2017.2.11 – Visible and Invisible Moarlity
Just a few days ago I saw a spectacular video clip of a gargantuan stream of lava flowing off a Hawaiian cliff into the ocean. It was magnificent. And it recalled me to my childhood when I first learned that the core of the earth was an heaving ball lava. It surprised me to think that something so necessary for our environment could become so destructive. Invisible lava can become visibly damaging.
And was preparing this homily I also recalled a friend of mine whose right foot was entirely scarred from severe burns. When I asked him how his foot got burned he told me that he did it at Yellow Stone National Park. He and his buddies decided to play Frisbee in the park. They were in a field that was surrounded by a one foot bar fence but the other side of the fence looked the same as the field they were playing on. As you could imagine, a Frisbee was thrown just over the short fence and my friend went to catch it. As he stepped over the fence his foot fell through a one inch layer of dirt straight into a sulfur pit. To say the least he got severely burned. He thought the field seemed safe, but what was underneath was another story. Invisible sulfur pits can become visibly damaging.
These images came to mind when I read our rather lengthy Gospel passage today. Among the many moral teachings Jesus shared with us today two of the sins were back to back: one is visible, and one invisible. First Jesus reiterated the 6th commandment, “You shall not commit adultery.” This is such a damaging sin! Adultery is a sin against marriage where one person has sexual relations with another person who is married. How often do we see such actions depicted in movies, TV shows, romantic novels and news stories of famous persons. And it’s interesting to note that media has a Dr. Jeckel-Mr. Hyde relationship with such affairs. On one level, it seems every media outlet loves to gossip or portray adultery because of its hype and drama. As a result, one can barely go to any media outlet without being bombarded by this sin. But on another level, even when media is publicizing adultery, (and this is a good thing) it almost always cast it in terms of crime or sin. This is good, because it shows that our society, for all of its faults, still has a moral sense that adultery is an offense against spouses and is damaging to marriage.
But unfortunately where our Christian faith and society parts ways is that society does not believe that sex is reserved for marriage alone. While it may capitalize on adulterous affairs, or even shows the damage it causes persons and families, that same media celebrates sexual immorality and promotes promiscuity in almost every conceivable way. How damaging this is! You see, adultery is like that visible lava that does damage when it is outside it proper place.
But Jesus Christ calls us to a higher level of morality. In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us that sin is not only visible, but it can also be invisible. This is why he goes on to say, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” You see sexual maturity is not simply about external actions, it is also about internal desires. This is why he is constantly calling us to be “pure of heart.” Not only are our actions to be chaste, but our thoughts, our desires, our passions are also called to be chaste. You see, the only way that lava burst to the top is because of pressures deep within. And the only way visible sins are acted upon are when internal desires are not controlled.
As St. Peter says, we live in a world, “Corrupted by lust” (2 Peter 1:4). And who among us could doubt this? The pornography industry makes more money per year than all professional sports industries combined! And the accessibility to pornography in today’s world is the worst it has ever been in human history. There is no digital device that in some way cannot access pornography on almost a moment’s notice. This means that the battle to stay pure for some people is a constant battle. No one should feel bad, or less, if they choose to take internet access off their phone or block their ability to add new apps to their devices. And internet filtering systems or parental controls are as important as are fences put around barking dogs. As fences keep people safe from barking dogs, so too filters keep people safe from impure things. The access to impure things is all too easy not to have some safeguards in place. I think if Jesus were to speak today he would say, “If your devices causes you to sin, cut them out.” Sins against the flesh are all too common in our society and all these sins find their origin in the human heart. As Jesus says elsewhere, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts,… adultery, fornication... These are what defile a man” (Matt 15:19).
All too often we can work on the “out of sight, out of mind” idea. This is what happened in my friend’s case: he couldn’t see the sulfur pit so he assumed it was not there – Out of sight, out of mind. But this cannot be the case in our own moral life. Invisible sin leads to visible sin and we must purify our heart so that we can also purify our actions.
One of the most damaging effects of sexual sin, either visible or invisible, is its effect on marriage. It is no accident that just after Jesus said, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” he goes on, in the next section of the Gospel to say, “Whoever divorces his wife, unless the marriage is unlawful, causes her to commit adultery.” Invisible, hidden, sexual sins can lead to the destruction of marriage and spouses must have the courage to fight for purity in all its forms.
It is no coincidence that we have this Gospel today. Today is World Marriage Sunday. It is a day in which we and recommit ourselves to fighting for the protection of marriage, from both visible and invisible sins. As the Rite of marriage says, “Marriage is the one blessing not forfeited by original sin nor washed away by the flood.” And Jesus himself restored marriage to the dignity that it had “in the beginning” by giving it a special sacrament – special graces – to keep it strong in face of all the evils that can stand against it. As I have already said, even our society has preserved an instinct for the dignity of marriage: adultery is always bad. But our society needs to go further… and we ourselves need to go further… and say that any impure action, whether visible or invisible, stands against the dignity of marriage and the beauty of married love. And don’t despair! And this goes for all persons whether ar married or not. Purity is not impossible. As our first reading says, “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live.” God gives us the grace to keep the commandments and to live in purity. Let us work to purify our own hearts, our own minds and our own actions so that the visible dignity of marriage can always be protected through the invisible purity of our hearts.