Sunday, August 4, 2013

Homosexuality and the Church

Readings for Sunday, August 4/ 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Ecclesiastes 1:2; 221-23
Psalm 90:3-6, 12-14, 17
Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11
Luke 12:13-21

I had some trouble this week trying to discern what to preach this weekend. This Sunday, August 4, is the feast of St. Jean Vianney, the patron of parish priests and part of me wanted to talk about his life and the priesthood. Another part of me wanted to take up that powerful first reading from Ecclesiastes, which holds a special place in my heart and conversion story, and speak to the reality of the purpose of this life. Another part of me wanted to speak of the Gospel call to simplicity and storing up true treasures that glorify God. And yet to each of those things the Lord continually said ‘No.’ What kept coming up every time I went to pray was not anything mentioned in the Scriptures but something else that needed to be addressed: the remarks of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, from the spontaneous interview on his return flight from World Youth Day. And if you’ve opened up the internet or seen a newspaper in the past week you already have a hint about the topic of this homily.

After a week among the youth of our world and the great spiritual experiences that took place during the World Youth Day celebrations, Pope Francis was gracious enough to speak with the secular media and they asked a number of great questions 99% of which was lost because of one question, the final question, regarding a particular Monsignor’s alleged connection with a ‘gay lobby’ in the Vatican.

In response to the particular situation Pope Francis also gave some interesting remarks in regards to persons of homosexual orientation which caught the attention of the whole world. Here, then, is the response of our Holy Father:

If a person, lay or priest or Sister, has committed a sin and then has converted, the Lord forgives, and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is important for our life. When we go to confession and truly say: “I have sinned in this,” the Lord forgets and we don’t have the right not to forget, because we run the risk that the Lord won’t forget our [sins]. That’s a danger. This is important: a theology of sin. I think so many times of Saint Peter: he committed one of the worst sins, which is to deny Christ, and with this sin he was made Pope. We must give it much thought…. I think that when one meets a person like this, one must distinguish the fact of being a gay person from the fact of doing a lobby, because not all lobbies are good.  That’s bad. If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge him?” He then went on to reference the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which teaches that such persons “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” and that “every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (CCC, 2358). [Full text HERE.]

The media upon hearing the words “who am I to judge?” immediately burst into an uproar – THE CHURCH HAS CHANGED HER TEACHINGS!!! Headlines all over spoke of Francis being ‘Okay with gays’ and other such catch phrases. As they came in I was struck by it because what Francis said was the same thing the Benedict XVI said, and the same thing that John Paul II, John Paul I, Paul VI , John XXIII, and every other pope back to St. Peter himself have said. The teaching has not changed. The world just doesn’t know what the Church teaches to begin with, and neither do many Catholics. What Pope Francis said didn’t change the teachings of the Church; it simply restated once more what we have held from the beginning and that is the distinction between the person and the sins a person commits.

In the Book of Genesis when God was creating everything He did so and saw that it was good. When He created us and continues to create us generation after generation he looks upon us sees that we are good. This is where we get our human dignity – not from what anything we’ve accomplished or where we live or our family history. Our dignity comes in that we are all created and loved by God. The reality though is that while we are all loved by God, we are also sinners. Every one of us has pierced the Lord’s heart by our sins but His love doesn’t change. St. Paul reminds us that “God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). While we were sinners He died for us. Christ, being God Himself, knew everything that would take place in human history. As He hung upon the Cross He knew in His Sacred Heart every sin that we would commit and that every other person in history would commit and yet He remained there on the Cross for us. He loved us to death. And by that He challenges us to do the same.

That call to love, however, is often not what takes place in our society. Instead labels are given and individuals are isolated and rejected rather than received and loved. This is a major fault on our part because rather than encourage people who bear the cross of same-sex attraction we increase the weight and refuse to permit any room for growth, change, and conversion. Rather than help them on their journey of faith, we do exactly that which Pope Francis warns against: refusing to forget things of the past and thus possibly condemning ourselves as we pray week after week to be forgiven as we forgive others. We must learn to love, not condemn, to show compassion, not to marginalize. Does that mean that we approve of homosexual actions? No. We have to speak the truth, but we must do so with love and strive to love the individual. Just because we don’t approve of an action doesn’t mean we can’t love and accept people. After all, if we’re honest with ourselves as a community we can look around and see that there are a number of people in our community that have a tendency to abuse alcohol. Do we approve of it? No. Do we still love them? Yes. There are some who have been unfaithful to their spouses. Do we approve of it? No. Do we still love them? Yes. And we could go down the list of every sin we have committed, recognizing that while we cannot approve of our sins we are still in need of love.

This issue of homosexuality has been a hot topic for many months now – between the Boy Scouts, the striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act upholding traditional marital values, and the numerous states and countries discussing legalization of so-called gay marriage. It would be hard not to recognize it is something important to discuss in our culture. But it’s not just something out there away from us. It’s something close to home too, sometimes in our own homes. I don’t know about you but I have family, close friends, and people to whom I minister that are very close to my heart who struggle with these inclinations themselves. And that doesn’t change my love for them.

In the end, as much as one may want to ‘fix’ this group or that group that has this or that problem that they don’t approve of, that is not something we are called to do. God created every one of us and it is His task to mold our hearts to resemble His own. Our task is to be loved by Him and to share His love with others. Blessed Mother Teresa was once asked what needed to change most in the Church. Her response was simple: you and I. The problem with the world isn’t other people, the problem with the world is you and I. It’s me. It’s us as individuals. We need not worry about others’ problems so much as we need to worry about ourselves. That’s what Pope Francis was stating by saying, “who am I to judge?”

As we celebrate this Eucharist today let us lift up those who struggle with these inclinations that they might be freed from past sins and know God’s peace. And let us pray for ourselves that recognizing our own sins, we might be compelled to greater love and compassion for them and for all, in accord with the witness given to us by Christ.

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