has just died. It could be that the man is saying he will follow more intensely in the years to come after his father has died.
Jesus therefore rebukes the common notion that we can always find some “good” reason not to follow him today, but to wait until we are “retired” or “healthier,” etc. Thus Jesus’ teaching is: “No more excuses, follow me wholeheartedly now or be consigned to the ranks of those whose faith is dead.”
Thus, the focus of this section of Matthew is on the urgency of discipleship and how many allow worldly demands and preoccupations to eclipse the priority that faith should have.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.