As you may know, it is the month of the Sacred Heart. Some of the biggest and best liturgical feasts (excepting Easter) usually happen during this month. The Trinity, Corpus Christi, The Sacred Heart (hence the month’s dedication), the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and the Solemnity of Sts. Peter & Paul (June 29), not to mention a whole host of other great early Church saints. It is also the month during which most priests (like me!) are ordained, at least in the U.S. On top of that, it is typically the most popular month for a wedding. What this adds up to almost a solid month of celebration, both for the universal Church and for individuals marking anniversaries. So yeah, party on (in moderation of course!).
But the world wants in on it.
For those of you who haven’t noticed the gazillion rainbow flags adorning everything from Facebook pages to sports jerseys, June has been marked as Pride Month. Now, let me be clear. I firmly and gladly adhere to the Church’s teaching about not hating or unjustly discriminating against people with same-sex attraction or who identify themselves as “gay, lesbian,” or anything else. I also realize that some people celebrate Gay Pride not in order to support the lifestyle, but to oppose hatred. I respect that, but that number is probably pretty small. Most people who consider homosexual activity sinful will agree that “Pride” is generally meant to condone and support not just the people, but also their lifestyle. It is this last definition I’m criticizing. Yes, the Church considers sexual activity between people of the same sex to be sinful and that teaching cannot change. As always, we distinguish, distinguish, distinguish between the person and their actions. We even distinguish between the person and their desires or feelings.
Still, the world has taken a month dedicated to the self-gift and divine love of the Sacred Heart (and all those other feasts) and use it to celebrate a false idea of love. Call me crazy if you want, but I am convinced this is deliberate. If not in the mind of the creators of the movement, then at least in the mind of Satan who uses his various influences to orchestrate such things even without the knowledge of his unwitting collaborators.
But is our Theology on Homosexuality adequate?
Yes and no. The Moral Theology of the Church on this topic is developed enough. We know what’s right and what’s wrong and we know why this is the case. Theology of the Body, Scripture’s vision of marriage and sexuality, and Natural Law all serve this branch of theology in addressing the morality of homosexual acts.
What I will say, however, is that our Pastoral Theology concerning people who identify as gay is probably insufficient. And no, “pastoral” does not mean breaking the rules because it’s nicer or easier. The moral theology and teaching are a foundation for pastoral theology, but the focus of this branch is how to work with the people in these situations. Trying to change Church teachings is bad Pastoral Theology and only talking about accompanying people is bad Moral Theology. Each branch of theology has its proper focus and neither one should try to displace or ignore the other.
Allow me to explain. At the moment, faithful ministers of the Church can tell a person with same-sex attraction that they are not allowed to act on it. Then, there is usually a long process of prayer, regular confession, seeking support in groups like Courage, and possibly some counseling. Sometimes people try reparative therapy and sometimes it works, but that is not a guarantee nor should it be presented as one. More often than not, the focus is on not giving in to misguided desires. We use lots of analogies to other bad desires and stress the importance of self-control and finding support in keeping control. This is good and necessary, but there are still questions to wrestle with.
Those ministers who are celibate, like priests and religious, can be in solidarity via their own promises to celibacy. I’m celibate and I share a similar struggle of not acting on my sexual desires, so I can indeed empathize with men and women who strive to resist their sexual desires, even though for different reasons. I think that this particular approach is not used enough; Even though it helps, it’s not perfect because of two major differences.
First, I chose to be celibate and not everyone with same-sex attraction had a choice in the development of those desires. Secondly, what I am giving up is still considered good in itself and could have been acted on in another context. Those with SSA could never act on these desires in a legitimate way. I’m not oblivious to the difficulty of being told, by the Catechism that “this inclination,” that my deeply felt and highly personal desire is “objectively disordered.” Even as I stand by those words, because they are true, I won’t pretend that it doesn’t hurt. So, how can our Pastoral Theology help with this without discarding the truths of Moral Theology, Natural, Scripture, etc…?
I don’t have answers, but maybe a direction
First, I’d like to respond to the second problem. We need to develop a greater honesty about ourselves. Some people call for a different “language” about the realities we are facing in the area of sexuality. I disagree, but I do think that we need to learn how to speak the language we have a little better. The words “objectively disordered” are so shocking in part because we almost never say them. Among many groups, if you say that phrase, people will immediately assume you are talking about homosexual desires. That’s a bit absurd because there are a ton of “objectively disordered” desires. Let me be concrete. Yes, I am celibate and I control and resist my good and healthy sexual desires, but I’d be lying if I said that all of my desires are ordered. I’d be lying if I said that I don’t have any objectively disordered desires. I grew up in this culture too, and I am not unscathed. If more Catholics were more honest about needing help and guidance to resist their own objectively disordered desires (yes, sexually but also elsewhere), it would not be so shocking or isolating to speak of homosexual desires in that way.
Secondly, we have to talk about the problem of evil in this context. And, we need to do it using a Scriptural springboard. In all the conversation about the Church and Homosexuality, I don’t think I’ve ever, even once, seen this passage cited or even alluded to in writing:
“The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry.” But he said to them, “Not all men can receive this word, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.” (Matt 19:10-12)
Jesus is not referring just to people who have been castrated. He’s using “eunuch” as a metonym for all people who cannot or do not get married. Beyond priestly celibacy, Jesus speaks of those incapable of marriage from birth and those made so by men. Jesus doesn’t even both to say this can be avoided; It’s simply a fact that a broken world produces people who cannot marry for some reason and that most certainly includes deep-seated homosexual desires (or other irregular sexual desires). There needs to be some deeper reflection along these lines.
People need the honesty to say that sometimes there is no “fix;” Even Jesus doesn’t offer one. The only thing he offers is the ability to “receive this word.” Not everyone can accept the Truth he is speaking. We often assume he means not everyone can accept the vocation to priesthood or religious life because of celibacy, but he makes this point before talking about all three kinds of Eunuchs. The Church, you and I, need to develop our understanding of how Jesus is offering something here to people who could not make the choice for celibacy, those who are simply stuck with it as the only morally upright possibility. The only way this harsh reality can be accepted is if it is given, i.e. by grace. That process needs to receive more credit and attention than it is getting.
Ultimately, Catholics of all kinds could stand for a lot less pride and a lot less prejudice. Eunuch or not, we are all called to enter and serve the kingdom. What can we do to help make that happen?