“There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.” -Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
The Venerable Archbishop is well known for his observations that are as true today as they were when he said them over 50 years ago. The quote above is no different. The Catholic Church is most often hated not for what she is (or teaches), bur for what people mistakenly think she teaches. This has never been more true today then in the area of homosexuality, or same sex attraction.
In an effort to help Catholics understand what the Church really does teach on same sex attraction, let’s take a look at the following misconceptions.
Why does the Church tell people who they can and can’t love?
When considering the Churches teaching on “Gay Marriage”, the above question is a curious one. The Church forbids the very thing this statement contends she teaches. In fact, it is that commandment that actually demands we stand against the abuse of marriage called “Gay Marriage”. To sum it up – we MUST love EVERYONE.Jesus said that the greatest commandment is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). So, Jesus commanded that everyone must love everyone. However, God also tells us how to love – don’t steal, don’t kill, don’t lie and so forth. This includes the fact that we are to express love differently to the different people in our lives. We don’t love our parents the same way we love our best friends. We don’t love our children the same way we love our coworkers. And we don’t love our spouse the same we love anyone else.
The idea put forth in the above misconception (Why does the Church tell people who they can and can’t love?) is not really about love, but about sex. How can the Church tell us who we can have sex with? That’s the real question being asked. To understand the answer, we must understand that sexual relations do not equate love… and sex definitely is not a universal expression of love. Sex is a very specific and unique expression of love meant for specific people in a specific relationship. It is NOT how we express love to just anyone.
Sex is the unitive and life giving expression of love between a man and a woman in marriage. THIS is what God commands and thus the Church teaches. Not who we can love, but how to love. Because when we really think of it, we don’t know how to love each other well.
But what does this mean? Why is sex just for a man and woman in marriage?
When God created man and woman, he did so in a very special and amazing way. “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness‘” (Genesis 1:26). God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit – the Holy Trinity. The Father and Son love One Another completely and infinity. This love between the Father and Son is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is also completely and infinity loved by the Father and Son and loves Them right back. So when God says, “Let US make man in OUR image, after OUR likness” God is saying that He is going to make man as a family of love, just like Him.
This is what follows next… “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). So, God created man and woman together as a family, a married couple united in love for one another. And what is the first thing God commands? “And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). God commands sex. But NOT the meaningless sex that our world has embraced. When God commands sex He is commanding the full, total and faithful commitment of love He created marriage to be, so it would image Him. And this love is fruitful. Not just with children, but in the way marriage lifts up all of creation and reveals the Holy Trinity to the whole world. That is what the word “subdue” means here. Not to conquer and destroy or enslave, but to conquer and lift up.
This is the sacred and holy purpose of marriage that God created. The gift of sexuality is sacred. And our problem is not that we think about sex too much, but that we think too little of sex. It is sacred, majestic, holy and life giving. IT IS POWERFUL. It is not to be messed with or misused, or as we have seen, it’s power will cause great harm.
So, to review, the gift of sexuality is a holy and powerful gift from God that is only for the unitiive and fruitful relationship of a married man and woman. Any other use is a misuse, and thus is not love.
The core teaching of Christianity is tolerance – not judging, just like Jesus said. Why do we judge people who are homosexual? Would Jesus do this?
First, the core teachings of Christianity are as follows: Jesus is God and love God and neighbor. The commandment about judging does not refer to never telling someone that they sinned. Rather it means not to condemn someone, because you don’t know what’s in their heart; only God does. So, I can tell someone that it is wrong for them to hit their child, but I can’t condemn them to Hell for it, because I’m a sinner too and we are all redeemed and judged by Christ alone.
This means that sometimes you are going to have to tell your neighbor that what they are doing is harmful to their souls, even if this upsets your neighbor, even if your neighbor will not be your friend anymore, even if they call you a bigot. If someone is thinking about having an abortion, for example, they need to be counseled against it not only for the life of the unborn baby, but for the soul of the mother. This comes from the Spiritual Works of Mercy to “admonish the sinner” and “instruct the ignorant.” These Spiritual Works have their root in the commandments of Jesus in the Bible. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says:
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” -Matthew 18:15-16
Jesus tells us that we are to go to our brother and tell him his fault, but in private. If that doesn’t work, take a few others with you and try to try and convince him. This is a striking command by Our Lord, and one very often ignored or done badly. But what comes next is even more shocking to society’s present attitude toward the Catholic Church:
“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” -Matthew 17-18
Jesus Christ says that those who do not listen to the teachings of the Church should be banished, but only after they have been given several chances to repent. Jesus is teaching His 12 Apostles here, the first bishops of the Church. He uses the same words He spoke to St. Peter two chapters earlier. He tells them if they bind and loose on earth it is also done in Heaven. Jesus is telling them that He is giving them the power to make authoritative decisions as the leaders of the Church.
So, Jesus Christ, who is God, tells us that if we refuse to listen to the Church in matters of morals and sin, it is a matter serious enough to get us banished from communion with the Church, or excommunicate us. This is not done when someone struggles with a particular sin. We all struggle this way. This is when someone does not struggle. In fact, they sin with no guilt at all, because they don’t think the sin is really a sin.
The purpose of excommunication is to instruct. It is akin to a timeout for a child. The child refuses to stop his or her bad behavior, so they are given a timeout in a chair, in a corner, away from everyone else. The hope is for them to lean that their behavior was wrong. The same goes for someone who is excommunicated. The hope is that the seriousness of being excommunicated will wake the person up to the seriousness of their sin and they will repent.
St. Paul teaches about this more than once.
“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people.” -2 Timothy 3:1-5
“I appeal to you, brethren, to take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by fair and flattering words they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded.” -Romans 16:17-18
In First Corinthians St. Paul actually is talking about a specific man. St. Paul mentions that the excommunication is meant to save the man’s soul.
“It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” -1 Corinthians 5:1-5
We are not supposed to take the Bible literally. We do not have to take literally the Old Testament commandments against homosexuality.
You are right that as Catholics we do not take the whole Bible literally, but we do take some literally. The Catholic Church, from the beginning, gave us the Bible and has been the Bibles rightful and final interpreter. As well, the Church also passes on her teaching through Sacred Tradition, which is equally important to Sacred Scripture (see 1 Thessalonians 2:13 and 2 Thessalonians 2:15). That is why we can’t just dismiss parts of Scripture (like part’s of the OT that we don’t like) or interpret Scripture to mean what we would like it to mean. However, in the case of homosexual actions, both the New Testament (Romans 1:24-32) and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraphs 2357-2359) teach that these actions are wrong. So, well anything Jesus said about homosexuality (or about abortion or spousal abuse or equal pay for equal work) was not recorded in the Gospels, His Apostles and His Church have spoken clearly on these things ever sense.
Notice I said “homosexual actions” and not just homosexuals. Those with same sex attraction are equal in dignity with all human persons. They are to be loved, which is exactly why the Church will not tell them that homosexual behavior is OK, when it is the clear teaching of the Church, from Christ to the Apostles to now, that it is not OK. Just like a good parent who will not allow their child to do things harmful to their soul or body, Holy Mother Church takes the same stand, out of love for us and love for Christ. Remember what I wrote above, sex is a sacred gift from God meant for the unity of the married couple and the creation of new life. Any use of sexuality outside of this reason is an abuse of it and therefore sinful.
Didn’t Jesus eat with the sinners? If he could accept them, way don’t we?
Jesus spent time with the outcasts of His time and eat with them, but He did not do this to confirm them in their sin. He did not tell them, “I love you, don’t worry if you want to keep on sinning.” He told them this, “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). He also said the following to His Apostles:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it. He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me” (Matthew 10:34-40).
Now, does this make it difficult to be Catholic? Would it not be easier to just go with society and call those who think this way homophobes and bigots? Yes it would, in some ways, but being Catholic is not easy. Love is not easy. Love means telling those we love when they are hurting themselves. Love means wanting what is best for the other… and the best is God. If we see someone in a house that is burning around them, but they don’t notice, do we not tell them and try to rescue them? Do we fear we will upset them? The same goes for the times we see those we love not just sinning, but persisting in a sin to the extent that they don’t even realize it is sin. They don’t even realize they are hurting themselves. They don’t even realize their house burning around them.
True love means being truthful, even when the truth hurts.