THE CHURCH DIDN'T FORGET YOU
I’m going to make a few assumptions here. I’m going to assume that you’re Catholic. I’m going to assume that you’ve had some kind of education for chastity. You’ve probably heard that sex is for marriage, marriage is between one man and one woman, and everything outside of that is grounds for a trip to the confessional. That's not inaccurate, but, for me, it never felt like quite enough.
Granted, that could just be the millennial sensibility for customization. If we can have our coffee drinks soy, non-fat, with double espresso shots and sugar-free hazelnut syrup, we also might like to have our Theology of the Body with at least an aside about same-sex attraction. We love our personally tailored messages.
The truth is, the Church hasn’t forgotten about us. Her words have been here for us all along, but not always organized in a way customized to our unique circumstances. Have you heard the term “Christian anthropology?” Anthropology is the study of the human person. A Christian anthropology is the Christian vision of the human person. Ultimately, that’s where the Church draws her teaching about same-sex desires. Consider the following your second shot of espresso.
#1 GOD GAVE YOU A SPECIFIC BODY
To be human is to be embodied. We’re a body-soul composite. That means “the human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual […] whole and entire, is therefore willed by God”(CCC 362). Our bodies express our souls, and our souls are revealed in our bodies. Even at the end of time, we’re going to have a resurrected body! Bodies are important enough that God wants us to have one for all eternity.
Even more specifically, you have a certain kind of body. I know this is a pain point right now in contemporary culture - the tyranny of biology and all that - but God set things up that way. “‘Being man’ or ‘being woman’ is a reality which is good and willed by God: man and woman possess an inalienable dignity which comes to them immediately from God their creator” (CCC 369). From this perspective, our sexual identity is pretty straightforward: man or woman. The fact that you were conceived a man or woman is GOOD. This can be hard to embrace for a myriad of legitimate reasons. I don't know how you feel about your particular body right now. The beautiful, challenging thing about Christianity is that it’s less about making our problems disappear and more about gradually revealing the mystery of God’s intentional love.
#2 MEN & WOMEN NEED EACH OTHER
“It is not good for man to be alone,” right? As a lady, I would add that I also prefer a life of community to one of isolation. Ultimately, being made in the image and likeness of the Triune God means that communion with others is necessary for human flourishing. In other Church-y words, “the revelation in Christ of the mystery of God as Trinitarian love is at the same time the revelation of the vocation of the human person to love”(Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church 34).
Again, God intentionally created the human person into two distinct sexes. “Man and woman were made ‘for each other’ - not that God left them half-made and incomplete: He created them to be a communion of persons...complementary as masculine and feminine”(CCC 372). This isn’t to say that we can only achieve human fulfillment in a romantic relationship with the opposite sex. That's limiting to the human person. However, it does mean that - no matter our vocation - men and women are meant to draw out each other’s unique gifts.
There’s a word for this: complementarity. It’s a biological and spiritual reality, just like identity. Every woman has the sexual complementarity of man. Every man has the sexual complementarity of woman. The Church says it like this,”Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life”(CCC 2333).
#3 THE SEXUAL UNION OF MAN & WOMAN = A BIG DEAL
Yep, here comes the sex talk. I know you’ve heard it and, if you're attracted to the same sex, it probably pisses you off or makes your heart ache. I'll keep it brief. Only man and woman are capable of a deeply personal unity that brings forth new life. No matter what science spins out, no matter how "creative" people get in their sexual expression, the stark reality is this: there's something different about the union between a man and woman. Only a man and woman together can be “procreative”(babies) and “unitive”(bonding). Jesus is pretty clear on the woman-man reality when He says this: “Have you not read from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).
#4 HOMOEROTIC ACTIONS ARE NOT IN ACCORD WITH OUR IDENTITY
I know that's intense. It makes sense if we double back to the first point. My sexual identity as woman carries with it the sexual complementarity of man. Being man carries with it the sexual complementarity of woman. The reality of complementarity is an intrinsic part of who you are. I don’t mean you’re “less of a woman”or “less of a man” if you’re attracted to someone of the same sex, but acting out physically with your sexual likeness is in fact a departure from your sexual identity. The Catechism says it like this, “sexuality […] is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves totally to one another until death”(CCC 2361). Homoerotic acts - yes, all the bases - don’t show “genuine affective [internal, emotional] and sexual complementarity” (CCC 2357).
#5 SAME-SEX ATTRACTIONS DON’T MAKE YOU A SINNER
Pardon a little more moral theology for a moment. Our attractions - emotional or physical - fall under the category of “the passions.” Our passions are internal movements that incline us to do a certain thing or act a certain way. In the Church’s moral teaching we always make a distinction between feelings and action. “In themselves the passions are neither good nor evil. They are morally qualified only to the extent that they effectively engage reason and will”(CCC 1767). Let’s break that down.
As human beings, we tend towards the good. Everyone experiences a natural attraction to the good in the world around us and in particular people. It’s normal to be drawn to persons and or things in which we see goodness. This comes out of our God-given desire to love and be loved. The Catechism says, “The most fundamental passion is love, aroused by an attraction of the good”(CCC 1765). Not only do we tend towards the good, but we’re drawn towards a union with what we love. That’s another part of God’s design. “Love causes a desire for the absent good and the hope of obtaining it; this movement finds completion in the pleasure and joy of the good possessed”(CCC 1765).
That’s nice enough, but there’s another reality to all of this: “to love is to will the good of another”(CCC 1766). Did you catch that operative word? “Will.” The passions are morally qualified when they engage reason and will. In other words, when we make a decision.
Due to the fall, our desires have become disordered. We’re drawn to the good, but we go about it in ways that are incomplete or misaligned. When I’m attracted to a woman, I’m attracted to good in her. However, a desire for romantic union with her isn’t ordered to the end God created. Experiencing the feelings themselves isn’t a sin. It’s what I do with my desire that determines sin or saintliness, vice or virtue. No matter our own particular brand of off-kilter desire, God invites us to will the good of others and ourselves.
#6 DESIRES DO NOT DEFINE YOUR IDENTITY
Labels can make us comfortable. It helps other people “understand” us by giving them a point of reference. If I say “I’m an artist,” someone else will immediately understand that I create some sort of art. If I say “I’m a Minnesotan,” people will know I’m from Minnesota, but they might still be confused, because now I live in Wisconsin.
Here’s the thing with labels: they can also limit us. If you say “I’m an artist” and I’ve had annoying experiences with artists in the past, I might automatically brace myself to be annoyed by you. If you say, “I’m an accountant” and then old age and failing memory leaves you unable to do computations, have you lost yourself?
Desires, abilities, weaknesses, or backgrounds don’t define us in themselves. That includes labels regarding gender, sexual preference, or emotional leanings. The human person is infinitely complex. In “Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,” paragraph 16, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI writes: “The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation. Everyone living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties, but challenges to growth, strengths, talents, and gifts as well. Today, the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a ‘heterosexual’ or a ‘homosexual’ and insists that every person has a fundamental identity: the creature of God and, by grace, His child and heir to eternal life.”
#7 YOU BELONG HERE
I don’t know your life experiences. If you’ve been misunderstood, mistreated, or outright rejected because of your attractions, that is deep, wounding tragedy. That's not who the Church wants to be. The Catechism is pretty clear about that. “The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible […] they must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (CCC 2358).
The truth is, we’re all sons and daughters of the same heavenly Father. Every person is called to the dynamic life Christ offers. “Every person is created by God, loved and saved in Jesus Christ, and fulfills himself by creating a network of multiple relationships of love, justice, and solidarity with other persons while he goes about his various activities in the world” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church 35).
Experiencing same-sex attractions doesn’t isolate you from the Christian life. No matter how overwhelming your feelings might be, “strong feelings are not decisive for the morality or holiness of persons” (CCC 1768).
So what is decisive for holiness? Short answer...they're the same general principles affecting holiness for everybody. Long answer…stay tuned. We’ll get there!