As Catholics how are we to respond to the Supreme Court decision legalizing same sex unions to be recognized by the states as marriage?
In today’s Gospel we see Jesus being “moved with pity for the people, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus is our Good Shepherd. But did you notice what his Shepherding activity was? “He began to teach them many things.” In contrast, in the first reading, God, through Ezekiel, took Israel’s shepherds to task saying, “Woe to the shepherds…who have not cared for.. the flock of my pasture.” Every time I see these two passages together I am warned to be a priest who imitates the Good Shepherd, who teaches the truth and cares for the pasture of his flock. It is in this care that I want to speak about the Supreme Court decision legalizing same sex unions to be recognized by the states as marriage. This ruling is challenging and hard to understand. As Catholics how are we to respond?
My thoughts first go to those Catholic men and women who themselves experience same sex attraction and strive to live according to the teaching of Jesus Christ. They are persevering in the midst of a difficult situation, being caught between the truth of human sexuality and the confusing messages of the world around us. Mainstream media, T.V., news, movies and various philosophies and subcultures loudly and repeatedly propose ideas that stand contrary to the message of the Gospel. These loud messages of the world collide with the constant teaching of the Gospel and can cause tension and doubt and can make persevering in chastity difficult. This difficulty can be made worse too by uncharitable words or by misrepresented teachings from persons within the Church. For these I am sorry. I encourage them not to give up and not to get discouraged. Remember, the human person is not defined by sexual tendencies; and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a Gospel of freedom. While it challenges us to live at a higher level of holiness, and never waivers in calling us to persevere in the midst of difficulty, it also promises constant strength and grace given by the Holy Spirit to stay faithful to its truth. God does not abandon his children. God gives the strength to persevere.
My thoughts next go to those Catholic men and women who have serious disagreement with the Gospel’s teaching on same sex unions and on her teaching about a life of chastity for those who experience same sex attraction. I encourage them to stay open to dialogue with the Gospel message. Please remember, the teachings of the Church, handed down to us throughout history, are not primarily based on social, psychological or biological sciences. Rather, the Church’s teachings concerning human sexuality are, first, a gift given to us through the Gospel. To be sure the human sciences are a necessary help in deepening our understanding of that Gospel and can give a better understanding of homosexual tendencies; but they can never replace God’s revelation. The Church is obedient to the Gospel and must always be faithful to this message of revelation. God himself speaks his words to humankind. God himself declared the nature of marriage to be between one man and one woman. So central is this revelation that he made it one of the first things he taught in the Garden of Eden, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” He also made it the last context of the entire Scripture when he revealed heaven to be the wedding banquet of the Lamb. And in between he used the marriage covenant as the most fitting image to reveal God’s love for his Church, as a husband loves a bride, in the person of Jesus Christ. We must remember that the definition of marriage is first a revelation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and its meaning is central to understanding our relationship to the Trinity.
My thoughts next go to those Catholic men and women who are seriously disturbed by this ruling of the Supreme Court and are passionately angry about the state of our country. Please remember the law of compassion precedes all conversations on this subject. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches this law of compassion saying, persons with homosexual tendencies, “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” The scriptures themselves tell us to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.” In carrying on a conversation with persons of differing opinions we need to remember the Prayer of St. Francis we pray after every Mass: we must seek “to understand” prior to being “understood”. We must keep Jesus himself as our primary model. His entire mission was to bring healing and reconciliation to all of God’s children. While he was no push over when it came to disputed questions, his primary goal was always healing and reconciliation. And when push came to shove, he ended the conversation by carrying the cross and taking the suffering to himself.
Finally, my thoughts go to those Catholics who accept the Church’s teaching but do not know where to go from here. Do not be discouraged and do not be afraid. Study the issues from good Catholic sources. Read the Catechism. Pray the bible. Write to government representatives. Dialogue with the media. Do not become pessimistic. As John Paul II said, “We are in a new springtime of hope.” And even though our Supreme Court has made a decision contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ this ruling has only created a new context to proclaim the Gospel afresh. Just as the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision launched a whole new effort at the proclamation of the Gospel of Life, so now a new context has been given to the people of God in the United States to proclaim the Gospel of Married Love.
This new context begins with the desire for healing and reconciliation. It proceeds by way of compassion and understanding. It continues in a dialogue of truth and charity. And it will result in a greater appreciation for human sexuality and married love. Jesus Christ himself is our good Shepherd. He revealed Father’s unfailing love for all his children. And he sent the Spirit of reconciliation and courage among us to live the Gospel in hope.