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 ministry as a deacon is to those who suffer from mental illness.
Are you praying for a miracle? Here’s a wonder-working formula for you! Several years ago my husband and I decided to face the inevitability of mortality head on. We dove into the world of wills, trusts, executors, probates, lawyers etc. and tried to sort our earthly possessions. It was very surreal trying to catalogue our possessions by value. Is a vehicle worth more than our wedding album? Would our children understand the value of memories, sentimental objects or family heirlooms the way their father and I did? What lasting legacy could we leave each of our children that would be valuable or meaningful for them after we had gone home to the Lord? Fortunately, God had the answers to all my questions and, just as in Scripture, He used stories to reveal these truths. Trinkets and Treasures This story revolves around our second son, James (or Jimmy as we have always called him), when he was about 6 years old. We raised our family in a wonderful, quaint New England area that offered many wholesome family events for community interaction, such as the annual country fair our church held each Fall. Our family was actively involved with the preparation of this fair and looked forward to it every year. Our children grew up helping where they could and when they were needed. As a result, our kids were familiar faces to other parish volunteers who also helped make the fair happen. Jimmy had learned which booths were apt to have treasures that piqued his interest. He particularly enjoyed the various White Elephant and Rummage Sale booths. So, in the weeks leading up to the fair, he would volunteer to help set up those booths as a strategy for inspecting any incoming goodies. Jimmy had a particular interest in all kinds of trinkets and was blessed with a keen eye for treasures and a knack for bartering for them as well. (Just a side note...he still does!) One year, on the day of the country fair, when all the preparations had been completed and we were ready to enjoy the festivities, Jimmy asked if he could go off in search of treasures. With a small pocketful of money and our blessing, he happily and independently set off on his quest. The rest of us spent the day wherever we were needed to make the day a success. The full day of festivities was exciting and fun for our family, but it also proved to be long and tiring, especially for our little ones. At the end of the fair we wearily returned home and took turns sharing the day’s events and displaying any of the treasures we had acquired. When it was his turn, Jimmy proudly pulled a handful of precious knick-knacks from his pocket. Methodically, he explained their importance to him and how he had bargained for each item. He saved his most valuable find till the end. As he slowly reached into his little pocket, he carefully extracted a long, worn, golden chain holding an equally worn golden cross. As he lifted it high for all of us to admire, he radiated a smile that practically exclaimed “TA DA!” My mother’s heart leaped with joy. This precious child of God had instinctively realized the intrinsic value of the worn cross. I hugged him at least a half dozen times to share his joy, before sending them all off to bed. A Tiny Crack Not long after they had disappeared to their rooms, a long drawn out cry of “Moooooom!” echoed down the stairwell. It was followed by a distinct distressed sobbing that indicated something was unusually wrong. Praying that no one was hurt, I dashed up the stairs to find Jimmy standing in his doorway pointing toward the corner of his room. “What is it? What happened? What is the matter?” I rattled off my standard motherly questions as I scanned the room for possible answers. Finding no apparent explanation, I stooped down to hear what was making him so distressed. Trying to catch his breath through the tears, he explained that the chain had slipped through his fingers and fallen through a very tiny crack in the floorboards. His tear-stained eyes were fixed on me, imploring me to recover his precious treasure. I asked his older brother for his rendition of events and he verified Jimmy’s story. Plan A involved shining a flashlight into the tiny hole, hoping that it had fallen straight down where I could see it and then figure out how to retrieve it. But…no such luck. Moving on to Plan B, my husband gathered his tools and began prying up floorboards. Although we all scoured the area carefully, the chain was nowhere to be found. While my husband reattached the floorboards, I tried to console our disappointed, tired little boy. We were all worn out, and it was apparent that nothing more could be done that evening. However, as we began to say nightly prayers with the boys, a thought came to me. When I was a child, just about Jimmy’s age, I had a toy jump rope that was very special to me. Somehow the jump rope had been misplaced and I felt very sad and helpless. I stopped and asked God to find it for me and place it in a specific location for me to find the next morning. To my delight, it was there the next day. God had answered my prayer and I have never stopped praying or trusting Him since then. (Read this story in my article “Just Like a Child” for the September/October 2019 issue of Shalom Tidings at shalomtidings.org). Recalling that feeling, I relayed my story to the boys and we prayed in the same way for God to help Jimmy. Jimmy asked for God to place the necklace on his dresser in a little container where he had placed other important treasures. We ended the long day with that prayer. Timeless Treasure The next morning I woke up to another long drawn out cry of, “Moooooom!” Gathering my wits and my robe about me, the same list of questions echoed through my head as on the previous evening. However, instead of finding a crying son in the doorway, I saw Jimmy smiling from ear to ear as the worn golden chain and cross dangled once again from the grasp of his little hand. “Did you find my chain last night?” he asked excitedly. I gasped. I knew that question! I had asked that same question to my mother many years ago, regarding my jump rope, when I discovered it had been located. I knew the impact my answer was about to have on my son. I slowly shook my head and reached out to hold Jimmy’s little hand. “No, Jimmy. I did not find your chain. You asked for God to help you and He answered your prayer.” I let my answer sink into his little heart for a few moments. My husband and my other sleepy son appeared in the doorway asking, “What’s going on?” Jimmy directed the same question at them, “Did you find my chain last night?” Neither could explain how the chain had appeared in the little treasure box. God had visited Jimmy that evening and it was time for me to pass on the lesson I had learned as a child. “Jimmy, when we pray to God, He listens to us. Last night you needed help and you asked God to help you in a very specific way. God heard you and helped you. I want you to always remember this moment. I want you to know that, you can ALWAYS ask God to help you no matter what you need or how old you get. He will always help you. Do you understand?” He looked down at his little cross and nodded. The impact of what had just happened began to take root in him and in all of us. None of us have forgotten that day and we have shared the story of the little cross to the children that were born after Jimmy. Precious Legacy My husband and I finally concluded our deliberations on how to distribute our belongings to our children. They may not fully understand the monetary or sentimental value of our earthly possessions and that is okay. When I recall this story, God reminds of what He said in Matthew 6:19-20 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. “But store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal.” God tells us in Scripture not to store up things on this earth that will wither and pass away. He tells us to store up our treasures in Heaven. We have stressed to our children the importance of prayer and the eternal value of having faith in God. I have found peace and comfort in knowing that we passed on to our children the importance of having a close prayerful relationship with God. They, in turn, are passing their faith and their stories about God on to their families. Praying forward our faith has become our everlasting legacy and heavenly treasure. Today, I want to encourage you. It is never too late to start your own legacy. Pray for your faith to increase and then pray forward your faith to those God places in your life. God bless you dear brothers and sisters.
Raymund Kolbe was born into a poor, Polish farming family in 1894. As a child he had such a mischievous nature that no one would have guessed he would be called Saint of Auschwitz, Founder of the Militia Immaculata, Apostle of Mary and Patron Saint of the 20th century! One day his mother was so frustrated with his behavior that she yelled at him in exasperation: “Raymund, what will become of you?!” This shook him to the core. Filled with grief, he went to a church and raised this question in prayer, “What will become of me?” Then he had a vision of the Virgin Mary appearing to him holding in her hands two crowns, one white and one red. She looked at him with love and asked him if he would like to have either. Raymund answered "Yes", he wanted both of them. The white crown of Purity came first, when he took the name Maximilian Kolbe and professed religious vows, one of which was Chastity. Back in the minor seminary, he often said to his classmates that he desired to consecrate his entire life to a great idea. Eventually he found the “Militia Immaculata” in 1917 with a goal to bring the whole world to God through Christ under the generalship of Mary Immaculate. In order to fulfill this mission, he sacrificed everything, and that brought him to the red crown of Martyrdom. In 1941 Kolbe was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp. A fellow prisoner wept for his wife and children after being arbitrarily chosen to be locked in the starvation bunker when a prisoner escaped. Hearing this, Father Kolbe volunteered to take his place. During those terrible days in the bunker, he led the men in prayer, and encouraged them. During every inspection, while the others lay on the floor, Father Maximilian knelt or stood in the middle, looking cheerfully at the officers. After two weeks nearly all the prisoners except Father had died due to dehydration and starvation. On the eve of the feast of Mary’s Assumption into Heaven, the impatient Nazis injected carbolic acid into Father Kolbe who raised his left arm to calmly take the deadly injection. In 1982 Pope John Paul II canonized Maximilian Kolbe as a Martyr of Charity and “patron saint of our difficult century.”
Sometimes it’s the little miracles that bolster our faith and prepare us for the hard moments in life. In our mid-twenties, when my wife and I were discerning a call to move from Chicago to Eureka Springs, Arkansas with members of our Catholic Charismatic community, we decided to visit Eureka to see what kind of housing was available. Two of our community members hosted us and showed us around. After a week, excited about our future in this picturesque town, we started our return trip to Chicago to make final preparations for our move to the Ozark mountains. Twists & Turns A few hours into our trip, engine trouble forced us off the road. The service station had good news—it was not a major problem, and bad news—they couldn’t get the replacement part till the next day. We had to get a room at a nearby motel. The next day, with our car in good working order, we headed out a good bit lighter—money-wise that is. The motel room and the repair work used up most of our cash. We’d barely have enough for food, and since Nancy was pregnant, skipping a meal was not an option. I had no credit cards in those days. We were sailing down the road when we were stopped by a state trooper. He flagged us down, along with five other cars, for speeding. One car after another, we pulled to the side of the road awaiting our tickets. I knew nothing about how to pay an out of state ticket nor, more importantly, how to dispute the speeding charge. Very politely, the officer said, “You can go to the courthouse if you want. Get off at the next exit, follow the signs into town, and you’ll see the courthouse.” Reminiscence The year before, Nancy and I took a delayed honeymoon to the Italian town where I was born. On the way there, we stopped at Assisi to visit our favorite Saints, Francis and Clare. In the basilica of Santa Chiara (Clare’s Italian name) we saw her actual golden yellow hair preserved in a glass case. Nancy turned to me and said, “If we ever have a girl, I want to name her Chiara.” I heartily agreed and looked forward to the day Saint Clare would have a namesake in our family. As we neared the exit, knowing we couldn’t pay the traffic ticket, Nancy and I turned to Santa Chiara. “Dear Saint Clare,” we prayed, “help us get out of paying this ticket. Please help us.” Half-jokingly I added, “Saint Clare, we’ll definitely name our baby after you… even if it’s a boy!” Immediately, the sign pointing to the town came into view. We could not believe our eyes. The officer had not told us he was sending us to St. Clair, Missouri! Not till recently did I learn it was named for a Revolutionary War general. But our naïve eyes saw the “St” followed by “Clair” and Saint Clare filled our hearts. We did not notice the difference in spelling of what we assumed was our beloved Saint’s name. This town of 4,000 in the American Bible-belt, we thought, was named for the Saint of Assisi! Overjoyed, we were convinced we had chosen well in turning to our dear Chiara. Edging Off I rushed toward the courthouse hoping to beat the other drivers so I could plead to the judge for mercy, but immediately the others pulled into the parking lot alongside us. When the courthouse clerk asked how I wanted to pay my fine, I said I didn’t think I was speeding and asked if I could speak with the judge. Though surprised, she said I could and nodded to a man seated at a desk across the room. As he took a long black robe from a nearby hat-stand, the clerk motioned us toward the courtroom where the man I had just seen was already sitting behind the bench wearing judges’ robes. He called the first “speeder.” She insisted she had not been speeding and, to my delight, the judge was understanding, even agreeing that sometimes police officers make mistakes and innocent drivers get wrongly ticketed. I was much encouraged until he said, but he is the police officer and I must take his word. Your fine is seventy-five dollars. The second defendant tried the opposite tack; all sugar and kindness, she explained the good officer must have made a mistake. Again, the judge indulged, conceding that officers are not perfect and sometimes even the radar equipment fails. But again, he turned on a dime reminding us that the officer is the duly appointed officer of the law. Her fee was eighty-five dollars. I was next, and I started with a question. “Your honor, is it possible for me to be found not guilty here today.” “Oh no,” he said. “The clerk said you wanted to speak with the judge, so I’m happy to listen. But no, I can’t find you not guilty. We would need a jury trial for that.” My only choices, it turned out, were to plead guilty and pay my fine or plead not guilty and pay my fine. There was no leaving without paying the fine. If I wanted a trial, I would have to return to St. Clair. When Hopelessly Lost “My wife and I are moving to the area in September,” I told him. “I’m willing to return for a trial.” The look on his face told me I was making progress. But suddenly Nancy rose to her feet, protruded her pregnant tummy, and called out for all to hear, “Oh honey, don’t try to reason with him. He doesn’t care about us. He doesn’t care that our car broke down and we spent all our money on a motel room and repair costs. Don’t try to reason with him, he just wants our money.” Try as I did to hush her lament, she forged on. When I turned back toward the judge convinced hope was lost, he motioned to me to approach the bench. As I neared, he asked, “You’re planning to move to this area?” “Yes, your honor. We’ll be moving to Eureka Springs in September.” He reached under his robe into his pants pocket and pulled out a business card. Handing it to me he said, “The next time you drive past St. Clair, give me a call.” I stood there, uncertain what to do. He gestured for me to go. I still did not understand. He motioned again, more forcefully. Tentatively, Nancy and I slowly left the courtroom. As we approached the counter, the clerk asked, “What did the judge say?” “He told me the next time we drive through town I should call him.” She looked annoyed. “What’s your fee?” she asked. “He didn’t give me one,” I said. She looked as befuddled as I had been. “This has never happened before,” she said. “I don’t know what to do with your ticket.” She looked at us and said, “Ok, I guess you can go.” Nancy and I entered our car in disbelief, stunned by what had happened. But we knew who to thank. When we are young and less mature in faith, God often blesses us with small signs, like this, that strengthen our faith and ready us for the challenges life inevitably brings. Nancy and I received many small signs in those early days with the Lord. They persuaded us that God cares even about the smaller things in life—not just the cancers or heart attacks, not just the foreclosure or lost job. And God uses his faithful ones, the Saints, to be channels of his grace. As we grow in the Lord and our faith matures, we may see fewer signs because those early ones have built a foundation of solid faith that enables us to “walk by faith and not by sight (or signs)” (2 Corinthians 5:7). But on that day long ago, in a town we were sure bore her name, we prayed that Santa Chiara would help us. And we have no doubt she did. Five months later our daughter was born in the Eureka Springs, Arkansas hospital. She was christened Chiara Faith.
When I was about 15, my Dad passed away and I was in a desperate situation. One night while I was praying, I yearned for God because I needed His help. And He answered me. I saw Him in a vision. At first, I was shocked because I had never had any experience of that sort. Jesus answered my prayer by showing Himself with His hands opened wide, a crown of thorns on His head, and His heart glowing. He did not say or do anything, but I was deeply touched by His presence. This was the first time I felt extremely close to Jesus. As I look back, I realize that aspects of what I saw in the vision symbolized aspects of my life. The crown of thorns symbolized the pain I was going through at that time, and Jesus’ glowing heart communicated His great love for me. Every time I remember the vision, the image of Jesus’ wide-open arms reminds me that everything is going to be alright because He is always with me. Growing up in a Catholic family made it easy for me to practice my faith. Regular Mass attendance was part of our routine. But when I moved to South Africa to teach English, I lived in a rural area where Sunday Mass was not available. This made me aware of how grateful I should be for every opportunity to be in the presence of the Eucharist and to receive Holy Communion. When I went to Albania to teach English, I was fortunate to stay in a convent where adoration before the Blessed Sacrament was part of our daily routine. That experience helped form my love for adoration and deepened my love for the Holy Eucharist. During that time with the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament I opened my heart to Him and shared everything I was feeling. People ask me how I can be so sure that Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament. I believe without a doubt because I can feel Him. His presence—His warmth and love—surround my whole being. Adoration is crucial in my life because it gives me the opportunity to listen to what God wants me to do. The more I listen to Him, the better I am able to discern God’s purpose in my life. While I was at university, I had a wonderful experience going to World Youth Day at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro. Four million of us celebrated adoration on the beach. The waves rolled in on one side, the sun shone upon us and when the Blessed Sacrament was raised, I was overwhelmed. The glory of Jesus, His invisible presence, was profound. As I knelt, with bowed head, surrounded by millions, I felt my burdens lifted and I was drawn closer to Him than ever before. Over the years, my relationship with Jesus has deepened and the Holy Eucharist has become central in my life. Even through the trials of my life, I have known Jesus is there for me. Whether at Mass or in Adoration, or in my own private prayer, I am always struck by His awesome, wonderful presence.
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