[Editor’s note: this is a follow-up article to Reaping the Whirlwind.]
In the aftermath of two highly covered hearings at the Supreme Court on same-sex unions, I posted on the problem of widespread sexual confusion and misbehavior in our culture, both heterosexual and homosexual.
But perhaps one aspect of the issue deserves some further attention: what the Church offers homosexuals. For, the claim is often made that the Catholic Church has “nothing to offer” Gay persons, homosexuals or the slightly wider group often called the LGBT community.
Of course this claim has a kind of rhetorical flourish built in since it would appear that, in order to have “something to offer” we would have to meet a rather specific list of demands, wherein we essentially set aside biblical, theological and natural law teaching, and embrace homosexual activity as natural, normal, and even virtuous.
This we cannot do. And thus, many of our modern critics engage in kind of all-or-nothing approach which demands 100% approval, or by definition we have “nothing to offer.”
Nevertheless to some of good will who might still be willing to hear an answer of what the Church offers, I think it helpful to offer an answer to the question,
“What does the Church offer Gay People?”
To begin, the Church offers Gay people what she offers anyone else: the truth of God’s Word authoritatively interpreted, the Sacraments of Salvation, a vision for life, and the witness and support of the communal life, a communion with those now living as well as with the ancients whose voice and witness we still revere. We also offer respect rooted in truth.
Lets look at each of these areas in more detail:
1. As to the truth of God’s Word, St. Paul eloquently said to the critics of his own day:
We do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Cor 4:2)
Allow me to speak personally as a pastor of souls and say that to anyone who will listen (whatever their orientation or background), to anyone who draws near my parish, enters its doors and to all whom I can reach in anyway, I strive to speak the Word of God plainly, a Word set forth in Scripture and Sacred Tradition.
I will not, as St. Paul directs, distort the Word of God. I will not gainsay (deny) it, neither will I abbreviate it, seek to “expunge” it, nor can I permit it to be subsumed under human, political or cultural agendas.
To the very best of my ability I seek, as St. Paul says, to set it forth plainly, and commend myself to every person’s conscience. I seek the strength and courage to preach the Gospel, in season and out of season, (cf. 1 Tim) and to preach the whole counsel of God.
It is first of all this that Church offers the Gay Community, and every other believer as well: the unabridged truth, preached in conformity with the Sacred Text and Sacred Tradition.
In preaching I am not looking to offend, I am not seeking a fight. Rather, I am seeking to joyfully celebrate the truth of the Gospel that I have come to find compelling and life giving. And yet I realize that whatever my intentions, there are at time people who do take offense at what I preach or teach. But that they take offense, does not mean I have given offense, or intended to offend. Again, let me emphasize, I cannot, as St. Paul says, distort God’s Word as I have received it. I cannot and must not engage in deception or any misrepresentation of God’s Word.
Sadly today there are some denominations and preachers which do distort God’s word to conform to modern agendas such as affirming homosexual activity. They have been deceived and are leading others into deception by distorting God’s clear word on the sinfulness of homosexual acts (and many heterosexual acts such as fornication, adultery, incest, and other disordered and unnatural sexual practices that have become more common among heterosexuals today).
I do not have time here to give a full discourse on the Biblical teaching against homosexual acts, but I have written more on that here: Letter on Homosexuality.
But for this post suffice it to say that there is nothing at all ambiguous about the clear and consistent condemnation of homosexual activity at every stage of Scripture, beginning in the earliest books, and going through every stage of Scripture, right through to the very last book, Revelation. Attempts to pretend that Scripture does not say what it clearly does say are fanciful at best, and gravely sinful at worst. It is to indulge in deception, and to likely lead others into that deception.
What the Catholic Church offers, in the first place to the Gay community and to every believer is the plain truth of Scripture. We commend ourselves and God’s word to the conscience of every person. We refuse to indulge in modern deceptions and speak the truth in love.
To those who will say I am being judgmental, I will say only what Scripture says. I do not need to make a judgment in this, God already has, and His judgment is consistently and clearly stated that homosexual acts are sinful and wrong. They cannot be approved of in any way. This is God’s judgement not mine.
And to those who insist on living at variance with God’s Word and even worse encouraging, teaching and affirming others in doing so, God’s word says that they have been deceived (2 Cor 4:2), that their minds have become darkened by the suppression of the truth (cf Rom 1:18,21), that The god of this age has blinded their minds, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel (2 Cor 4:4) and they have chosen to live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking (Eph 4:17).
Woe to those religious leaders who gainsay the word of God and mislead others. Of these Jesus says, Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit. (Matt 15:13-14)
The Catholic Church offers to Gay Christians a refuge from all this deception and confusion in this matter. We do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Cor 4:2)
The Church can say nothing other than what she has heard from the Lord. And thus we teach:
Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. (Catechism # 2357)
2. In addition we in the Church offer the help of the Sacraments which are like medicines to assist us in living in Christian freedom. No aspect of the moral life is simple or easy in this sin-soaked world. We are living in a fallen world, governed by a fallen angel, and we ourselves have fallen natures. Thrice fallen we are not without help. We have the Lord Jesus who speaks the truth to us and strengthens and heals us with his Sacraments.
Of this I am a witness. Having thus dedicated myself to prayer, scripture, the sacraments, and to fellowship (Acts 2:42) I have seen my life changed. I am a new man. I have seen sins put to death and many graces come alive. I am more serene, and confident, I more patient, zealous, chaste, merciful and forgiving. I give God all the glory and praise him for this life he has given me from the Cross and through his Church.
3. A Vision of Chaste Life – All of this too the Church offers to the Gay community. Along with a vision for life. And what is that vision? It is stated in the Catechism:
Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection (Catechism # 2359)
Yes, freedom to live chastely! It is the same call that every other Christian has, Chastity. The married are to remain faithful in mind, heart and body. They are not to engaged in unnatural sexual practices in their marriage or to use contraception. The unmarried are to live chastity by embracing celibacy. Homosexuals cannot marry. There are also many heterosexuals who never find their way to marriage. Celibacy is the call in cases like these. This is the vision and this is the plan. The Church offers the celibate life to those who cannot marry.
Now to those who may scoff, I want to say, I am a big believer in celibacy! Although a heterosexual, I have, as priest, embraced celibacy as a way of life. I am happy, fulfilled, and I have been successfully celibate all my priesthood. I have never strayed with anyone, not once. I am a witness that celibacy is both possible and wonderful.
Jesus was celibate, Paul was celibate. And to those who are not now married, and to those who can never marry, I commend celibacy to you and promise you that you can and will live a full life, a happy life, and a satisfied life in Christ Jesus by embracing the life he offers. As a celibate, the door to marriage and sexual activity is closed, but many other fulfilling things are opened, a life of service, and availability that might not otherwise be possible.
The Church offers the celibate and chaste life to the Gay community. The notion that happiness is not possible without sexual intercourse and/or marriage is a lie perpetrated by a sex-crazed culture. I am a witness that celibacy is good and fulfilling. I know also of many others, parishioners, both Gay and Straight who successfully live celibate lives and give witness to the grace of God in these matters.
4. Finally let me say, the Church offers respect and understanding rooted in truth to the Gay person. Now of course there are some people in this world who demand outright approval as the only way to show respect and understanding. With these there is no reasoning. But to those disposed to listen, and accept that understanding and respect are offered in the light of truth, the Church has this to say:
The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition. (Catechism # 2358)
There are some who would like to create the impression that the Catholic Church has people at the door trying to spot and keep Gay people out. Or that perhaps on discovery, they will be confronted and exposed to hate, or that they will be singled out for special ridicule and rebuke.
They are not. I’ve got a Church full of sinners, starting with the guy in the pulpit. And to those who come to the Catholic Church, there will be times where we are all challenged in one way or another by God’s truth regarding the sins to which we are most prone. There will also be times when we are greatly consoled by that same truth in the struggles and heartaches that most afflict us.
Good preaching comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. And we are all in both categories. I and others do not go up and down the aisles accusing or confronting people directly. I do not pry in people’s personal business. I do not ask every young couple if they are fornicating, or every business person if he is stealing.
I preach the gospel, I preach the gospel that God loves us, and that he, by that love and grace can save us from fornication, stealing, homosexual acts, unkindness, unforgiveness, greed and so forth.
We are all called to freedom, the glorious freedom of the Children of God. There are not separate rules for Gay people, Straight people, or any other category. We are all Children of God. Some of us are called to Marriage and child bearing, some are not. Sex is for marriage, no exceptions. There is a dignity and respect in the common call to live chastely, no matter who we are.
The Catholic Church has a lot to offer, to Gay people, to all people: the truth, the sacraments, a vision for a chaste life, and a fellowship of believers who offer support and encouragement to all who will walk with us poor fellow sinners.
[Editor’s note: this article first appeared at the Msgr. Pope’s blog at the website of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC.]