Alexander the Great was one of the most powerful men in the world, but at one point he fell ill. None of his doctors had the guts to try and cure him, because they were afraid that if they failed – they themselves would be put to death. Finally, one of his physicians named Philip boldly made a concoction and told him to drink it quickly. However, one of Alexander’s other counselors had just written him a letter stating that Philip was trying to poison him. Alexander read the letter and put it aside. Now, as Alexander took the potion from Philip with cheer and with assurance began to drink, he gave Philip the letter to read. Philip was beside himself, throwing his hands into the air and then falling upon the bedside – but he nonetheless told the king to lay aside all fear and finish drinking his medicine. To make the scene even more intense, the treatment worked at first by drawing all of Alexander’s strength deep within himself so that his pulse slowed to nothing and he appeared to be dying. And then the tide turned and he rapidly regained his constitution and returned to the head of his army.
Trust is essential. If Alexander had not trusted his doctor, Philip, he would have died. And if Philip had not trusted in his own medicine, he could not have urged Alexander to keep drinking it even when it first made him weaker – knowing that if his patient died, he would not long outlive him. But for there to be trust there must be communication. In the Old Testament, the trust of the Israelites on God relied in knowing what God wanted through the Law and the prophets. Our first reading however, reveals just how rocky that relationship could be. You would think that even bad news from a prophet was better than hearing nothing at all from God, but bad news was mostly what the true prophets brought the people – because they did not want to change. In our little passage today, we do not even hear what Amos has been saying – we just hear the reaction: Get lost. Go sell your false visions for money somewhere else. Ouch. Amos had been prophesying God’s wrath against the wealthy and idolatrous people of Israel. Amos brought a tough medicine and the people were unwilling to take it….so what happens? The communication with God broke down, and Amos’ words came true as Israel was conquered.
This month marks the fiftieth anniversary since the release of what has been called a prophetic document in the Church: Humanae Vitae. Basically, Pope Paul VI became one of the most hated figures in Church history because he put down in writing the reasons behind why the Church would continue to preach the Gospel of human life and speak out against contraception. But Paul VI seeing the way the rest of the world was already racing, also made some prophetic claims. He stated that there would be an increase in marital infidelity, a lowering of moral standards, an additional incentive for youth to break the moral law, a loss of reverence due to women, and the reduction of women to mere instruments of men’s satisfaction.
Was Paul VI a true prophet? To begin: is there any doubt that the health of marriages has declined over the last fifty years? Yes, there are many other factors besides contraception – but in the first ten years of legalized birth control, the divorce rate more than doubled in our country and has stayed around 50%. Similarly, is it not true that moral standards have dropped? The breakdown of family and the false promise that sex can be purely recreational have left many youth with even less ability to learn restraint and proper boundaries. Without the perceived consequences of children, men often expect the highest forms of physical intimacy with women in even casual relationships. Meanwhile it is not only men who use women and look upon women as objects – but society frequently encourages women to denigrate themselves so that they might be deemed desirable. Paul VI also made all of his predictions against what he admitted was a common fear of the last century: overpopulation. This past week however reveals another sad fruit of contraception, as the European Union now admits that the number of deaths in their countries is exceeding the number of births. Man’s attempt to control the future in so many ways is endangering the future altogether.
Of course, the Western World is powerful, but like Alexander the Great it is sick to the point that it stumbles looking for a cure. Unfortunately, the world barely trusts the Church at all. Now Alexander or his men could have put Philip to death, but while the Church has suffered for a cure that has largely been ignored, and she cannot be entirely killed off by the world – nonetheless she calls on the world to see her lowliness and the fact that the Church needs the cure herself. And the good news is that things don’t always have to get worse. If we listen to Humanae Vitae, all of these trends will begin to get better. All the same, there are councilors who would tell the world that the Church is trying to poison it (while offering no other alternatives). What is the cure? Nothing other than the message of Jesus Christ Himself. He became weak for us in particular to show us that He was willing to die that we might live. Christ is willing to trust the Father with His whole life, that His life might show the glory of God – His love and forgiveness. He trains His apostles to have the same confidence by sending them out with nothing but the clothes on their backs when they preach the Gospel. They live and are successful, because they are not trying to control everything and are able to learn trust in the Father.
Even the natural ways of family planning that the Church has promoted since the 1970’s can in a sense be manipulated in the effort to control the size of one’s family, yet couples who invest themselves in following the guidelines of the Church most often find that it opens their hearts to trusting God. They learn generosity and due to the sacrifices that they make are more apt to consider their spouses with the love and dignity they deserve. If you would like to know more about natural family planning, you can attend a course through Mercy Hospital’s fertility care staff and if you let me know I’ll gladly pay the fee for any person interested. We were all chosen in Christ before the world began and He has chosen to bring about many more through us.