This will be my last day on a series of posts on the difficult issue of marriage, sex, the Church’s teachings, and particularly the very difficult issue of same-sex marriage (ssm) and its civil recognition. My effort has been 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.
Yesterday I gave in short, summary form the essential teaching of the Church on sexual morality: sex as a meaningful act in which our embodied humanity reflects the life of the Trinity in the mode of the flesh. Hence sex must be loving, committed, exclusive and open to life, or it is not a true reflection of God’s life and love.
I hope everyone realizes that I have given this teaching in a short summary form (all that is possible in the blog format, right?). Many, many books have been written that go into this in much greater depth and argumentation; I don’t have a ready-made bibliography to provide, but will cobble something together in the next days and put it up as a post. If you are a committed Catholic but find these teachings truly hard to take, you might want to read one or two books about them, just in the interest of unity and fairness.
OK – so in this last post I want to change the subject a bit. Because of course there is this reality that a significant population of the world is not sexually attracted to the opposite gender. Statistics vary, but the most generous reliable statistic I have read is 3% of the population. That sounds small, but in Canada and the US that comes to about ten million people. And even if the number was much smaller yet, each of them is a precious, beloved, beautiful, good child of God, deserving of love and happiness, and made by God to live in the happiness and joy of communion with Him in the communion of the Church.
So we have two problems. First, the teaching itself (to which, as you may have figured out, I wholly ascribe) sounds hard and cold and loveless to many, condemning LGBTQ people to a lonely miserable life. Second, the LGBTQ population do not in general experience a loving welcoming attitude from Catholics, except from those Catholics who have distanced themselves from the Church’s teachings. These are both big problems.
Regarding the first, the best person I know trying to address it is Melinda Selmys, a lesbian converted to Catholicism who is married with six children. Her book Sexual Authenticity is well worth the price of buying, and moves the discussion forward in a way that I very much like. She has written that, in her view, the fundamental orientation of every human being is neither ‘straight’ nor ‘gay’. Our fundamental and first orientation is towards Christ, and not towards this or that expression of genital activity.
I think that is a deeply profound insight, one we all need to take to heart. Because one of the loaded words that tends to end conversations is the word ‘disorder’, that homosexuality is ‘disordered’. LGBTQ people are incensed at this, as what they hear is ‘you people are disordered! You people are broken, messed-up, no good!’ And of course, ‘Get away from us, you nasty disordered people.’
But if Selmys’ point is taken, then a conclusion follows. And I wish I could write this next sentence in words twenty feet high, flashing in neon, and written on the sky for all to see. I will settle for bold and italics. Everyone is disordered! Everyone. The Pope, the pastor, the family with twenty kids, the little old lady, the nun, the member of Madonna House, the young and in love couple, and yes, the gay guy and the lesbian gal. We are all disordered, until the grace of God puts us in order, and this order is not fundamentally a question of a change in sexual orientation but a true turning of our whole inner being to the Lord Jesus Christ, His love for us and our communion in Him.
The Church is just a bunch of disordered, messed-up people trying to get turned around to Jesus, and helped by His grace to do so. And I think this second problem, the lack of hospitality, welcome, human kindness that so many LGBTQ people say they have experienced in the Catholic Church, is something we have to address.
We are all sinners. My sin may not be your sin. Your sin may not be the sin of the gay or lesbian who walks into your parish tomorrow. But everyone one of us is a disordered mess, until God’s merciful love sets us in order. So… let’s be kind to one another, eh? In the end of our life we are not judged on how right our answers were, but on how loving we were.
I do believe the Church’s answers are right. I really do, you know. But in the end, it is the love with which we try to present those answers, and the way we treat people who are ‘different’ from us that matters most. Ultimately, it is a truly a question of love, but this love is not in its deepest level a matter of this or that sexual expression, but a matter of God in our human flesh, the Bridegroom embracing his Bride, which is each one of us male or female, the communion of love of the Trinity which He wants to be the communion of love of the Church.