Let me introduce you to Steve Gershom. He’s a former teacher in his late twenties, who now works as a web developer. He has a blog called “Catholic, Gay, and Feeling Fine, Thanks.”
Steve isn’t feeling fine in spite of his Catholicism; he completely accepts the Church’s teaching on homosexual acts, and finds it offers a way to deal with his same-sex attraction.
In his own words: “Without the Church’s clear teaching on the issue, I would have been at the mercy of my badly confused emotions. When your instincts are misleading, you need something unshakable. The Church is a rock.”
On his blog he offers one man’s answer to some pretty common lies. He writes “I have heard a lot about how mean the Church is, and how bigoted, because she opposes gay marriage. How badly she misunderstands gay people, and how hostile she is towards us. My gut reaction to such things is: Are you freaking* kidding me? Are we even talking about the same church?”
He says that when he has mentioned his same-sex attraction in the confessional, he’s “always gotten one of two responses: either compassion, encouragement, and admiration, because the celibate life is difficult and profoundly counter-cultural; or nothing at all, not even a ripple, as if I had confessed eating too much on Thanksgiving.”
“Where are all these bigoted Catholics I keep hearing about? When I told my family a year ago, not one of them responded with anything but love and understanding. Nobody acted like I had a disease. Nobody started treating me differently or looking at me funny. The same is true of every one of the Catholic friends that I’ve told. They love me for who I am.”
Now if I thought Steve Gershom’s experience was rare or special, I wouldn’t be quoting him. But I have met very few whose experience with the Church and with Catholics was much different than his, making allowance for the fact that families can sometimes have a time of adjustment after an unexpected disclosure.
On the other hand, the Church needs to work harder at getting its message across. In an interview, Gershom said “I do think the Church’s approach to the topic needs work, and badly.”
I agree. It seems to me that one reason some people think that the Catholic Church is cruel or unfeeling towards people with same-sex attraction is that we fail to present the teaching clearly and respectfully, and in the context of the whole Christian message. If we can’t explain why the Church’s teaching—all of it—is good news, we open ourselves to a whole lot of misunderstanding.
This inadequate understanding is a crucial problem. For those with same-sex attraction, it’s hard to love the Church if you think the Church doesn’t love you. And it’s hard to love the Church when you think she’s teaching something that’s wrong, even if you don’t have SSA.
Those Catholics, many of them young, who cannot accept what the Church teaches about homosexual acts risk feeling disconnected from the living stream of truth He makes flow through His Church.
So how do we express our teaching in a way that expresses God’s love for each human person, and in a way that condemns no-one?
Well, first, we need to show respect for people who identify themselves as “gay”—so much respect, in fact, that we avoid confusing their sexuality with their personhood. Today’s gay pride parade intends to promote respect, which is a good thing, but it fails to promote the dignity of the whole person. Most of us do not identify ourselves based on whom we’re attracted to: we’re so much more. Collapsing a person according to their sexual inclination identifies them by what they do, or what they desire, not by who they are. As one priest told Steve Gershom in confession, “You’re not a homosexual. You’re a man.”
Showing respect for persons also means avoiding hurtful language, unkind jokes and stereotypes. In the words of the Catechism, it means avoiding “every sign of unjust discrimination” in regard to people with homosexual tendencies.
Secondly, we need to know what the Church teaches and be able to share it with love. The Catechism of the Catholic Church contains only 222 words about homosexuality (nn. 2357-2359), and today’s Catholic can’t afford not to know every one of them. For instance, there are probably people who think that same-sex attraction is a sin, when the Church clearly teaches it is not.
Speaking of the Catechism, it’s unfortunate that it uses technical theological language in describing homosexual acts as “disordered.” Understood correctly, this means that these acts are not within God's plan for our bodies and so the act is disordered. We are talking about acts here, not persons. Confusion on that point has caused a lot of hurt.
In any case, the Church’s teaching on the morality of homosexual acts must not be divorced from the big picture. It’s part of a package, set within the context of the call to holiness, the Catholic vision of the human person, and the Biblical view of marriage and the family.
The ‘full meal deal’ of Catholicism makes no apologies for making demands. Last Sunday’s Province newspaper had an interview with a young Baptist pastor. When the paper asked what people would find most surprising about his church, he answered “We make Christianity hard, not easy.”
That’s because Christianity is hard. It’s hard for married people. It’s hard for widowed people, single people, everyone. I was particularly struck by a young convert to Catholicism, Jennifer Fulwiler, who blogged about a conversation she had with two men who were dear friends of hers. They told her it was unreasonable to expect them to make the huge sacrifice of abstaining from sexual relations.
She replied by telling them about marriage: “you are constantly having to make sacrifices out of respect for what this act is all about: If you’re totally open to having kids, then there are the sacrifices that come with birth and raising children; if you’re abstaining during fertile times, you’re sacrificing. Infertile couples sacrifice by not using artificial methods like in vitro to force new life into existence.
“Gay men and women sacrifice by living chaste lives, as do people separated from their spouses, and people who are not yet married, or whose spouse has died. Notice that we’re all sacrificing, and that all of the sacrifices are about the same thing: love and respect for new human life, and specifically the act that creates new human life.”
“Why do people think that living a good life is supposed to be easy? Readers, whoever you are — gay, straight, married, single, relatively healthy or inflicted with any one of a billion possible debilitating pathologies — you will be asked to carry a cross. It’s going to be hard, and it’s not going to be fair.”
“Suffering and self-denial aren’t extraordinary; they’re par for the course.”
Do you see where I am going? The Church doesn’t tell people what they’re doing is wrong without offering them a promise of something infinitely better. If people don’t think the offer is worthwhile, they can ignore the Church—but they should not hate her for wanting to share what we sincerely believe to be the fullness of life.
Today’s Gospel is a reminder of what it is that Jesus offers: food and drink that feeds the soul’s deepest needs. And although that divine food endures for eternal life, it sustains us here on earth. Homosexual persons are not condemned by Church teaching to a happiness-free life while waiting for the joys of heaven.
As Steve Gershom has written, "Being a Catholic means believing in a God who literally waits in the chapel for me, hoping I'll stop by just for ten minutes so he can pour out love and healing on my heart. Which is worth more—all this, or getting to have sex with who I want? I wish everybody, straight or gay, had as beautiful a life as I have."
“You have a right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you.”
That was the line the policeman read to the crook in the TV cop shows of my youth. I’d like to conclude by telling you why it’s only half true for Catholics.
The detectives were right on the second point: Anything you say can and will be used against you—if what you say presents honestly and courageously what the Church teaches about homosexual acts and so-called gay marriage.
It will be used against you in the family, when children, siblings or other relatives demand that you accept their “lifestyle.” What you say will be used against you at school, at work, or in the political arena. You may be vilified in the media, or even hauled before tribunals or courts.
This may be dismaying, or frightening, but it should not be surprising. Israel rebelled against Moses for speaking an unpopular word, Herod murders John the Baptist for defending the Jewish marriage law, and Jesus goes to the cross for challenging the status quo. In case we miss the point, He tells us that a disciple is not greater than the Master; Jesus calls the Apostles, and us, to drink the cup he drinks.
What’s not true is that we have a ‘right’ to remain silent. On the contrary, we have a duty to speak out. We are called by Jesus to be salt for the earth and light for the world; we’re called to be noisy, shouting a message from the housetops, not just from pulpits.
Church buildings have walls and property lines, but the Church does not. In the words of an ancient Christian text, Christians are the soul of the world. We’re a voice that disturbs as well as comforts.
So forget about the right to remain silent. Jesus didn’t have that right, and he didn’t give it to his followers either.
What He did give us was truth, truth that sets free and makes whole.
* Just btw: even though it's a euphemism, in the pulpit I skipped the word 'freaking' used by Steve. And still on the subject of language: I do not think the term "gay" is a helpful one, at least not in the context of a serious discussion of homosexuality and the moral life. However, Steve Gershon uses it (reluctantly, as he explains here) so I did likewise since I quote him extensively above.