This column, which originally appeared in the May 6, 2004 issue of The Catholic Sun, is the first in a series of three. 

When the Church at Vatican II lifted high the universal call to holiness, it rightly received an enthusiastic response. For it is indeed good news for people of every time and place. How good to know that it is possible for us all to have a close, personal relationship with Jesus Christ and even to become like Him.

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.

God creates each person in love. He redeems each with a love even unto death on the Cross. He calls each of us to share inthis amazing love by taking up our cross each day and following in His footsteps. There is only one road to holiness, one way to a profound communion withChrist (Mark 8:34-35): “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it.”

It seems especially urgent to remind every follower of Christ today, and in particular homosexual persons, that He is calling them to a close personal communion with Himself. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) speaks of this call to holiness of homosexual persons in the following way (#2359): “Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.”

The journey to holiness always requires a firm belief in the word “can.” We can be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. We can be holy. It is not an impossible dream for anyone. Growth in holiness requires the help of God and it requires effort on our part, but we can do it. It begins with the grace of conversion, turning away from sin and turning towards the Lord. It requires obedience to God’s will, for as Jesus tells us (John 14:15), “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

In order to progress along the road to holiness, the Holy Spirit helps us to forge virtues, i.e. habits for good. Homosexual persons particularly need to focus their efforts on developing the virtue of chastity. Chastity is defined in the Catechism (#2337) as “the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being.” Every human person is called to integrate their sexuality according to their state in life. Chastity will always involve abstinence for those who are not married. Other virtues are also needed but chastity stands front and center for persons with a homosexual inclination. This is because homosexual acts are always wrong, always the opposite of holiness. However, persons who have homosexual inclinations but do not act on them are not guilty of sin. In fact, with God’s grace and good intentions, they can grow in virtue and make great progress along the path to perfection, the goal to which the Lord Jesus has called us all.

Necessary distinction

A key distinction, then, is needed when considering homosexuality, namely between the homosexual tendency on the one hand and homosexual acts on the other. Those who engage in homosexual acts commit serious sin, as both the Old Testament and New Testament teach (Cf.  Genesis 19:1-29, Romans 1:18-32, I Timothy 1:10) and as Christian Tradition has consistently affirmed (Cf. Catechism, #2357).

Those with homosexual inclinations are sometimes tempted to believe that chastity is beyond them. They may incorrectly feel that just to have a homosexual tendency makes them guilty of sin and excludes them from growing in holiness. At times, they may also encounter these kinds of confused and false attitudes in others and unjustly suffer because of them. In the face of all these difficulties, the love of Christ remains constant and His call to conversion and holiness never fails. No less than other persons, Christ calls them to take up their cross each day and follow after Him.

The Cross of Christ, in our own day just as 2000 years ago, seems like foolishness to some and nonsense to others but as St. Paul writes (I Cor 1:24), Christ crucified is “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Those who take up the cross each day out of love for Jesus find themselves flooded with the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22), “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self control.” And St. Paul adds (Gal 5:24-25), “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires.”

All who follow Christ can and are called to live the virtue of chastity. What a blessing when, with God’s grace, we do so. What a blessing when we freely and gladly embrace the Lord’s call to holiness.