You are Not an Animal

Today, while researching one thing, I came across this wonderful gem of a homily. It is from 2002, but as the Church is timeless, so is this homily.

You Are Not an Animal

by Father Daniel J. Mahan

Stewardship begins in one’s youth, when the good habits of self-giving, generosity, and responsibility are being formed.  Contrary to popular opinion, our young people are not “animals.”  They are loved by the Lord who never stops calling them to the good life.

For the most part, Jesus ministered to His own people, the people of Israel.  Only occasionally did He minister to the Gentiles, those who were not Jewish.  Today’s Gospel describes such an occasion.[1]

When Jesus ministers to this woman of the region of Tyre and Sidon, He anticipates the objections of His apostles:  “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”[2] You see, many of the Jewish people of Jesus’ day spoke with great contempt for the Gentiles.  They were called swine or dogs, animals certainly not deserving of the dignity that is due to human beings.

It seems that down through the ages this has been our unfortunate legacy: to regard those people different from ourselves as being less than deserving of human dignity.  It is how slave holders of the South regarded people of color.  It is how the Nazis regarded the Jews.  It is how some Israelis and some Palestinians regard each other.   It is how some regard an undesired child in the womb — as an animal, or even less than an animal,  undeserving of the rights and respect that is due every human person.

Every human person is created in the image and likeness of God,[3] created with an eternal soul, created with the capacity to know, love, and serve God.

Jesus recognizes the dignity of the woman whom He encounters in today’s Gospel.  He uses the occasion to teach His disciples and to teach us that no human being is ever outside the care and mercy of God, no human being is ever to be treated as less than a child of God.

And yet, this is what we do.  We must remind others and even ourselves of our God-given dignity.  Unfortunately, I hear frequently just the opposite in regard to our young people. Yes, our young people, even the ones sitting among us today. “Animals,” they are sometimes considered.  (Perhaps some parents are thinking of their teenagers’ rooms right now and are nodding their heads in total agreement!)  But that laid aside, what I hear said of our young people is that they are incapable of controlling themselves and making sound moral decisions in regard to the Sixth and Ninth Commandments.[4]

Some parents believe this of their own children, so much so that they arm their teenagers with pills, shots, and devices to spare them of the consequences of their lack of control.   They fail to consider that there’s not a device or pill in the world that can spare a young person from a broken heart or the shame of sexual exploitation. “They are just not able to control their hormones,” it is said.  “They are slaves to their passions.”

What an awful thing to say of our young people, to contend that they are incapable of making morally sound judgments, that they are just like animals in heat.

Turn on the television, especially to MTV, and this is exactly what is being said. Our young people are being encouraged to: “Give in to your hormones.  You can’t control them anyway, so you might as well enjoy the wild life.  You might as well live like ‘wildlife’ during your teens and early twenties.   Party like an animal.”

What a shame.  The young people I know are capable of so much more than that.  The young people I know are sharpening their minds by taking difficult classes in school.  They are improving their self-control by disciplining their bodies in sports.  They are showing great responsibility in their jobs and are helping out at home. They are good stewards.  They are opening their hearts to God and to our Church and listening with rapt attention to our 82 year-old Holy Father, who has an amazing ability to connect with young people, in spite of his advancing years and physical limitations.[5]

Our young people are not animals.  They are human beings who possess eternal souls and who are capable of exercising their free will to choose what is good and noble and holy and true. They have recourse to the sacraments of the Church, especially the Holy Eucharist, to strengthen them in body, mind, and soul. They have recourse to the Sacrament of Penance, a sacrament in which a person finds forgiveness of sins and the grace of God that is necessary to make progress in the virtues and to improve one’s ability to make good moral decisions.

Animals?  Out of control? Slaves to their passions?   To be certain, some of our young people act as if that were the case.   In fact, some who are old enough to know better act as if that were the case as well.  But a person who considers our young people to be animals has things very, very wrong.  Each of us has been redeemed by the blood of the Lord. Each of us is considered so dear to the Lord Jesus that He would die to accomplish our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins.  Each of us is connected to the Lord Jesus in a profound and irrevocable way,[7] so much so that the Lord’s grace makes it possible for us to rise above our human weakness and limitations and to live honorably, as children of the light.[8]

Young people, (and others), you know the commandments.  You know the consequences of sin.  You know that sin is a path that you don’t want to follow.   Others may tell you that you cannot resist the urge to sin.   I tell you that I believe in you.  You are capable of so much good.   Stay close to Jesus, stay close to the sacraments, and you will find the grace you need to stay on the path that leads to heaven.   “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.”[9] You are not animals.   You are children of God.

Father Daniel J. Mahan

X The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

August 18, 2002

[1] Matthew 15: 21-28. [2] Matthew 15:26. [3] Cf. Genesis 1:26,27. [4] You shall not commit adultery.  You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. [5] In this homily written in August 2002, I refer to Pope John Paul II, who died on April 2, 2005, just prior to the publication of this  manuscript. [6] Cf. Philippians 4:8. [7] Cf. Romans 11:29. [8] Cf. Ephesians 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:5; 1 John 1:5-7. [9] James 4:7,8.

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