Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What does our Faith say about homosexuality?

(This is two recent articles from the parish bulletin)

To be honest, this isn’t something we talk about a lot. I’ve seldom addressed this in a homily, for several reasons. It’s a big subject, sometimes too big to be handled well in a Sunday sermon. And it’s a delicate issue and some parents may be uncomfortable.

Well, now we have to talk about it; and I did to some degree on Sunday. Let me say some more here. To reiterate: we believe the gift of sexual intimacy is for marriage only; and by marriage, I mean a man and a woman.

But to amplify my point, let me turn that around: we believe the gift of marriage is man+woman, because sex, by its nature, is man+woman. That is to say, God created sex for marriage as much as he created marriage for sex. This is key, because failing to get this helps explain our present mess. Our society redefined sex first, then marriage. It redefined sex by changing it from being about self-gift, commitment for life, because it’s also about children. The whole point of the “Sexual Revolution” in the last century was to toss all that aside and turn sex into an expression of self, with children a separate thought.

Let’s drill into this question of what sex really is (as opposed to what our society claims it is).

Scripture says we are made in God’s image and likeness. Think about that: just what does that mean? How are we God’s “image”? Well, consider that God is the Creator. We humans are distinct from all creation in our imitation of his creativity. We write, we make music, we build things. A builder can erect whole cities—but he must use pre-existing materials, while God creates ex nihilo—out of nothing. A writer or filmmaker can spin whole worlds in her head or on paper, or on film, but that’s as real as they can ever be. Only God can truly create.

And yet…there is but one breathtaking moment, and only one, when we ascend the divine heights and very nearly approximate what, otherwise, only God can do: create something out of nothing: and that moment is when a man and a woman, in their act of love, create a new life. The couple does it with God’s help, of course—that’s why we are called pro-creators.

Can you see how everything the Church teaches on sex and reproduction follows from this insight? This is why contraception is wrong, and in vitro fertilization, as well as any sexual expression apart from man+woman, in marriage. In these and other ways, we are another Prometheus: God gave us the privilege of participating in his divine work; we take the privilege as if it were our property, and show God the door.

Recall how people claim we hate sex or think it’s dirty or sinful. See how absurd that is? We treat sex the way we treat Mass and the sacraments; it’s because of how holy and awesome they are, that we have rules and boundaries. Like Holy Mass, sex is an encounter with the divine. We approach with reverence.

Last week, I explained the core understanding we have about sex: by its nature it’s man+woman; and the clearest indication of that by its nature, it gives life. Sexual intimacy is where our vocation as “image of God” is truly realized in a concrete and powerful way.

Let’s notice something here: the power God gave us in the gift of sexuality is tremendous. One proof of that is to see how much harm is caused when we misuse it. So many terrible problems in our society—poverty, personal problems, anger, crime and social distress—are a direct consequence of sex without love, and adults conceiving children they don’t stay to raise.

So, yes, we have a lot of rules; we have good reason to. But only one says “no” to same-sex behavior. We aren’t “picking on” gays. What Jesus asks of gay people is what he asks of everyone: chastity, which means the right use of sex in marriage, and abstinence from sex outside of marriage.

Now, in our materialistic setting, that sounds absurd: no sex? That’s impossible! It’s too much to ask. It’s certainly difficult. But Jesus often asks very difficult things of us. Remember, he said: “Unless you take up your cross and follow me, you can be my disciple.”

Let’s come at this another way. Look at all the heterosexual couples in our society. They aren’t told, no sex. So they have it so much easier, right? I talk to lots of people, and they share their trials. The pain of unhappy marriages they can’t seem to fix; the sufferings of seeing a spouse or a child in deep pain or trouble; the high demands of raising children, both emotionally and financially.

Someone might say, yes, but there are so many joys in these things too; and that’s true. And there are great joys in living chastely and purely. We don’t need to have sex to be happy.

I’ve asked myself a question you may ask: why didn’t God just say what contemporary society wants him to say: have sex all you want, just don’t hurt people? After much thought, my answer is two-fold. First, sex isn’t about self; it’s about gift. And second, it only has meaning if it is understood to be about giving life (even if that doesn’t happen every time). To say it another way: sex is such a powerful thing that it has to be self-emptying and sacrificial, or else it would destroy us. That’s why it has to be about father plus mother, bringing a child. That keeps it from becoming just what our society is turning it into: selfish, hedonistic, egotistical and a power trip.

Let me say something very hard, but true.

Two men or two women can try to achieve what male-female intimacy aims for, but it’s impossible: because there can never be the fruitfulness of a child. And let’s be candid: many get this; so they rush to adopt, or else to use technology to approximate this fruitfulness. But a same-sex couple needs an outsider to do it. Their “union” can never be “one flesh”; it can never bear a child. And that really does change everything – which is why, when heterosexuals exclude the gift of life, they commit a grave sin against God’s plan.

The Church cannot give approval to sex outside male-female intimacy because she cannot consent to deception; even if our entire culture is happy to lie all day long. And our culture is lying about the meaning of sex. The Church is being damned because we refuse to join the chorus.

What about injustice to gays?

At some point we have to acknowledge: people too often are treated badly—by Christians—because they are different. It’s better than it was when I was a boy, but it still happens. Some of that was embodied in law and other aspects of society. Without defending cruelty or bigotry, I want to encourage younger folks to realize that law and social structures of the past were aiming at reinforcing the centrality of family life, headed by a mother and father. That’s still a valid purpose, but in our times we want to find ways to do it, without unfairness. It’s easy to fault generations past; but I think we will soon find out that it’s a hard balance.

This all helps explain, I think, a lot of the anger and hurt that comes into these discussions.

And I think many people who were so eager to back a redefinition of marriage did so out of a recognition of (and maybe bad conscience about) past injustices. Without agreeing with their wrong solution—redefining marriage—let’s acknowledge those injustices, and reiterate what the Church teaches, that contempt, hatred and violence against gay people is gravely sinful.

So what’s my place in God’s Plan?

The only real happiness anyone can have in life is to find the vocation God has for you. Many times we find the road we aimed for is blocked to us, closed forever; and we are heart-broken. People seek marriage, and their marriage shipwrecks. They long for children and can’t have them. They wish they could marry, but for various reasons (not just same-sex feelings), they can’t. They aim for a career, and an accident or war injury wrecks those plans. Why, Jesus, why? Sometimes, only in the sacred precincts of our heart, where Jesus speaks, do we find the answer. He gives us a cross; we take it, and as hard as it is, we discover we are walking by his side.

10 comments:

Jennifer said...

Beautiful! All very true and thoughtful observations.

Michael Haz said...

Younger family members like to say "the Bible says nothing about homosexuality. The word isn't even in the Bible. Jesus said nothing about homosexuality or gays."

Is there a concrete answer for them, without a lecture on Catholic theology that they won't listen to anyhow?

Fr Martin Fox said...

Michael -- the Bible says plenty about homosexual behavior. For example, see this item at Catholic Answers: http://www.catholic.com/tracts/homosexuality.

As far as the complaint that Jesus never said anything about it, that's both false, and irrelevant.

False, insofar as our Lord made clear that male and female is the way God organized things (see Matthew 19); and because it's simply mad to suppose that Jesus -- a Jew of the 1st century -- would hold anything but the conventional views of all Jews of his own time. Jews of his time saw sex as male-female, and about procreation. This is not any big secret. Anyone who claims otherwise is simply ignorant of the period.

Don't accept the burden of proof! Anyone who claims Jesus held any views other than what the Bible he read and studied taught, is welcome to offer proof of that claim. Indeed, I welcome anyone to show that there was any Jewish school of thought, in that period, that thought homosexual behavior was anything but profoundly sinful.

And it's irrelevant what Jesus said -- i.e., in the Gospels -- since the only reason the Gospels matter is because we accept them as an act of faith in who Jesus is: the Second Person of the Trinity, become man. If you believe that Jesus is God-made-man, then all Scripture is his word; and if you don't believe that, then who cares what he said, either way?

Of course the word "homosexuality" isn't in the Bible; it's an English word, coined in recent times; the Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek. They used different words for the same thing.

I don't know these younger members, but it seems reasonable to me to challenge them to do more than shallow thinking; or else to say, "Look, if all you're going to offer is very superficial arguments, why should I take them seriously?" Challenge them to something more serious; isn't it patronizing to do otherwise?

Michael Haz said...

Father, thank you. A few millennials in my extended family present a challenge because they are highly supportive of same sex marriage, are unchurched, and are hostile toward religious faith.

Katie Angst said...

Father,You said,"Jews of His time saw sex as male-female,and about procreation.
I can hear some of my more liberal Catholic friends saying that Jesus was only
speaking in the context for that time in History and if He were with us today He
would speak differently.They use the same arguments for Women Priests and birth
control.I have even heard my Parish Priest use this to justify tolerance towards
others who do not agree with Church doctrine.While I do feel I should listen with
an open heart with those I disagree with I never quite know how to address them.
Thank You for sharing your sermons they are very helpful.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Katie said: I can hear some of my more liberal Catholic friends saying that Jesus was only
speaking in the context for that time in History and if He were with us today He
would speak differently.


How do they know? What evidence can they bring to support this claim? How can they tell the difference between a reasonable inference, and wishful thinking?

Here's a test: in all their suppositions about what Jesus would have said, had he been born in, say, 1985, do they arrive at any conclusions that offend their sensibilities? Because a remarkable thing seems to happen whenever people engage in this "what if" thinking: Jesus always seems to move in their direction!

Let's be blunt: it's all a matter of faith. Is Jesus God, or not? Because if Jesus isn't God incarnate, why do we care what he thought or said?

If Jesus is God incarnate, then that answers the "what would he have said" question. He was and is God -- he did better planning of his public remarks.

But if you claim, oh no, he didn't anticipate...(fill in the blanks), then something's awry with his being God incarnate. Anyone who reads the Gospels will see in a trice that Jesus was very intimately aware of all that the Old Testament said about the Messiah; and he went to great lengths to fulfill those expectations, as he understood them (not necessarily as others did, however). So the notion that God-Jesus simply, well, forgot to think about how his remarks would fit with living arrangements in the 21st century is daft.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Michael:

I would add this to my earlier response, for clarity:

The reason I said it's irrelevant whether Jesus said such-and-such himself, is two-fold.

First, because it suggests that somehow, silence proves something. What, precisely, does it prove?

Second, because it implies that the Gospels are more significant than the rest of the Bible. But why is that so?

As I just remarked to Katie, why does anyone care what Jesus said or thought, if he isn't God incarnate? I don't care. Do you?

The Gospels only matter if Jesus is God. In which case, the whole Bible matters. (That is, unless someone has the notion that, yes, Jesus is God, but not the God of the Hebrew Bible. Now, that's a curious notion. Who believes that? Let's hear more about that.) So this business of dismissing the rest of the Bible, and privileging the Gospels, is incoherent.

And, let me ask this. (And you might ask this, too.) Suppose, for the sake of argument, I show that Jesus did, indeed, say what you think he did not say. How, precisely, is that going to change your beliefs or practices in this matter?

My hunch is that anyone who says, "but Jesus never said..." won't change his or her views, even if you show that Jesus did say...whatever. What do you think?

Michael Haz said...

My hunch is that anyone who says, "but Jesus never said..." won't change his or her views, even if you show that Jesus did say...whatever. What do you think?

I agree. There is no inclination at all to change views on their part; and a wish that I would change my views (which they misunderstand) to get more hip with the times.

Living a life of earthly "happiness" without regard for the next life is a strong drug. The "it's okay if I'm not hurting anyone" meme is a false theology that attracts many people.

Katie Angst said...

"Living a life of earthly "happiness"without regard for the next life is a strong
drug." Well said Michael. And Father,thank you for your insights.Do I believe I
could change their views? I do admitt to feeing a little intimidated by the more
theological arguments thrown my way. But with a great deal of humility and a prayer
to the Holy Spirit who knows? In the end,despite all the ramblings of mis-guided
theolgians this sheep knows her Shephard.I thinks that's what we're all looking for.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Katie:

To be clear, I wasn't asking whether you could change their views. I didn't mean to put that pressure on you! My point was to ask the questioners themselves: would they change their views, depending on whether some citation from Jesus' own words can be found?

Some might say yes; but I think a bunch would admit, no they wouldn't change their view. And my point was to show that in many cases, these questions are insincere.