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Part 3: Trust in Jesus, and Homosexual Sainthood
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Dec 30, 2015)
The following is the third in a series on Homosexuality and God's Merciful Love. You can follow the entire series here.
At the end of the second article in this series, I said of homosexual erotic relationships: "There can be no deep joy, no peace of heart, and no perfect love down that pathway."
How can I be so sure about this? Were all of those gay men and women that I came to know personally living utterly miserable lives?
No, that's not what I meant. Like all people, they can experience times of relative contentment, especially when things are going well, and show a degree of concern for the good of others, as well as experience the inner joy that accompanies acts of kindness. Many are genuinely ignorant that their homosexual relationships are spiritually and physically harmful (which mitigates their moral responsibility), and from my experience, this poison is slow-acting; it takes many doses, over a long period of time, really to be thoroughly destructive.
Again, how can I be so sure of all this?
Generally, there are two ways we can know all this: by divine revelation and by rational reflection on the evidence. Let's start with revelation.
"Divine revelation" means God's special acts in human history by which he reveals his nature, his character, his saving work, and his purposes for us. The three principle stages of this revelation are:
(1) the life of God's chosen people Israel,
(2) the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, and
(3) the witness of the apostles whom he chose, and to whom He gave authority to teach in his name (e.g. Mt 10:40; 16:19, 18:18; Lk 10:16; Jn 16:13, 17:17).
The truths that God has revealed to us in these ways have been passed down to us (as we saw last week) in the apostolic Scriptures, in Sacred Tradition, and in the authoritative decrees of the living teaching authority of the Church's bishops in apostolic succession (the magisterium). In other words, God our Father cares about humanity infinitely, so he speaks to us through trustworthy channels of his own making, and tells us the main things we need to know: about himself, his love, and the kind of creatures he made us to be.
We cannot figure out everything we need to know all by ourselves. We are very small and limited creatures, after all, in a very large and mysterious universe! Also, most of us have neither the time nor the intellectual ability to figure things out, even if it were possible. But Jesus promised: "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free" (Jn 8:32). Free from the shallow and confusing treatment of moral values in the media and popular culture. Free from slavery to our own disordered desires and self-deceptions. Free from everything that blocks us from finding true fulfillment and peace of heart.
So the first thing I want to ask a Catholic — or any Christian — who does not trust what the Bible and the Church teaches about same-sex attraction is simply this: do you trust Jesus? After all, he loved you so much he died on the cross for you. He is the one who gave authority to his apostles to teach, and inspired the Scriptures to be written, and who commissioned the Church, "the Body of Christ" on earth, to speak in His name. Why can't you trust him when he tells you what leads to peace and fulfillment, and what leads to sorrow and loss in the end?
In the next few articles in this series, therefore, we are going to listen carefully to what God has said to us about homosexuality — and human sexuality in general — through his inspired Word, the Bible. After that we will take a look at the meaning of the word "love": regardless of what the Bible says, isn't an affectionate homosexual relationship just another form of "love"? How can we refuse to affirm authentic love wherever we find it? And what do the social sciences say about the origins of same-sex attraction and the human cost of this kind of "love?"
Then we will look at the issue of gay marriage: just what has been done by turning it into the legal equivalent of natural marriage — and how Catholics can deal with this new social reality. Finally, we will look at some of the difficult personal situations that Catholic families face today (What if my son or daughter, or mother or father, declares that they are gay? How should I respond in a way that truly reflects the love of Jesus Christ? Should I welcome their gay lovers into my home? Should I attend their gay wedding?).
But let's be very careful here. It would be easy to fall into the trap of portraying the Church's teaching as just a series of "noes": no to same-sex attraction, no to homosexual acts, no to gay marriage — and a stubborn "no" to the whole gay affirming culture in which we live. A lofty contempt for the whole business might leave us feeling morally superior for a while — as good Catholic Pharisees! — but such a loveless and prideful response to our gay brothers and sisters might only put us in a worse spiritual state than they are, and hardly be of any help to them in their struggles.
Besides, our Lord's perspective on same-sex-attraction is not just a series of "noes." Rather, it's an invitation. To him, homosexuality is not just a tragedy, it's an opportunity: a path to sanctity. Remember: our merciful God can and does write straight with crooked lines!
Let me explain. Or rather, let one of my students at St. Therese Institute of Faith and Mission explain. This young woman, while meditating on the Catechism's entries on homosexuality (2357-2359; see last week's article), articulated the Church's vision in a way that finally put words to what I have been struggling to express for many years. So with special thanks to Janaya, I will share the gist of what she wrote.
First, she pointed to the teachings of The Second Vatican Council, quoted in CCC 825: "Strengthened by so many and such great means of salvation, all the faithful, whatever their condition or state — though each in his own way — are called by the Lord to that perfection of sanctity by which the father himself is perfect [Mt 5:48]." Thus, the Church teaches that each of us, in our own way, can become saints: perfect in love for God and others. There is no cookie-cutter path to this holiness and sainthood. Rather, there are a variety of paths, for there are a variety of persons; each one of us has our own unique set of personality traits, circumstances, challenges and gifts. As Janaya wrote: "Each one of us has been created in such a way that we are fully equipped with both the unique weaknesses and strengths that have the potential to make us into great saints. ... The Church, in the name of Jesus Christ, calls us all, including those who deal with homosexual tendencies, to a life of holiness and a vocation to sainthood."
Of course, God did not exactly create our personal wounds and our brokenness! "It is obvious that there are many sinful desires that we suffer from over which we have no control," Janaya says. "These, like all other tendencies that are not in right order, are a fruit of original sin"—that is, they are the result of the broken and wounded condition passed down to us all from the fall of the whole human race in the beginning. Still, whatever the personal disorders that may afflict us, we can know that God would not have permitted us to bear these afflictions if he did not intend to bring good out of them, with our cooperation — indeed, a greater good than if he had not permitted them at all. That is why St. Paul wrote, "All things work for good for those who love God" (Rom 8:29) — and "all things," as St. Augustine famously said, must include our disordered inclinations and even our sins!
Now I will just let Janaya say what needs to be said, because she said it much better than I could ever do:
Homosexuality [therefore] is not something inflicted by God, but is a cross that is allowed by his permissive will for the potential greater good, if one surrenders oneself to the arms of grace and accepts this heavy struggle ... the greater the struggle the greater the victory. ...
[T]he call to sainthood does not rebuff those who suffer from same-sex attractions. The Church confirms and solidifies this call by saying that homosexual people, "by the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom ... can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection" (CCC 2359). In short ... homosexuals are called to sainthood.
I was both alarmed and pleasantly surprised when I read this bold call, for it had never occurred to me that, indeed, there can be (and probably already are) saints in heaven who dealt with same-sex attractions. However, this does not mean that homosexual activity is an acceptable road to sainthood. CCC 2359 says that "homosexual persons are called to chastity," as we all are. The path to sainthood for a homosexual person is therefore one of immense self-sacrifice, self-mastery, and self-discipline in union with Christ and his cross. It is to be, if you will, a sort of passion of the passions, where one must offer their desires for intimacy (with whomever that may be) to the Lord. ... As St. John Paul II reminded us all: "We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father's love for us, and our real capacity to become the image of his Son" (Homily at World Youth Day, Toronto, July 28, 2002).
So, is it possible for there to be gay saints? Of course, and I dare say, I do not doubt that in heaven right now there are those who in this life were homosexuals, praying for those who deal with same-sex attraction every day. If one accepts the cross of same-sex attractions with the grace and strength that flows only from the Heart of Jesus Christ, and lives out their vocation to the perfection of charity, then I do believe that a homosexual person can become a great saint. ...
Homosexual persons, whether they fully realize it or not, have a special gift, a unique offering to raise to the Lord daily: namely, their desires. Surely it consoles the heart of Jesus when one steps into the shoes of Simon of Cyrene and shoulders his cross alongside the One who gave himself completely for us all. ...
Thus, in union with Christ and His sorrowful yet glorious passion, may all his children — gay or straight — strive to be in the only pride parade that's worth being in: the march of the saints.
Next week: Who Cares What the Bible Says?
You can follow the entire series here.
Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.