Is church imposing “burdensome moral restrictions” on people who have same-sex orientation? Get the facts straight, right here
Over the years, I have had very fine students in my classroom who have a same-sex orientation, and, of course, as a Deacon of the Church, I know a number of practicing Catholics with a same-sex orientation. It is important to note right away that many people with same-sex orientation do not live a sexually active lifestyle. Many have been down that road and have found it wanting (i.e. not all that it was cracked up to be). Many are committed to the virtue of chastity—a part of the virtue of temperance. In other words, many same-sex Catholics have come to realize what many heterosexual couples have yet to realize, namely, that happiness does not come from an intimate sexual relationship. Rather, happiness comes from a profound relationship with God, and a moral life consistent with such a relationship. Unless a person has had a genuine encounter with the Lord, much of the Church’s moral teachings will appear to be little more than burdensome impositions, that is, unnecessary restrictions on our own happiness.
What is interesting is that a number of Catholics with same-sex orientation have explicitly pointed out that the unwillingness to be direct, that is, the unwillingness to come out and teach the basic principles of Catholic sexual teaching, has actually done a great disservice to them. Had clergy, catechists and teachers been more responsible and shown greater solicitude for the faithful in teaching about sexual ethics and the nature of marriage, they (clergy, catechists, and teachers) might have saved them (Catholics with same-sex orientation) from a great deal of pain and wasted years. In other words, the picture that is often painted by media and popular culture is that persons with same-sex orientation are all on one side, and the Church with its “burdensome moral restrictions” is on the other. Such a picture is just not true to the facts. There are many Catholics with same-sex orientation who are well aware of the difference between pleasure and joy, chastely living very devout lives centered around the Eucharist, taking their inspiration from those priests and Sisters who are faithfully living their vows of chastity or promises of celibacy.
Sexual morality cannot be understood outside of an understanding of the nature of marriage. I teach Marriage Preparation for the Archdiocese, and I can say with relative certainty that the majority of couples getting married today are not entirely clear on what it is they are doing when they choose to marry. In other words, they are not entirely clear on what marriage really is and how it relates to sexual expression. This is understandable because we live in a culture that has really lost a sense of the true nature of marriage. There are number of factors that might explain this, beginning with the Sexual Revolution of the 60s; the introduction of no-fault divorce in the late ‘60s; the introduction of Common Law “marriage” (a couple cohabitates for a period of time and is then treated by the state as if they were married); the separation of sex from the idea of children (a separation made possible by the production and distribution of modern contraceptives, etc.).
But marriage has always been understood as an institution. It is more than a friendship—our friendships are private, they are not institutions. Marriage is an organization that exists for the public welfare (institution). Just as a cell is the basic unit of a living organism, marriage is the fundamental unit of society. Marriage is a unique phenomenon.
In short, it is a joining of two into one flesh, one body. It is a complete (total) and mutual giving of the self to another, and since “you are your body”, to give yourself is to give your body. Because it is a complete and total self-giving, it is irrevocable—I cannot revoke what I give if I no longer hang on to a part of what I am giving. If it is mutual, the two have given themselves over to one another such that her body belongs to him and his body belongs to her. They have become a one flesh union. The natural expression of this union is the act of sexual intercourse (the marital act). In this act, male and female become “reproductively one organism” (a male is reproductively incomplete, and so too a female. But in the marital act, the two become reproductively one body). In the sexual act, the two become a one flesh union, which is what marriage is. And so, the sexual act is an expression and celebration of conjugal love (married love). There is a two-fold goodness to the sexual act; it serves two purposes: 1) to express and celebrate married love, and 2) the procreation of new life.
That is why one of the impediments that renders a marriage invalid (non-existing) is impotence, which implies the inability to actually perform the sexual act (the inability to consummate the marriage). Infertility is not an impediment to marriage; it is not necessary to actually have children in order to be validly married, but the openness to children is a necessary condition for a valid marriage, and so the deliberate intention not to have children renders a marriage invalid (non-existing). Other impediments that render a marriage invalid are coercion, fraud (he’s not the person you were led to believe he was), leaving an opening for divorce (the intention must be until “death do us part”), psychological immaturity (the moral and psychological conditions to actually be married are just not there in at least one of them—this is a serious problem among many people today, for the culture in which we live is not conducive to producing morally mature adults).
Marriage as understood by the Judeo-Christian tradition is an objective institution with a determinate nature. It is not a social construct, as the postmodernist claims it is. And because marriage is a joining of two into one body, one flesh, it can only be achieved between a man and a woman. It is not possible for two people of the same sex to actually become one body in the act of sexual union; in other words, it is not possible to consummate a marriage if the two are of the same sex.
Sexual ethics—for us, at least—always starts from an understanding of the marital context. Pre-marital sex is fundamentally an instance of lying with one’s body—for the two are expressing and celebrating a marriage that isn’t there. But the sexual act between a genuinely married couple is a holy act; it is a grace-meriting act. Outside of that context, the sexual act is usually and for the most part a matter of procuring sexual pleasure. To have sex with another person not as an expression of a complete and total giving of the self in marriage, but merely as a means to sexual pleasure, is to use other as a means to an end; and using another as a means to an end is always a violation of a basic moral precept to treat others as ends in themselves, never as a means to an end.
There is far more to this philosophical/theological understanding of marriage and the meaning of the sexual act than can be adequately expressed in an article of this size, but for a large percentage of the population, sex is no longer really anything that has a great deal of significance. It is often not much more meaningful than having a martini or heading out to the Dairy Queen for a sundae, something you can do with almost anyone. But the Church’s determination to protect the nature and sacredness of the sexual act and the true significance of marriage is rooted in her conviction that marriage/family is the fundamental unit of society, and anything that harms that unit harms the civil community as a whole.
And so, the Church calls those persons with a same-sex orientation to a life of chastity. Now this may sound cruel to some, but it might very well be the case that it is the opposite approach that is actually cruel. Moreover, clerical celibacy is probably more important today than it ever was. A good-looking priest or Sister who has taken a vow of chastity or promise of celibacy, and radiates joy, gives very powerful testimony that happiness (or joy) does not come from an intimate sexual relationship; but rather, happiness is found in Christ. It’s even difficult to get married couples to see this. They often believe that their happiness will be found in one another. But Saint Augustine said it long ago, on the first page of his Confessions: “Oh Lord, You created us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You”. In other words, God created you for Himself, not for another. Complete happiness cannot ever be found in another human being, but only in God. If God calls a man to married life, He is calling him to love his wife for her sake, not for his own sake or his own happiness. He is calling this man to love God by loving this woman for her sake and for God’s sake. Unfortunately, many people “reveal their hand” by the words they speak, saying such things as “he fills a void within me”, or “I just didn’t feel fulfilled anymore, so I left her”, as if marriage is about “my fulfillment”.
There is a tremendously rich heritage in this area of sexual ethics and the nature of marriage in the history of the Church, which has undergone tremendous development in the 20th century (i.e., the Theology of the Body), and when we teach this to our students, they really do react positively. And this is true also of those students who have same-sex attraction. Many of them discern the truth in these teachings and are grateful to receive them. Unfortunately, many clergy are afraid to teach it, and many educators are just not familiar with it.
The fact of the matter is, we all have our own struggles. Whatever road the Lord calls us to walk, there will be sacrifices we will have to make, battles against ourselves and our own unique proclivities that we will have to engage in, but our eternal happiness is precisely at the end of that road. More importantly, “the road to heaven is heavenly”; conversely, “the road to hell is hellish”. When people come to chart out their own unique battlefield and specific road that the Lord is calling them to follow, with all the sacrifices they will be required to make, they begin to experience a joy that they didn’t think was possible. Most people are under the illusion that I will only be happy when I get to do what I want to do; they often go down that road and discover that they are not happy at all, much to their dismay. But when they finally begin to do what the Lord is calling them to do, they discover something that they had no idea they would find, namely, a deep sense of fulfillment.
Deacon Doug McManaman is a retired teacher of religion and philosophy in Southern Ontario. He lectures on Catholic education at Niagara University. His courageous and selfless ministry as a deacon is mainly to those who suffer from mental illness.
It was a stormy night. Sister Faustina bowed her face to the ground and prayed the Litany of the Saints. Toward the end of the Litany, such drowsiness overcame her that she couldn’t finish the prayer. She immediately got up and prayed, “Jesus, calm the storm, for Your child is unable to pray any longer, and I am heavy with sleep.” With these words, she threw the window open, not even securing it with hooks. Sister Fabiola said to her, “Sister, what are you doing!? The wind will surely tear the window loose!” But Sister Faustina asked her to sleep in peace. At once, the storm completely subsided. The next day, the sisters were talking about the sudden calming of the storm, not knowing what had really happened. And Sister Faustina thought to herself: “Only Jesus and Faustina know what it means…” Such was the trust Saint Faustina had in Jesus. No wonder He appeared to her and gave her the mission of Divine Mercy for the whole world, with the instruction to inscribe the words: “JESUS I TRUST IN YOU.” She abandoned herself to Him completely, just like a child. Once, during Holy Mass, she had a miraculous vision. Jesus appeared as a one-year-old child and asked her to take Him in her arms. When she had taken Him in her arms, Infant Jesus cuddled up close to her bosom and said, “It is good for Me to be close to your heart…because I want to teach you spiritual childhood. I want you to be very little because when you are little, I carry you close to My Heart, just as you are holding Me close to your heart right now." Spiritual childhood is often misunderstood as naïveté or excessive sentimentality. However, it involves a total surrender to our heavenly Father's providential care—total abandonment of our own plans, opinions, and self-will—and a radical trust in God. Can we, too, ask God to give us the grace to accept—like a little child—all that He asks of us in this life? As we do, can we trust, like Saint Faustina, that the Lord will not abandon us, even for a moment?
She was diagnosed with chronic OCD, and put on meds for a lifetime. Then, something unexpected happened. In the 1990s, I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The doctor prescribed me medication and told me I would have to take them for the rest of my life. Some people think that mental health issues happen because you lack faith, but there was nothing wrong with my faith. I had always deeply loved God and relied on Him in all things, but I also felt an abiding disabling guilt. I had not been able to shake off the belief that everything that was wrong with the world was my fault. I had a Law degree, but my heart had never been there. I had taken up law to impress my mother, who thought my choice of teaching as a profession wasn’t good enough. But I had married and given birth to my first child just before I finished it, then gone on to have seven beautiful children, so I had spent more time learning to be a mother than working in law. When we moved to Australia, the law was different, so, I went back to university to finally study my first love, Teaching. But even when I got a job doing what I loved, I felt that I was trying to justify my existence by earning money. Somehow, I didn’t feel that looking after my family and nurturing the people entrusted to me was good enough. In fact, with my crippling guilt and feeling of inadequacy, nothing ever felt enough. Totally Unexpected Because of our family size, it wasn’t always easy to get away on a holiday, so we were excited when we heard about the Carry Home in Pemberton where payment was a donation of what you could afford. It had a beautiful country setting close to forests. We planned to go for a weekend family retreat. They also had a prayer and worship group in Perth. When I joined, I was made to feel very welcome. There, at one of the retreats, something totally unexpected and overwhelming happened. I had just received prayer when I suddenly fell to the ground. Rolled up on the floor in a fetal position, I screamed and screamed and screamed. They carried me out onto this rickety old wooden verandah outside and continued to pray until eventually, I stopped screaming. This was totally unsought and unexpected. But I knew that it was deliverance. I just felt empty as if something had left me. After the retreat, my friends continued to check up on me and come to pray over me, asking for Mary’s intercession that the gifts of the Holy Spirit would become manifest in me. I felt so much better that after a week or two, I decided to reduce my dose of medication. Within three months, I had stopped taking the medication and felt better than I ever had. Melting Away I no longer felt the need to prove myself or pretend that I was better than I was. I didn’t feel that I had to excel in all things. I felt grateful for the gift of life, my family, my prayerful community and this tremendous connection with God. Freed of the need to justify my existence, I realized I could not justify my existence. It’s a gift–life, family, prayer, connection with God–these are all gifts, not something you are ever going to earn. You accept it and you thank God. I became a better person. I didn’t have to show off, compete, or arrogantly insist that my way was the best. I realized I didn’t have to be better than the other person because it didn’t matter. God loves me, God cares for me. Out of the grip of my disabling guilt, I have since realized that “If God didn’t want me, He would have made someone else.” My relationship with my mother had always been ambivalent. Even after becoming a mother, I was still struggling with these feelings of ambivalence. But this experience changed that for me. As God chose Mary to bring Jesus into the world, He had chosen Mary to help me on my way. My issues in the relationship with my mother, and subsequently with the Holy Mother, slowly melted away. I felt like John at the foot of the Cross when Jesus told him: “Behold your Mother.” I have come to know Mary as the perfect mother. Now, when my mind fails, the Rosary kicks in to rescue me! I never realized how much I needed her until I made her an indispensable part of my life. Now, I couldn’t imagine stepping away.
There is a poetic meditation of an early twentieth-century Greek novelist named Nikos Kazantzakis that I keep on my nightstand when Advent comes around every year. He pictures Christ as a teenager, watching the people of Israel from a distant hilltop, not yet ready to begin his ministry but acutely, painfully sensitive to the longing and suffering of His people. The God of Israel is there among them—but they don’t know it yet. I was reading this to my students the other day, as I do every year at the start of Advent, and one of them said to me after class: “I’ll bet that’s how Jesus feels now too.” I asked him what he meant. He said: “You know, Jesus, sitting there in the tabernacle, and us just walking past like He isn’t even there.” Ever since, I’ve had this new image in my Advent prayers of Jesus, waiting in the Tabernacle, looking out over His people—hearing our groans, our pleas, and our cries. Waiting... Somehow, this is the way God chooses to come to us. The birth of the Messiah is THE KEY EVENT IN ALL HUMAN HISTORY, and yet, God wanted it to take place ‘so quietly that the world went about its business as if nothing had happened.’ A few shepherds noticed, and so did the magi (and we could even mention Herod, who noticed for all the wrong reasons!). Then, apparently, the whole thing was forgotten. For a time. Somehow…there must be something in the waiting that is good for us. God chooses to wait for us. He chooses to make us wait for Him. And when you think about it in this light, the whole history of salvation becomes a history of waiting. So, you see, there’s this simultaneous sense of urgency—that we need to answer God’s call and that we need Him to answer our call, and soon. “Answer me, Lord, when I call to you,” the psalmist says. There’s something so brazen about this verse that it’s charming. There’s an urgency in the Psalms. But there is also this sense that we must learn to be patient and wait—wait in joyful hope—and find God’s answer in the waiting.
Q – Why did Jesus Christ have to die for us? It seems cruel that the Father would require the death of His only Son in order to save us. Wasn’t there some other way? A – We know that Jesus’ death forgave us of our sins. But was it necessary, and how did it accomplish our salvation? Consider this: if a student in school were to punch his classmate, the natural consequence would be a certain punishment—perhaps detention, or maybe being suspended. But if that same student were to punch a teacher, the punishment would be more severe—perhaps being expelled from the school. If that same student were to punch the President, they would likely end up in jail. Depending on the dignity of who is offended, the consequence would be greater. What, then, would be the consequence of offending the all-holy, all-loving God? He Who created both you and the stars deserves nothing less than the worship and adoration of all Creation—when we offend Him, what is the natural consequence? Eternal death and destruction. Suffering and alienation from Him. Thus, we owed God a debt of death. But we could not repay it—because He is infinitely good, our transgression caused an infinite chasm between us and Him. We needed someone infinite and perfect but also human (since they would have to die to settle the debt). Only Jesus Christ fit this description. Seeing us abandoned in an unpayable debt that would lead to eternal doom, out of His great love, He became man precisely so that He could pay back our debt on our behalf. The great theologian Saint Anselm wrote an entire treatise entitled, Cur Deus Homo? (Why did God become Man?), and concluded that God became man so that He could pay back the debt we owed but could not pay, so to reconcile us to God in a Person Who Himself is the perfect union of God and humanity. Consider this too: if God is the source of all life, and sin means that we turn our back on God, then what are we choosing? Death. In fact, Saint Paul says that “the wages of sin are death” (Romans 6:23). And sin brings about the death of the whole person. We can see that lust can lead to STDs and broken hearts; we know that gluttony can lead to an unhealthy lifestyle, envy leads to dissatisfaction with the gifts God has given us, greed can cause us to overwork and self-indulge, and pride can rupture our relationships with one another and with God. Sin, then, is truly deadly! It takes a death, then, to restore us to life. As an ancient Holy Saturday homily put it from the perspective of Jesus, “Look at the spittle on my face, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image. See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.” Finally, I believe that His death was necessary to show us the depths of His love. If He had merely pricked His finger and shed a single drop of His Precious Blood (which would have been enough to save us), we would think that He didn’t love us all that much. But, as Saint Padre Pio said: “The proof of love is to suffer for the one you love.” When we behold the incredible sufferings that Jesus endured for us, we can never doubt for a moment that God loves us. God loves us so much that He would rather die than spend eternity without us. In addition, His suffering gives us comfort and consolation in our suffering. There is no agony and pain that we can endure that He hasn’t already gone through. Are you in physical pain? So was He. Do you have a headache? His Head was crowned with thorns. Are you feeling lonely and abandoned? All of His friends left Him and denied Him. Do you feel ashamed? He was stripped naked for all to jeer. Do you struggle with anxiety and fears? He was so anxious that He sweat blood in the Garden. Have you been so hurt by others that you cannot forgive? He asked His Father to forgive the men driving nails into His hands. Do you feel like God has abandoned you? Jesus Himself cried out: “O God, my God, why have You abandoned Me?” So we can never say: “God, you don’t know what I’m going through!” Because He can always respond: “Yes, I do, my beloved child. I’ve been there—and I am suffering with you right now.” What a consolation to know that the Cross has brought God near to those who suffer, that it has shown us the depths of God’s infinite love for us and the great lengths He would go to rescue us, and that it has paid back the debt of our sins so that we can stand before Him, forgiven and redeemed!
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