This is the first in a series of posts about supporting marriage as intended by God while loving all of God’s children. Join us as the March for Marriage this Saturday.
By: Elise Italiano, Director of Communications
In a letter to his brothers and sisters in the Diocese of Arlington on April 10, Bishop Paul S. Loverde urged us, “At this time, I ask you… to pray that the beauty of authentic married love will inspire many to protect it. Pray for our civil leaders, our lawmakers and fellow citizens, that all might build a society that serves the common good and respects God’s design for sexual difference. Pray also, for the grace to strengthen your own marriages and take steps to work towards protecting your family life.”
This week on Encourage and Teach, we will offer a series of reflections exploring how we as Catholic Christians hold two realities together: 1) that marriage is the permanent, exclusive union of one man to one woman, for their benefit and for the benefit of the children who are the fruit of their union, and 2) that we affirm and defend the dignity of our brothers and sisters who are attracted to the members of the same sex while accompanying them throughout their spiritual journeys.
Our contemporary culture says this is impossible – that by asserting the latter, you must forfeit the former – that no one could love and respect their gay friends, siblings, and children while also “limiting” marriage to one type of sexual relationship. Many say that this is bigoted and discriminatory, and that the only way to be exonerated is to allow for all types of sexual relationships to be understood as “marriages.”
But we are deeply convinced this is not so, and we want to provide a space for voices that uphold both realities. After all, if tolerance is our society’s highest value, then there ought to be room for us to share our faith in its fullness. That is how we bring others to experience the peace of Christ.
It’s a first step, and we fully acknowledge that one week limits the scope of what we can present. But our sincere hope is that this will foster both encouragement and teaching – or at least explanation – on the subject. While many people more capable than we have outlined each tenant in greater detail – both the nature of marriage and the nature of respecting the dignity of all persons – we simply want to present that they can be both professed, both held in unity together without conflict. And more importantly, not only can we profess and believe them simultaneously, we can LIVE them.
A first place we should explore is The Catechism of the Catholic Church. It’s the go-to book to find out what the Church professes and why. We know that it says these two things:
1603 “The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws. . . . God himself is the author of marriage.” The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures, and spiritual attitudes. These differences should not cause us to forget its common and permanent characteristics. Although the dignity of this institution is not transparent everywhere with the same clarity, some sense of the greatness of the matrimonial union exists in all cultures. “The well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life.”
2358 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.
Perhaps of equal importance to WHAT the Catechism says is HOW it is to be read. When we look at the language of the Catechism, we have to note that it offers explanations of the faith using technical, theological language alongside of colloquial language. So, for instance, when we see the phrase “objective disorder,” a reader should note that this is a reference to a philosophical tradition which examines actions in relation to matter, form, and function–acting in accord with the way our bodies are designed– while recognizing that when it comes to sexual attraction, this will be difficult for some – and therefore they should be “accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” so that their burdens may be light.
Additionally, Saint Pope John Paul II, who commissioned the writing of the current version of the Catechism said, “In reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church’ we can perceive the wonderful unity of the mystery of God…”
That means that Catholics don’t pick and choose parts of the Faith, selecting those which are appealing and disregarding those which are not. All are embraced as part of a unity of God’s revelation to us through Jesus Christ and through the community of His disciples, the Church.
In Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis wrote, “Faith is one because it is shared by the whole Church, in which we receive a common gaze. Faith must be professed in all of its purity and integrity. Precisely because all of the articles of faith are interconnected, to deny one of them, even those that seem least important, is tantamount to distorting the whole” (no. 47).
To disregard either of these truths would be to unravel the whole.
It’s also important to note that teachings about the design of sexuality are not just relegated to moral theology, but are united to the Church’s practices of prayer and worship; to the biblical view of creation; and to the theology of vocation, sacramental life, and the Universal Call to Holiness. How we act is a response to whether or not we believe in God’s revelation, both in Scripture and in the natural order. Sexual ethics are not isolated from the lived reality of the rest of faith. They are only understood through it.
During his Apostolic Journey to the United States, Pope Benedict XVI gave a homily in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral that provides a helpful analogy as to how teachings of the faith, especially those which might difficult to grasp by reason alone, become clearer through the practice of the faith.
“…Stained glass windows flood the interior [of a church] with mystic light. From the outside, those windows are dark, heavy, even dreary. But once one enters the church, they suddenly come alive; reflecting the light passing through them, they reveal all their splendor. Many writers – here in America we can think of Nathaniel Hawthorne – have used the image of stained glass to illustrate the mystery of the Church herself. It is only from the inside, from the experience of faith and ecclesial life, that we see the Church as she truly is: flooded with grace, resplendent in beauty, adorned by the manifold gifts of the Spirit. It follows that we, who live the life of grace within the Church’s communion, are called to draw all people into this mystery of light.”
Think of these two teachings – loving one’s gay neighbor, sibling, or friend and upholding marriage as it was designed, as if they were stained glass window panels. Their beauty could be obscured (or only partially understood) if one does not participate in the life of the Church. They are illuminated, however, when one is standing inside, hearing the proclamation of the entire Word of God proclaimed, receiving the sacraments, living and praying with a community. To enter into the mystery is to better understand it.
And most importantly, we focus on Jesus, God’s self-revelation. Just as when we read the Catechism and have to examine each teaching in light of entirety of the faith, we can’t pick and choose accounts from Jesus’ life and ministry to support our beliefs. Every line from the Word of God must be read in light of whole of Scripture.
Jesus, in His very person, upholds both truths. He is clear with His apostles about marriage – what it is for, how husbands and wives are to interact, and even the fact that it does not persist beyond this life. Moreover, He says that He did not come to get rid of God’s law, but to fulfill it. Morality does not disappear with Jesus – He takes it further, and gets to its heart.
At the same time, He accompanied (to use a favorite phrase of the Holy Father’s) many who were not living in accord with the law, many who were violating it. In those moments, though, He did not lead with a delineation of the law. Instead, He sat with them, ate meals with them, and asked them questions. It was only after an encounter with them that He issued an invitation to be His disciple – not to follow them on their own terms, but on His. (“Come and see,” and “Go and sin no more.”)
The call to holiness and discipleship is for everyone – heterosexual, homosexual, single, married, priest, or religious. But the terms and conditions for becoming holy are not up to us – the paradox is that we are set free when we relinquish our image of ourselves, and conform ourselves to Him.
Our faith itself is based on a paradox – that through death on a Cross, Jesus gained for eternal life for us. But a paradox is not a conflict. A paradox holds together two seemingly contradictory things, and in their interplay, a new reality emerges. This week, let us meditate on the reality of our God, the author of creation, who can hold all things together and who can make all things new.