Saturday, July 6, 2013

A Question of Love, Part One

I’m spending a few days on the blog talking about marriage, sex, the Church’s teachings, and the whole difficult issue of same-sex marriage (ssm) and its civil recognition. My effort here is to establish a dialogue that is respectful and charitable, and to present the anti-ssm argument and the Church’s teachings on the moral meaning of human sexuality in a clear respectful manner.

Having spent a few days on the subject of civil marriage, law, the role of government, I want to put aside all that and talk about the Church’s theology around sex and marriage. So on this post, I would ask commenters to leave aside the political and legal questions—I have three posts below for those who wish to continue arguing those matters!—and focus on more theological and ‘churchy’ matters.

I was noticeably absent from the comboxes yesterday, my priestly life requiring my presence and energies elsewhere. I see that, towards the end of this thread, an anonymous commenter essentially said that the church is not loving its gay members and that privileging theology over people is choking and damaging them and the life of the Church.

Well, let’s start there, because I think that’s a very widespread belief. Really, what is theology? Is it just intellectual game playing, wordcraft, abstract unreal verbiage? This is not what the Church means by theology. Theology is ‘faith seeking understanding’. And our faith is that God wants us all to be eternally happy, to be joyful, to be fulfilled in the totality of our humanity. All of that is revealed to us in Scripture. But there is a moral law also revealed to us in Scripture, and that moral law asks all of us to make choices that are difficult for us, that we don’t want to do and often refuse to do, and that when we do them are sacrificial and that may make us, in the short term, quite unhappy.

Meanwhile, we live in a world filled with misery and woe, interspersed with happiness and joy: normal human experience tells us that. And Scripture tells us that God the Father’s response to all of the above: His divine will for our happiness, our struggle to follow his divine will and the unhappiness it brings us, and the general condition of suffering and sorrow—that all of this is met by God’s own choice to enter our human reality in general and our human lives individually, in Christ and by the gift of the Holy Spirit, and redeem us from all of this with his merciful love.

OK – I just gave a short summation of Christianity, obviously incomplete, but the main lines of the affair. All of which applies to every human being on the planet, Christian or not, male, female, ‘gay’, ‘straight’, etc. We need this big picture before us continually because the comment that the Church values theology over people seems to not realize that our theology is precisely our understanding of how God wants to love people and make them happy. Truth, in other words, as it has been understood in the Church for 2000 years.

This whole business of it being our communion with God in Christ by the power of the Spirit that makes us happy, and that this happiness includes but is not exhausted by our conformity to the moral law authored by God has great and far reaching implications in all of our lives. But since I’m writing about sex, let’s talk about sex.

It has been the unbroken constant teaching of the Church for 2000 years that sexual intercourse is to occur within marriage, that marriage is between one man and one woman, that marriage is an unbreakable bond for life, and that the sexual act is to be open to life (hence, no contraception). Every human being is called to chastity: unmarried people, by refraining from sexual activity, married people by constancy, mutual respect and care, and openness to new life.

OK, such is the teaching, and I do realize, not living in a cave in Mongolia, that most people in our society reject this teaching in part or in whole. And many find it a cold, hard doctrine, almost unbelievably removed from the lives of so many of its members who of course may or may not be doing any of these things the Church says are wrong.

Of course this is a problem – there is not a priest, bishop, or pope on God’s green earth who is not aware of this disconnect and the profound problem it is. People such as my commenter yesterday conclude the Church must change its teachings. Those of us who truly believe (I ask you to acknowledge that I truly believe this!) that the Church cannot change its teachings because they are God’s and not ours, conclude that we have to explain, educate, present the teachings in their fullness.

Essentially, the Church teaches that human sexuality in its bodily extension and expression has a divine meaning. All of the ‘shalt nots’ flow from the fact that the sexual act means something, and that what it means is the reflection in human physicality of the divine love and the divine unity. God’s love is faithful and lasting: sex must occur within marriage. God’s love is a total gift: marriage must be monogamous; God’s love is life-giving: marital sex must not be sterilized.

That our bodies mean something, and that the meaning is not ours, but God’s to determine, and that this meaning points to another reality entirely and is ordered to that reality—this is so far from how people think of sex today that of course it is a hard sell. I would observe, though, that it is simply not true that ‘everyone’ rejects this: many, many people who are just as modern as anyone else, find this to be true and beautiful. Myself included.

Does the Church, then, ‘hate’ gay people, cohabiting people, divorced and remarried people? Do we insist on everyone being miserable except the lucky few who somehow manage to get married? This post is long enough and I realize I am straining everyone’s patience by writing so much. Tomorrow, then, I will address this. Of course I believe it is supremely loving to call everyone into the truth of our humanity in its bodily, sexual nature, and that fidelity to the Church’s teaching leads to eternal happiness and joy. It is not hatred to tell people what will lead them to joy, is it? More tomorrow.


  1. I believe what you say about the Church wanting to lead people to a happier life by following the Church's teachings on sex. And I believe there is great merit to encouraging, indeed challenging people to rise above what society offers us as examples of relationships and to do better, much better. But while I may not want a SSM myself or want to live a single life, I respect the rights of those who do wish to pursue that life and express my love for them by trying to ensure that we have a society where their rights are respected. I may not agree with them, but I support them.

    1. Well, God bless you (can I say that?). I respect and honor all people, too, but of course I express that by trying to persuade them of something I am convinced is God's truth. But I think (I hope) that as much as you and I have wildly different opinions about things, we are united in our commitment to respect and love, and perhaps we have to leave it at that for now. Peace to you.

  2. John XXIII in his short papacy had the most profound and revolutionary effects upon the World of any Pope in centuries.

    The reactionary bishops have spent almost 3 generations since trying to undo them. They will not be successful.

    It is good to tell the story of Jesus. It is good to tell what we know he said and did. It is good to inspire people to seek God.

    It is not so good to try and tell people what they will find in God or how they should accept and interpret what they find. I think you do this too much. You and I are like the blind men and the elephant. It's alright to tell what you find. It probably isn't what I find. Neither of us are wrong.

    Clearly my part of the discernible God is less fixated on heterosexuality than your's. It's OK. I don't think you are a homophobe or a hater. We just percieve God differently. If that's not going to be OK in the future Church, it's going to be a very small church full of very old and soon to be dead people.

    1. If I might then ask a quetion. Is slavery wrong? Is naziisn/genocide wrong? If we are just stating 'what we find" and neither is wrong then what human actions are not justifiable?

    2. Well, I hardly know what to say to all that. John XXIII's actual stated views on matters of human sexuality are indistinguishable from any other pope, you know. And I think his papacy, so short, has become as sort of projection screen for people to impose their ideas and agendae of 'what might have been'.
      I have said more than once on these threads that the Catholic Church is booming in Africa and Asia, where views on sexuality tend to be much more traditional. I am saddened that this fact is ignored or dismissed, and I think we have to be very careful of a covert rasicm or at least classism that assumes the white people with all the money are somehow in tune with God more than the brown and black poor people. The Church is far from aging and dying -actually it is the white people with all the money who are aging and dying, as the fruits of contraception and abortion become increasingly plain in our world.
      We will see what the future brings - meanwhile, I'll keep trying to convince people of the truth of traditional Catholicism! Peace to you.

    3. You are not observing closely Catholicism as it is developing in Asia, Africa and Latin America. It is not the same as what exists in N. America and Europe but they are heading in directions, moral, philosophical and political that are far different than what the Vatican directs. If you believe that developing nations will be a cradle for a renewed Catholic Church as traditionalists envision it, you are misguided. Aside from that, were the power base of the church to change from the Northern Hemisphere to the South, Catholicism would become a whole different animal. Given the state of the current Vatican denizens, I'm not saying that's a bad thing.

  3. Most of those who advocated slavery in the US were Christian traditionalists. Naziism and it's attendant genocide were primarily Christian. It wasn't the church which ended World War II, It was commie Joe Stalin and FDR, alpng with the deaths of millions of young soldiers.

    Do you equate slavery, naziism and genocide with Gay marriage, Theresa? If The couple living next door or sitting at mass, with their families are Gay married, how exactly does that diminish you?

    Jesus said to live with faith, love, hope and charity. What about that causes you to want to police other peoples domestic, sexual and reproductive function?

    1. The whole slavery debate in the States was between Christians on one side and Christians on the other. It is deeply dishonest to ignore that the abolishionist movement was almost wholly motivated by Christian faith.
      The Nazis were not Christians - sorry, but that's ridiculous. Hitler and his crew rejected Christianity as a 'Jewish religion' and advocated a weird sort of Teutonic paganism. That is a matter of historical record.
      I cannot speak for Theresa, but I personally am diminished by any member of the Body of Christ not flourishing in the fullness of his or her humanity. And since I believe the Way of Christ, which includes the virtue of chastity, is the path of human flourishing, I am deeply committed to presenting that Way as a priest of Jesus sworn to do just that.
      Believe me, I haven't the slightest interest in policing anyone (the very phrase makes me laugh out loud, to be honest). I'm just a poor slob trying to put my Church's doctrines out there in some way that someone somewhere might be persuaded. God bless you.

    2. The abolitionist movement, while Christian, were the forerunners of the Leftist Church. You will find those folks at the local Unitarian, Old Catholic or Woman priest sanctuaries today. Among their heros are Hans Kung, Frank Kennedy of Brisbane, Roy Bourgeois, Tom Reece and the brave women religious of the LCRW who are legion.

      Current traditionalist Christianity did not descend and have no claim on the abolitionist movement. I am somewhat surprised that a person like yourself is affiliated with an organization with such progressive roots as Madonna House.....but perhaps my understanding of it's foundress' motivations and philosophy are flawed. You just don't seem to be doin' that whole Catholic Worker gig, bro'.

  4. Here's a list of Hitler quotes extolling the Christian religion.

    1. Rationalist, that is beyond the pale. Referring to PZ Myers as a fair source of information on Christian history or belief is the equivalent of consulting a Creationist website in order to get a fair treatment of Evolutionary Theory. We are talking about someone who desecrated the Eucharist, and then encouraged his followers to do so. Sorry. You are on a Catholic site here. If you wish to maintain credibility, you would do well not to refer to such blatant anti-Catholic sites.

  5. Melissa,
    I really never heard of PZ Meyers until I read your post. I certainly understand how offensive he was. If one knew his history, it would certainly be a low blow.
    I really do not like the extremism here. Seems like extremes to the right or to the left of any argument are always wrong.
    Father Denis chose Witherspoon Institute to support his opening arguments....and the studies that supported those arguments are steeped in criticisms- (even from some conservatives) regarding their methodology, peer review processes and technical flaws. Choosing Witherspoon for support on SSM is the equivalent of seeking Jesus in the Koran.
    What goes around comes around I'd say. If you are determined to stand on the edge, with no middle are bound to run into folk like PZ Meyers.


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