SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
13 May 2012
The Roman Catholic Church of St. Monica, Duluth, GA
Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; Ps 98:1, 2-3, 3-4, 1 Jn 4:7-10; Jn 15:9-17
Fr. Augustine H.T. Tran
1. I want to begin this morning by thanking the President of the United States, because this week he opened a national discussion of marriage. With divorce rates at 50%, illegitimacy rates for women under 30 at 51%, married households accounting for only 48% of all households in America—down from 75% in 1960—and a tenfold increase in cohabitation (what used to be called living in sin) in the same fifty years, this is a very important topic for our country to be discussing right now. Of course, our President did not bring to the public square any of those issues; he brought up a new topic for discussion, a topic that we as Catholics and as citizens should engage in.
2. Now, I shall admit that this is a difficult issue to debate, not on the merits of the case, but because many people who have a gut reaction to this topic do not have an intellectual argument for why they feel that way. Those who disagree with what is now reported as the majority opinion—although I should dispute those statistics, but, for the sake of argument, let’s grant them—are immediately labelled as phobic, bigots, or haters. All ears are closed to even the possibility of a rational argument on the other side. This is hardly the Socratic conditions for an honest dialogue: candor, intelligence, and good will.
3. To demonstrate my point, Buddhists, Atheists, Hindus, and a host of other people disagree with the Catholic Church on her view of God. Most Protestants disagree with the Catholic Church on her view of Holy Communion, on one of the most central tenets of our Faith, on an essential element of Catholic life, and yet we do not call those people bigots or Catholic haters for disagreeing with us. We engage them in honest dialogue about our differences, but having differing views does not necessarily mean that we hate each other. We can have very heated discussions without ad hominem attacks and poisoning the well, but somehow our society has no tolerance for an opposing viewpoint on same-sex attraction (SSA).
4. So, with all sincerity, I thank the President for presenting his position with candor, intelligence, and good will and bringing civility to this conversation. I hope and pray that the Church’s arguments can be presented and heard in the same vein.
5. As I have said here many times before and as the Church has taught throughout history, hating the sin does not mean hating the sinner, and loving the sinner does not mean loving his sin. We do not love an alcoholic by loving his alcoholism, but by hating his alcoholism. We do not love a drug addict by loving his drug addiction, but by hating his drug addiction. We do not love a pedophile by loving his pedophilia, but by hating his pedophilia.
6. True love comes from hating the sin. Our Lord taught us this in today’s Gospel: “love one another as I love you” (Jn 15:12). Our Lord did not hang on that cross because “I’m okay, you’re okay.” He hung upon that cross for our sins. He hung upon that cross to teach us that sacrificing ourselves for the salvation of our beloved is what it means to love. The Greek word that is used here is agape, the highest form of love, sacrificial love, sacrificing the lover’s wants and desires for the salvation of his beloved. What we see upon the cross is not eros. It is not erotic or romantic love, which is what our society usually means when it speaks of love. Let’s not confuse Scriptural agapic, sacrificial love for societal romantic, erotic love. In many ways, agapic love can be the exact opposite of romantic love, because it desires eternal happiness for the beloved, not temporal pleasure for the lover. For example, a man wants to be united with his beloved, but they are not yet married, so he sacrifices his erotic desires to protect his beloved’s virtue, to keep her close to God and eternal happiness. He does not tempt his beloved into sin. That is not sacrifice; it is selfishness. That is not love; it is lust.
7. Most of our friendships, most of our love relationships do not express themselves in a sexual embrace. We have many friends and relatives; we have only one spouse. So, sex is not necessary for love. The unique place where it is expressed is in marriage. Self-control, mastery over our passions is what leads to true freedom and happiness, not sexual license. When we can say, “No,” then our “Yes” will mean something. If we cannot say, “No,” then our “Yes” is meaningless. Sexual license takes away our freedom because it takes away our self-control, our ability to say, “No,” which makes us a slave to sin.
8. I often tell my students that no one has ever died from not having sex. Plenty of people have died from having sex, but no one has ever died from not having sex. This idea that sexual expression is the only or a necessary expression of love is the underlying principle behind the argument that we should not deny happiness to two people who are in love, even two people struggling with SSA.
9. No one is denying them love or happiness. We are not denying love or happiness to the alcoholic by taking away his alcohol. We are not denying love or happiness to the drug addict by taking away his drugs. We are not denying love or happiness to the pedophile by keeping him away from children. In fact, we are showing true love to the sinner by denying him his disordered passions. One cannot read Gen 19, Lev 18:22, Rom 1:26-28, 1 Cor 6:9-10, or 1 Tim 1:10 without coming to the conclusion that what we are talking about here are disordered passions.
10. Some have tried to argue that we can dismiss the moral teachings of the Old Testament because certain ceremonial teachings, e.g., not eating pork or circumcising male babies, and certain penal laws, e.g., stoning for breaking the Sabbath, cursing God, or idolatry, are no longer accepted, but that argument misses two important points.
11. First, the ceremonial and penal practices may have changed, but the foundational moral teachings did not. The Mass is celebrated differently today than it was even fifty years ago, but the teaching on the Eucharist, that Jesus Christ is substantially present, body and blood, soul and divinity has not changed. The punishment for breaking the Sabbath, cursing God, and idolatry may have changed, but that those acts are sinful has not changed. A change in ceremonial practices does not mean a change in fundamental moral teachings.
12. Second, this is not only an Old Testament teaching. It is consistently taught through both the Old and New Testaments, as I noted earlier.
13. “But God made them that way. If people are ‘born that way,’ then it must be natural and, hence, should be accepted.” To this, I have two responses.
14. First, while the secular media tries to portray this is as a scientific certainty, the evidence is far from conclusive on this matter. There is much credible scientific research demonstrating that it can be a choice or due to early childhood trauma. You can research the studies at narth.com. That is the website of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality.
15. This goes back to my earlier point about tolerance for opposing viewpoints. It is verboten in the secular media to even consider that this is anything but natural, genetic, hardwired, not a choice. It was only a few months ago that actress Cynthia Nixon was vilified by the media because she said she chose the lifestyle. This is not someone who is opposed to that lifestyle, mind you. She is living it, but the very fact that she would say she chose it was unacceptable and beyond the pale. I am not sure how one can have a meaningful dialogue in that environment.
16. Second, even if we grant that people are “born that way,” it is a specious argument to conclude that it is natural and must be accepted. People are born with bad eyesight, but we do not consider that natural. We consider it a disorder that should be corrected with glasses or contacts. People are born without arms and legs, but we do not consider that natural. We consider it a disorder that should be corrected with prosthetic limbs. People are born bipolar and with A.D.D., but we do not consider that natural. We consider it a disorder that should be corrected with medicine and psychological counseling. There is even scientific research showing that alcoholism and pedophilia are genetic, that people are “born that way,” but we still consider them disorders that should be corrected.
17. Consider that we are all born with original sin. Yet, we recognize that it is a disorder within us and we do our best to overcome it with prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, with the help of the sacraments, and the grace of God.
18. No matter how we are born, our actions are a choice. I may not be able to control my feelings for your wife, but I can control my actions toward her. We are not judged on our feelings or temptations, we are judged on our actions because we freely choose those actions. That is what we mean when we say that that lifestyle is a choice. We all have disordered passions to lie, cheat, steal, gossip, use the Lord’s name in vain, disobey our parents, buy a PC instead of a Mac, but we fight those temptations to do evil. The choice is in giving in to the temptation, not in having the temptation.
19. This is why this is not a civil rights issue. No one is being denied his rights here. Rights come from our inherent dignity as creatures made in the image and likeness of God, not from our skin color, nation of origin, or sexual preference: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights….” God gives us our rights, not men. Jack has the same right to marry Jane as I have. I lack the right to marry Frank just like Jack lacks the right to marry Frank. We both have the same rights. Everyone is being treated equally. The only difference is that Jack wants to marry Frank and I do not, but that is not a basis for Jack having that right. Our wants do not create rights. Can you imagine if we started creating rights based upon people’s desires? Everyone would have government supplied Lamborghinis. Everyone would have government supplied iPads. Everyone would have government supplied healthcare…Oh, wait, scratch that example. Everyone would have government supplied contraceptives…Oh, wait, scratch that example, too.
20. You see my point. Our rights come from our inherent dignity as creatures made in the image and likeness of God, not from our wants. Jack is made in the image and likeness of God, which is why I treat him with dignity, with respect, and with love, but that does not include giving him the right to marry Frank, because that is contrary to his dignity as a human being, contrary to man’s design as a compliment to woman. God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.
21. At this point in the discussion, one will usually hear that we should not impose our religious beliefs upon society. This argument assumes that this is merely a religious teaching and that there are no natural law or rational arguments for our position, but one need only look in a biology or anatomy textbook to see the complementarity of the sexes, that man and woman are both necessary for the creation of human life. One need only look at the sociological research to see that a mother and a father are necessary for the healthy upbringing of a child—of course, there are exceptions, but that is not the norm.
22. This is the point that romantic comedies and society, in general, misses. Marriage is for children. It is ordered toward the procreation and education of children. That exclusive, indissoluble commitment that the husband and wife make to each other is necessary for creating the stable environment that children need for their emotional, physical, psychological, and even spiritual health. Marriage is for children.
23. The State does not care whom we love, and two people in love do not need a certificate from the State to ratify their love. The reason the State cares about marriage, the reason the State gives benefits to married people is because of the children. Families—which is to say husbands, wives, and children—are the foundation of any society. Without children, cultures do not survive. The children that husbands and wives have will either contribute to society or be a drain on that society, so the State is interested in creating a healthy environment for the rearing of that child, and that healthy environment is an exclusive, indissoluble relationship between a man and a woman. The social sciences prove this; it is not a religious argument. It is, however, just one more example of the natural scientist climbing the mountain of truth only to find a theologian sitting at the top.
24. The State gives benefits to married couples to incentivize having children, to incentivize adding contributing members to the society. The State does not give benefits to married people to incentivize love. This is a fundamentally flawed view of what marriage is. If marriage is just about love, then a man should be able to marry Jane and Jill and Julia, whom he loves and who love him. If he wants to include James and John and Jeff, then he should be able to do that, too, because they all love each other, and they are all consenting adults, and they are “not hurting anyone.” He should be able to marry Rover because he loves him. He should be able to marry his twenty-five-year-old daughter, because they both love each other, too, or his son, or his sister, or his brother. This is the logical conclusion of this argument. If marriage is just about love, then there is no rational basis upon which to deny any of these marriages.
25. So, where does this mentality come from? Well, I hope you are not surprised when I say that it goes back to the evil of contraception, the root of it all. As I have said before, contraception is not a method, it is a mentality! It is a mentality that has divided the unitive and procreative aspects of the conjugal act, divided bonding from babies, divided love from life. “I want to make love with you, I don’t want to make life with you. I want to bond with you, I don’t want to have babies with you. Oops, you got pregnant. You’d better get an abortion.” That is the connection between contraception and abortion that we have talked about here before. Now we see that that divide is what allows people to view marriage through the myopic lens of love to the exclusion of life and the logical conclusions of that line of reasoning.
26. I just want to respond to one last argument on this topic. I shall formulate it thus: “You stay out of my life and I shall stay out of yours. If you don’t want to do it, then don’t, but don’t stop others who do want it. It has no effect on your life whatsoever.” My only response to that argument is “H.H.S. Mandate”!
27. Why would God give some people such a heavy cross to bear? We may never know on this side of the grave, but I do know that there is no salvation without the cross. I do know that we all have crosses to bear, and I know that He never gives us a cross that is too heavy for us to carry, provided we allow Him to help us carry it. This is why the Church has groups like Courage, which is a support group for men and women who struggle with SSA. I used to be the chaplain for the Atlanta chapter. Here are their five goals from their website (couragerc.org):
To live chaste lives in accordance with the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality.
To dedicate our entire lives to Christ through service to others, spiritual reading, prayer, meditation, individual spiritual direction, frequent attendance at Mass, and the frequent reception of the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist.
To foster a spirit of fellowship in which we may share with one another our thoughts and experiences, and so ensure that no one will have to face the problems of homosexuality alone.
To be mindful of the truth that chaste friendships are not only possible but necessary in a chaste Christian life; and to encourage one another in forming and sustaining these friendships.
To live lives that may serve as good examples to others.
28. Let us keep these truly courageous men and women in our prayers, and let us pray for and thank our President for bringing this very important topic to the public square where our nation can have an honest debate with candor, intelligence, and good will.