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Homily for 4th Sunday Easter
UW Newman, 04-29-12
The Good Shepherd is always seeking out his lost sheep. Our Lord says, "I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd."
Who are these other sheep and why are they not part of the flock? Well, in the context of this passage, the other sheep are the Gentiles – those whom the Jews considered to be excluded from the family of God. But Jesus makes it clear that this exclusion is not His intention. He desires that there be "one flock and one shepherd." Jesus wants none of His sheep to be excluded from the flock. It is never Jesus who excludes and rejects his sheep – rather, it is us, the flock who often reject those who do not fit our mold.
In modern times, one group of people that is consistently rejected by those of us "insiders" of the flock, is those men and women who find themselves attracted to the same sex.
Some of you may know that I'm the chaplain for the Seattle chapter of a group called Courage. The purpose of Courage is to provide a safe, non-judgmental support group for people with same-sex attraction who want to live chastity. This is not about orientation change. These are men and women who believe the teachings of our faith and just want to live them out.
Typically, people who are involved in Courage have been around the block. Most of them have lived a sexually-active homosexual lifestyle and experienced the emptiness and futility of it. Somehow, Christ pulled them out of that life and brought them back to His flock.
Yet so often, the flock itself rejects them. The men and women of Courage experience rejection from all sides – both from the right and from the left.
Those who identify themselves as "traditional" or "orthodox" Catholics often act as though people with same-sex attraction are unclean, as though merely having such feelings, somehow makes a person dirty or unholy. This, my brothers and sisters is a lie. As the catechism says, people who bear the cross of same-sex attraction do not choose to have the feelings that they have. Those feelings are not sinful in themselves. Sin always involves our free choice. And since same-sex attraction is not a choice, it cannot be a sin. Those who are uncomfortable with people who have same-sex attraction and who reject them because of that discomfort, are acting unjustly. It is they who are sinning.
But there is another kind of rejection that members of Courage often attest to. Those in the Church who identify themselves as "progressive" will often advise them to "just settle down with a regular partner" – in other words, to give up trying to live the teachings of Christ and just give in to their sexual desires. This also is a form of rejection for them. It's like they are being told, "You can't control your behavior and so you can't ever live up to God's standards. You might as well just give up." This is not the message of the Good Shepherd.
Now it's interesting, that both the left and right are making the same mistake when they reject people with same-sex attraction. They are both assuming the following principle:
"If a person has a sexual feeling, he or she must act upon it."
Now, this principle is a direct denial of human dignity and free will. It says we have no choice about our sexual behavior. Proponents of this idea often compare sexual desire to the need for food and water. It's a biological need – one that cannot be resisted without doing grave damage to the person.
My brothers and sisters, this principle is manifestly false. No one "needs" sex. You will die if you don't eat and you will die if you don't drink – but you will not die if you don't engage in sex (trust me on this). As radical as it may seem, in our lust-saturated world, the truth is a person can choose not to be sexually active. And a person who makes such a choice can be very happy.
Now, we must always make this distinction between feelings and actions. We are called to love and accept all people as they are. Yet, part of loving each other is calling each other to deeper conversion. Love the sinner, hate the sin. A love that loves both the sinner and the sin, is a false and cowardly love. We, as Catholics and as human beings, can and must challenge each other to live the Gospel, without marginalizing or excluding anyone.
We choose our actions, but we don't choose our feelings. This is why the members of Courage don't call themselves 'gay' and they never use 'homosexual' as a noun. There are two reasons for this. First and foremost, because words like gay are ambiguous – they conflate feelings and actions.
Is a gay person someone who just has same-sex attraction, or is it someone who also is sexually active in that lifestyle? It's ambiguous, and that ambiguity is not helpful.
The second reason that the people of Courage do not use the term 'gay' for themselves is because they don't want to be reduced to their sexual attractions. They don't identify as people who are gay or who are homosexual, but rather as people who have same-sex attraction. Those feelings are something they have, not something they are. This is language that respects human dignity by refusing to reduce a person to his or her sexual attractions.
Now, hopefully all of us are willing to grant that people of any sexual orientation have a right to live chastely, if they choose. But for the members of Courage, this is more than just a personal choice. They believe that in living chastity they are following the teachings of Christ. Are they right, or are they wrong?
Well, I'm going to do my best to explain why they are right. Now, there's no doubt that Church teaching in this area is difficult and subtle. I won't be able to address every possible objection to it in a single homily. So I encourage you, listen with an open mind and seek out answers to the questions that you may still have.
So let's begin. First of all, a word about the authority of the Church. We should recall what Scripture says: that the Church is "The pillar and foundation of the truth." (1 Tim 3:15). Christ said to His apostles, "Whoever listens to you, listens to me." (Luke 10:16) And Catholics, as we know, have always believed that this authority, which Christ gave to the apostles, is passed down in His Church through the bishops. Therefore, on matters of faith and morality, when the bishops speak, in union with the pope, they speak for Christ. So the bottom line is, if the Catholic faith is true, then the Church's teachings on homosexuality are Christ's teachings.
But of course, an argument from authority will not convince someone who does not believe in that authority. A non Catholic will not (should not) be swayed by arguments from authority.
Fortunately, Catholics also believe that all the moral teachings of our Faith can be known through reason alone – without reference to the Bible, without reference to the Church. So that's the way that I would like to explain them today, not by quoting Scripture, but by starting from the truths of our nature. This is what we call "natural law."
Now the idea of natural law is based on one simple principle:
"If you want to make something flourish, treat it according to it's nature." - that is, treat it according to the kind of thing that it is.
So if you have a rosebush, and you prune it, water it and give it lots of sunlight and good soil, it's going to flourish and produce beautiful roses. On the other hand, if you plant your rosebush in a closet, if you deprive it of sunlight, or if you pour bleach on it instead of water, that rosebush is not going to do well. Why? Because you aren't treating it the way a rosebush is meant to be treated. You're not treating it according to its nature.
So then, the question is: what is the nature of human sexuality? What kind of thing is it? What is it for? If we can answer that, we will have a pretty good idea how we should treat it if you want it to be healthy.
Now I want to suggest that the answer to this question is actually quite obvious. If you just stop to think about it for a moment the nature of sex is pretty clear. Sex is for two things: babies and bonding (the two B's). That's what it does by its very nature: it brings children into the world and it unites two people in an intimate bond of love.
Now, if the very nature of sex is to bring about babies and bonding, then if we were to try to cut out one of those two purposes of the act we would be treating it contrary to its nature. In a sense you could say, we would be mutilating God's gift of sexuality. This is why the Church opposes contraception. Contraception an intentionally chosen act that sterilizes sexual love. It separates babies from bonding.
When we choose to make sexual intimacy sterile through chemicals or "barriers" or any other method that cuts off fertility, we are violating the very nature of what sex is.
And of course, contraception is not the only way to do this. Any couple (homosexual or heterosexual) that engages in sexual acts that can never be fertile (that is, acts that are sterile by their very nature) is doing wrong because they are making sex something that it is not. They are taking God's gift, using the part of it that they like (namely the pleasure) and cutting off the part that they don't like – its fertility.
Now of course, let's not be naïve here, this is a message that is almost impossible for our culture to hear for the simple reason that our culture has already embraced contraception, with open arms. This is why most of our Protestant Christian brethren can no longer make a consistent logical argument against same-sex sexual activity – because they have already separated babies from bonding, when they accepted contraception.
But we as Catholics have something meaningful to say, in this debate. Our tradition has an understanding of sexuality that is rationally consistent – an understanding that respects the dual nature of human sexuality: love and procreation – babies and bonding.
Now, let's talk about marriage for a moment. These two purposes of sex that are built into nature itself, also happen to be the two purposes of marriage. This is because the sexual act is the symbol and consummation of the marriage commitment – it is a physical expression of the vows that a man and a woman make to each other during their wedding ceremony. In other words, when husband and wife engage in sex with each other, they are saying with their bodies the exact same thing that they said at altar when they were joined in marriage.
And what do they say at the altar? Well, they say two things. They say, "I give myself entirely to you forever." and they say, "I am open to bringing children into the world with you and raising a family with you."
These are the two meanings of marriage: love and family – bonding and babies.
Now the law that was recently passed by our legislature contradicts this basic truth about marriage. This law radically alters the definition of marriage in our society because it removes any reference to gender from that definition and, in doing so, it removes all reference to procreation as well.
In other words, children and family are no longer an essential part of marriage, according to this law. Sure, you could have kids if you want or maybe adopt them. But they are not a normal or essential part of marriage. According to this new definition, they have been written out. Thus this law imposes a false understanding of the word "marriage" on all of us.
Now please note, this is not at all about rights or equality under the law. Remember, in Washington same-sex couples in a legal union already explicitly have every single legal right that married couples have, without exception. This new law adds absolutely nothing in the way of legal rights.
It's not about rights at all. It's solely about the meaning of the word "marriage." And the intention of the new law is to force everyone to use the word 'marriage' in a radically different way – in a way that is contrary to Christian faith, and contrary to natural reason.
Now, that being said, let's put this into perspective. This new redefinition of marriage is by no means the first or the only threat to marriage in our culture. For decades now, the contraceptive mentality – that is, the mentality that sex is just about pleasure between two people and has nothing to do with children or family – has been eating away at our society's understanding of marriage like a swarm of termites in the walls of an old house.
With the proliferation of divorce, infidelity, fornication, pornography and abortion the truth and meaning of marriage has been relentlessly under attack for a long time now. This redefinition of marriage is just one of the many bitter fruits of the contraceptive mentality that dominates our culture. Indeed, this way of thinking has become a kind of secular orthodoxy in our culture. It is heresy to challenge the contraceptive mentality – to even ask the question, is it right?
Well my brothers and sisters, it is wrong. And that is why it is so crucial, now more than ever, that we as Catholics come to understand what our faith has to say about this. So that we can begin to work for change – one heart and one soul at a time.
Now of course I know that some of us in the flock would claim that we "disagree" in one way or another with the Church's teachings on sexuality. If you find yourself in that place, I want to issue a challenge to you. Most likely, you don't have a complete understanding of the Church's teachings in this area. If you're going to disagree with those teachings, you should understand clearly what it is that you disagree with. Otherwise your disagreement is, to be frank, not very honest.
To that end, I want to recommend a book, The Good News about Sex and Marriage by Christopher West. It's a thin book, in question-and-answer format – very easy to read – and you can get it pretty cheaply online. If you read this book, and you still disagree with the Church's teaching, at least you will be able to say that you understand what you disagree with.
(The title of the book is in the bulletin, and, by the way, I don't get a commission for this. J)
My brothers and sisters, we are all part of the same flock and we are bound together by love of one Shepherd. But that love is always calling us deeper – calling us beyond our comfort zone – to seek out the truth with honesty and integrity and to welcome all people, accepting them as they are. Let's face it, we are, all of us, prisoners of sin – prisoners of our own biases. But the truth – that is, the truth of Christ, has the power to set us free.