The blessing of a chaste life: Difficulties faced by homosexual persons

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This column, which originally appeared in the June 3, 2004 issue of The Catholic Sun, is the third in a series of three. 

Since the universal call to holiness demands of all a share in the Cross of Christ, it is not surprising that persons with homosexual inclinations face difficulties of various sorts as they, like all other followers of Jesus, seek to love God with all their mind and heart, and to love their neighbor as themselves. These difficulties include the following four.

1) Intellectual confusion about whether sexual activity outside of marriage is always wrong.

The Most Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted is the bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix. He was installed as the fourth bishop of Phoenix on Dec. 20, 2003, and is the spiritual leader of the diocese's 820,000 Catholics.
The Most Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted is the bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix. He was installed as the fourth bishop of Phoenix on Dec. 20, 2003, and is the spiritual leader of the diocese’s 820,000 Catholics.

In recent years, one sector of the popular culture has made a concerted effort to persuade public opinion that same sex relations (indeed all kinds of sexual relations outside of marriage) are normal and morally neutral (or even morally beneficial!). Whoever would challenge such assertions runs a high risk of being labeled as homophobic or some other derogatory term.

In fact, what has occurred in these cases is a rejection of an understanding of human sexuality found in most cultures and major religions of the world down through history, one found in both the Old and New Testaments, and one found in Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christian Tradition. According to the modernist view, a morality based on truth and on objective norms is being replaced by a “morality” based on desire. Feelings, not truth, become criteria for whether something is right or wrong.

However, a morality not built on objective norms will never stand the test of time nor does it serve well the men and women of our present age. Truth does not change to suit our tastes. Some things are always wrong, no matter the times, the circumstances, or people’s intentions.

It is not homophobia that leads followers of Christ to consider homosexual acts to be wrong, it is the word of God found in the Old and New Testaments and in more than 2000 years of the Church’s consistent moral teaching. A brief look at a few Scriptural texts makes this abundantly clear. For example, there are the commands of God contained in Leviticus (18:22 and 20:13) that point out the sinfulness of homosexual acts. And in the New Testament, St. Paul teaches the same in several places (e.g. I Cor 6:9-10, Romans 1: 18-32, and I Tim 1:10). The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2357) summarizes our Christian tradition quite succinctly: “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from the genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

2) Confused notions of what constitutes marriage also make it difficult for homosexual persons and others to make good judgments about love and responsibility. The present push to give “homosexual unions” equal legal status with marriage shows the prevalence of such confusion in popular culture.

But marriage can exist only between a man and a woman because only the union of male and female can express the sexual complementarity created and willed by God for marriage. In the marital embrace, husband and wife make a total gift of themselves to one another in their masculinity and femininity. They do so as persons with equal dignity but truly different as man and woman; as such, they are able to express sexual love as intended by God to build their communion as persons and to serve the transmission of new life.

For this reason, it is not unjust to deny legal status to “same-sex unions” because such unions are essentially different from marriage. Moreover, such a legal redefinition would harm the institution of marriage itself. As the U.S. bishops stated recently, “When marriage is redefined so as to make other relationships equivalent to it, the institution of marriage is devalued and further weakened. The weakening of this basic institution at all levels and by various forces has already exacted too high a social cost.”

 3) Reductionist views of the personhood of those with homosexual inclinations present serious obstacles for them on their road to holiness. A certain fixation on one’s sexual orientation can occur such that the rich and complex nature of a person gets reduced to just one part of his or her identity, only the sexual orientation. This serves neither a person’s dignity nor inner freedom. Rather, it gives exaggerated emphasis to a single aspect of one’s identity while undercutting or obfuscating the other dimensions, some of which are far more important. For example, more important is our identity as sons and daughters of God, created in the divine image. More important is the privilege of being brothers and sisters in Christ. In addition, this reductionism can hinder one’s ability to see the human body as a temple of the Holy Spirit created by God for the fruits of chastity, joy and peace.

4) False views of human freedom assert that homosexual acts are not sinful for homosexual persons because of their sexual orientation. They assert instead that such acts are morally neutral or even morally beneficial. After all, the argument goes, a good God would not allow homosexual inclinations if they were ordered towards a sinful end.

But such argumentation reflects a false understanding of human nature and the way it has been wounded by original sin. In addition, it runs contrary to both love and truth. St. Paul talks about this struggle with sinful tendencies common to every human person (Romans 7:19-25), “For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want… For I take delight in the law of God, in my inner self, but I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Yes, the whole human race stands in need of a Redeemer. We all have temptations and sinful inclinations to oppose. We all need to be strengthened by grace in order to avoid what is wrong and to know the blessing of a chaste life. But that is precisely what we have in Christ. He gives us the grace to love in truth; He gives us the call and responsibility to do so. To excuse oneself of this freedom and responsibility is to take a road that spirals downward into ever-greater sadness and confusion. It is a road no one needs to take.

Rather, God calls us to the opposite road, the narrow road, the way of holiness, the way of the Cross, the way that leads to fullness of maturity in Christ.

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13 COMMENTS

  1. Let me see if I have this right:

    According to official Catholic doctrine, it’s only the “homosexual acts” that are sinful. Everything else is OK. Am I correct?

    What constitutes a “homosexual act?” Walking hand-in-hand? Kissing? Having a photo of your boyfriend on you desk at work? Sharing the same household (if not necessarily the same bed)? Referring to oneself as part of a “couple?” Getting married but simply not having sex?

    I had no idea that Vatican dogma could be so complicated.

    • Chuck: I’m afraid you don’t have it right. Presumably you’re not a Catholic. According to official Catholic doctrine, sexual acts are sinful by definition outside marriage. Marriage is defined as a sacramental union between a man, a woman, and Christ. Sinful sexual acts are all sexual acts outside that union. Masturbation. Adultery. Groups. Animals. Children. It’s not just homosexual acts. Please calm down.

      What’s a sexual act? How sinful is it? Examine your conscience with an open mind, and you’ll find out. Get a spiritual director you can trust and that’ll help a lot. Go to Confession, and then receive the Eucharist. Rinse and repeat, and all your confusion will disappear. Don’t put it off. “Return, O Israel, to the Lord thy God.” Israel is us, Chuck, and our time is running out.

    • What is so confusing?

      Do you believe in God?

      Do you believe God created us male and female as it states in Genesis? as Jesus say’s in Matthew 19:4-6? and as common sense dictates as we didn’t evolve from nothing?

      Thus the very fact that God made us male and female means that the sexual acts of homosexuality is to use the bodies organs in a manner in which they were not designed to be used for, thus it’s clearly wrong.

      It’s not one rule for homosexuals and another for heterosexuals, should we all just recklessly give into out every desire, throw our hands up in the air and say “If God didn’t want me to do this than he wouldn’t have given me the desire to do it?”

      Does the morality of the act change simply because of our desire for it?

  2. Another attempt at obfuscation vs clarity. The homosexual inclination is intrinsically disordered. As such, acts that promote or reinforce such behavior are also wrong. The whole dictates the parts. Chuck is trying to make the parts separate from the whole.

  3. Homosexual sins would include sexual activities between two people of the same sex.
    Other sins would be public promotion of the homosexual agenda including gay marriage, sex outside of marriage, queer theology etc.

  4. I think Chuck is looking for a little articulation. According to the Church, any actions taken from homosexual impulse (in many cases true of heterosexual as well) are sinful. My question though, would be how can/does the Church guide those with homosexual inclinations but don’t act on them. Those who follow the Church’s teachings but have this inclination and don’t want it? What hope is offered to such people?

  5. Let me do a summarization of what Bishop Olmsted said in his eloquent and intellectual essay. My late Dear Uncle James (God bless & I miss him) one day years ago said to me, “Life is a test.” In our conversation he asked me, “How much do you want heaven?” He made the point clear, that God doesn’t care how good a musician you are, (Referring to me) He doesn’t care if you made it to the NBA, NFL, or are a famous movie actor, etc… We all need to pick up our Cross and stop complaining! And that goes for me too! I complain about everything! Just ask my wife. Peace amigos……….JO

  6. “For example, there are the commands of God contained in Leviticus (18:22 and 20:13) that point out the sinfulness of homosexual acts. And in the New Testament, St. Paul teaches the same in several places (e.g. I Cor 6:9-10, Romans 1: 18-32, and I Tim 1:10).”

    However, if you read for the historical and intratexual contexts, they don’t apply to today’s mutually consensual adult relationships (of which there are few in the Bible). Since the verses within context are mostly about condemning, and warning about, the power of idolatry, one should keep in mind the power of bibliolatry.

    In any case, “homosexuality” is a much abused, modern-era social construct with a lot of discredited scientific baggage.

    “They are contrary to the natural law.” They might be contrary to 13th Century neo-Aristotelian philosophy which is pretty much the core of Natural Law, I guess, even if homosexuality is a 19-20th century social construct. However, since the 1200s, we’ve learned a bit about nature and human sexuality. The discovery of the human ovum is a modern era discovery, for instance. Our most basic understanding of concept was confirmed in the lifetime of my great grandfather. Everything we know about genetics was discovered within the overlapping lifetimes of my grandfather and me.

    “…homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’” Of course, that’s just down and dirty defamation of the law abiding adults of a minority group.

    “sexual complementarity” are just meaningless buzzwords meant to sound pseudo-scientific. Considering that you can have sex all alone… The primary purpose of human sexuality is pair bonding. Pair bonding, fertile or infertile couples, are the basis of the societies we need to help us raise our young and care for our ill and elderly. Gay people can do that.

    Oops, got to go before I can ponder the rest of the essay. Thanks for the thought provoking article.

    • You should consider context and history. For example, look up temple prostitutes.
      Also, natural law is timeless. It’s not limited to the 13th century.
      You can quote the Bible all you want but you still need the Church to teach and interpret what is moral and what we should believe.

  7. I’m back. Let’s see…

    “marriage can exist only between a man and a woman” That’s just a self serving declaration. Even in Genesis, it was “the man” who “married” him with the woman. Just to be snarky, before God created the man’s helpmate, God introduced him to a lot of non-humans for possible companions. But the man wanted something like himself, so God made the woman from the man. It’s very witty. Not to mention that two people who were of one flesh before they were split apart, and who never had parents to leave, are the template for other-sex pair bonding.

    “For this reason, it is not unjust to deny legal status to “same-sex unions” ” I would beg to differ. It shouts injustice. In America anyway, you’re talking about legal discrimination that economically disadvantages same-sex couples in their mutual care and responsibilities for their families and loved ones. As C. Eric Lincoln wrote, Freedom is the power to be responsible…and it not allowing the power of to be responsible to be available for all adults, you diminish freedom for a good many people.

    That said, “civil unions” is unsatisfactory because America has already had considerable experience with separate but equal, and we have a pretty good idea that such an arrangement is separate and second class citizenship. Equal is equal, and that’s why marriage equality is legal reform for greater justice and freedom.

    Yes, male and female evolved together, but as human intimacy isn’t primarily about reproduction but about pair bonding, humans don’t go into “heat,” and us modern humans have always been good at cultural adaptions, the other-sex mandate is really an authoritarian demand, an abuse of authority, more than anything else. couples can complement each other in many ways, and when it comes to sex, love usually finds a way.

    Reproduction just happens to fertile couples, but they need more than themselves to raise their offspring. Humans need human society, and Gay people can, have and do help make a society something worthy of the name, a society that you want your children to inherit. Even if you don’t pass on any genes to the next generation, you are an ancestor for those who inhabit the society you helped build. If Gay people can’t do that because they don’t “procreate,” than neither can priests, who have chosen by their own free will to take a vow of celibacy.

    To demand that “homosexuals” be be lifelong celibates, or else God will eventually get’em, is authoritarian coercion, if not religious extortion. It turns religion into a nasty little protection racket. “Do as I say, or our enforcer, God, will break your knees.”

    Then there is the racist-like aspect to that. What did we call people who would forbid for other responsible, law abiding adults what they allowed for others?

    “A certain fixation on one’s sexual orientation can occur such that the rich and complex nature of a person gets reduced to just one part of his or her identity, only the sexual orientation.”

    Isn’t that what you’re doing? Whom a person would seek for a soul mate is the center of their earthly life, as that seeking is forever forbidden because of their sexual orientation. It determines the course of their whole life…coerced celibacy. The whole life of a “homosexual” is to be centered around not seeking what others are allowed to seek, what others are allowed to enrich their lives, love, intimacy, the power to be responsible for your loved ones… family.

    You’re presuming that “homosexuality” is pretty much most of a Gay person’s life, when it’s an aspect of their personal identity. Gay people can have full lives because they’re fully human. Gay people are fully human, fully in God’s image, fully not in need of having their lives constrained by religiously coerced, lifelong celibacy.

    Unlike with a priest who are called to a vocation, Gay per were not called to be “homosexual.” Sexual orientations are not vocations, but givens. Sexual orientations are a given. It’s a gift from chance, an act of God.

    Gay makes life a little more interesting, at least if society doesn’t kill those so gifted, if society doesn’t bury them under dangerous minority stress, fatalism and anomie.

    “Homosexual acts” (whatever those are) aren’t sinful because you want them to be; they aren’t sinful because of your eisegesis of the Bible that would privilege some and diminish the freedom, the power to be responsible, in others.

    Sin in regards to living in society comes from not practicing the Golden Rule, of not loving your neighbor as your self. Gay people can and do practice the Golden rule, they can and do love their neighbor as themselves. Gay people can, do, will marry, with or without legal recognition, with or with out religious recognition. Gay people will take freedom, the power to be responsible, with or without your curses or blessings… because they’re fully human, fully in God’s image, fully not in need of authoritarian coercion.

  8. 1.If you’re really interested in what the Church teaches, read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. You can accept or reject it.
    2.Marriage exists because children need it, not men and women per se.
    3.You don’t want “sexual orientation” to define your whole life.
    4.The Church wrote the Bible and it has the authority to teach and interpret it.
    5.God is not out to “get anybody.” He loves you and he died for you.

  9. Gregory,

    Some of your arguments are both unclear and some are simply untrue. But as a clearly non practicing or even non Catholic, non Christian, you really do not have a clear understanding of Catholic sexual theology, social justice or even Biblical understanding. For example , you argue that the bible only refers to prohibitions against homosexuality are really just prohibitions against forceful homosexual relationships. This is simply false, gay propaganda having no reality in any Judeo Christian tradition, history or even interpretation of Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek or Latin! Its simply a lie you picked up and try to run with. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is so clear to argue otherwise is laughable! Lot was not just concerned about his sons in laws, the sinfulness of Sodom was the men’s desire to be with men! Yes, they men were demanding Lots son in laws , which could be interpreted that the sin was forceful rape. However, the story clearly identifies the town as evil before Lots family was there. Was it evil because this crowd of men were all raping each other?? Of course not! They were there threatening Lots family as a group together. Their evil was that they preferred to be with men , instead of women. That they threatened Lot only shows how completely depraved they were! Lot was asking God to save the town if there were only 20 righteous people, but this is how he was treated!

    The point is you come to a Catholic bulletin to try and convince Catholics that your gay revisionist historical and theological outlook crated in the last 50 years is more informed than a tradition of 2000 years, and then you proceed to teach American values to Catholic Americans who helped create the values of this Country. Despite what you think the recent Supreme Court rulings mean, they do NOT mean that homosexual “marriage” and gay lifestyle is a protected class on par with protections for race, color, religion. While Justice Kennedys words about creating a hostility to gay Americans by upholding DOMA marriage restrictions may resonate with you, they do not guarantee same sex “marriage”! In fact , if anything the DOMA case was a victory for states rights.

    So before you come to another Catholic site to run your gay agenda over my fellow Catholics, have something coherent to say, base it on what the Catholic Church actually teaches, don’t presume to know better about what the bible teaches than 2000 years of Church history, and lastly don’t be so arrogant in your confidence that the U.S. Constitution necessarily protects every single aspect of ones desired behavior. The dust has not yet settled on what is acceptable definition of marriage and who gets to define that!

    So unless you want me to start trolling your gay forums to start preaching about the disorder of homosexuality, I suggest you refrain from having the audacity to preach theology, and civics on this site unless you have some more coherent and logical to add.

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