By Father Woods
Hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear some discussion of homosexuality. While the many dimensions of same-sex attraction are too numerous to tackle here, Catholics are asking themselves what their attitudes and beliefs ought to be in the face of rapidly changing social mores regarding this topic. Sadly, many have demonized people of faith as bigoted; Catholics are told that because they do not accept the social agenda attached to this subject that they are against what proponents call the “civil rights struggle of the 21st century”. There is a strong temptation for even the most devout to be caught up in the tsunami of rhetoric that laces together a social agenda with the traditional values of equality, democracy and tolerance.
Here’s the truth. Every human being is created in the image and likeness of God and deserves respect and reverence. Christians do not authentically witness to Jesus when they show prejudice to any class of people or to individuals. Judgments based on mannerisms, attitudes or even attractions are not worthy of Catholics. Every person should, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. observed, be judged on the content of his character. Discrimination against homosexual persons is contrary to the Gospel. A person’s sexual orientation is morally neutral – it is what it is. There is nothing intrinsically sinful in a homosexual orientation. Further, no individual should define himself by his sexuality nor should she be defined by others according to her sexuality.
Here’s more truth. Every human person is called to chastity. Whether married, single, widowed, separated or divorced, homosexual or heterosexual, all persons are called to live the chastity appropriate to their particular state of life. It would be wrong to believe that affirming heterosexuality means accepting immoral behaviors like fornication, cohabitation or adultery – all of which are specifically excluded by the New Testament. Similarly our love and acceptance for homosexual persons does not mean accepting or encouraging homosexual activities or redefining the ancient definition of holy matrimony. Our understanding of marriage is rooted in the Person of Christ and the teaching of the Church He established. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life – truth does not change.
Precision is essential here. Homosexual persons have real relatives and friends who value and love them. The Church must love them too, and part of that love for every believer is accepting the universal call to holiness. Pushing persons with same-sex attraction away from the Church pushes them right into the arms of the secular humanists. If we don’t love them with Jesus’ love they will look for a poor substitute. Of course being part of the Church means accepting the challenge to live Jesus’ Gospel – and the assurance that the Church will help you carry your cross, offering consolation, encouragement and forgiveness when necessary. No one stands at the front doors of the Church screening out those who lie, cheat, steal, take God’s Name in vain, commit adultery, or any other criteria – or for their sexual orientation. We presume that every person is in a state of grace until proven otherwise. If someone finds themselves in a state of sin, the Church offers the mercy of Jesus in the Sacrament of Penance. No one should feel excluded from the family of the Church and no one is exempt from the challenge to live that faith authentically. For decades the Church has wisely encouraged ways for homosexual persons to live the Gospel, for example living in small groups of like-minded individuals committed to prayer, chastity and holiness on the model of religious orders. This helps prevent loneliness and isolation and provides love, community and support.
In a society as free and diverse as the United States there should be room for everyone – including those who are committed to the traditional understanding of marriage and to living the teachings of the Church. There is concern that those who oppose the current social agenda will be told there is no room for them in society – that faithful Christian, Muslim and Jewish people will be excluded. lf we are precise enough in our understanding and in our behavior, we will bear authentic witness to the Risen Jesus in the world.