The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to give His life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28)
St. James and all the other Holy Apostles learned this lesson from the Lord Jesus. The apostles lived out true unity with Christ, offering their lives in sacrifice for the spread of the His Kingdom.
They lived with their eyes on the crucifix. They had one decisive priority: Remain united with Christ crucified. Whatever comes my way; whatever opportunities open before me; whatever the choices I have to make—I will have one decisive criterion: Christ crucified.
Maybe we could even go so far as to put it like this: An apostle of Christ is someone with a crucifix tattooed on his mind. This is my Lord; this is my Savior; this is my guide and my life. The sweetest sweetness and the richest richness, the happiest happiness and the most-peaceful peace: to be united with Christ crucified.
I put it this way because we also cannot let today pass without marking the sapphire anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae. The Church teaches that artificial contraception is wrong, that irrational sex is wrong, that sex is about a lot more than pleasure. July 25, 1968: a day of contradiction and decision for the Church and the world. Forty-five years later, the contradiction and the decision still face us.
The Pope reminded the world of something immensely powerful, which lives deep in the heart of every man and woman. Namely, that we have been made, male and female, to give life. You don’t need to be a Christian; you needn’t even have heard of Jesus Christ, to discover within yourself that what the Pope taught is true. A lot of people did not see it at the time; they had honest disagreements; people of good faith dissented; there’s no sense in judging anyone over that. The real question is, where do we stand now?
Speaking personally, as a man whose lifetime has basically paralleled the lifetime of the encyclical Humanae Vitae, I can testify that from my teenage years—when every well-meaning guidance counselor I encountered basically shoved condoms in my face—I can testify that the whole artificial contraception business always struck me as highly fishy, to say the least. I never bought it. I wasn’t even Catholic then, and I didn’t buy it.
But as the years have passed, and I have been given the privilege of giving my manhood entirely to God and His Church as a celibate priest, the whole thing strikes me more and more as a matter of maintaining unity with Christ crucified.
If Christ crucified is the criterion; if Christ crucified is the tattoo that emblazons my mind; if I want above all to be an apostle of His Kingdom, then how could I ever act in the way that the culture of sexual self-satisfaction proposes? How could I traffic in those implements that they peddle? Or wink at it when others do?
No. The way of Christ crucified is a harder way–and the more genuinely vigorous way. It embraces the sexual power of man and woman for what it can rationally be recognized to be: a sacred communion in giving life.
Christ on His cross shows us the truth: there is more to life than fleeting pleasure. Forty-five years ago today, the Pope lit a beacon to help us see the way to true interior union with Christ crucified. The beacon burns brighter now for me than it ever has, as the years in which I could become a father by the flesh pass away, and I let them go–for love of the Christ crucified. To have had sex, to have had children—could have been beautiful. But there is no happier life for me than this, the one I have. And I can testify to anyone who cares to listen that chastity—making decisions about sex based on reason, and with Christ crucified in your mind—that is the way to true happiness.
Thank you, Lord. Thank you, St. James. Thank you, Pope Paul.