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The Church and Sexuality

The standard Catholic critique of gay sexuality has failed to persuade.  This is due to an insistence on the part of many ecclesiastical authorities to focus narrowly on homosexuality alone rather than present the comprehensive understanding of human sexuality found in official Church teaching. We see the failed results of their approach in Catholics who do not truly understand why gays should be singled out. They either outright disagree with Church teachings or support them only tepidly. We also see this failure in Catholic youth who overwhelming support gay marriage. There truly is no reason to single out gays because those who label themselves gay are no different from those who consider themselves straight.  We are the same people ignoring the same calling.  We arrived at this state by thinking Church teachings on sexuality were divisible, that we could neglect the parts that didn’t work for us and retain those we could hold against others.

But, I think a close consideration of sexuality will show the teachings of the Church to be seamless and indivisible. If we attack homosexual practices as disordered while ignoring non-marital and contracepted sex we validate those who call us bigots.  What is disordered and unnatural is the same to all. In each case that which is natural is rendered unnatural.  All of these cases render sex sexless, in some way denying the inherent creativity that is the very purpose of sex.  This denial is a denial of our own creation as male and female and its replacement with a man of our own making, a man unsexed and incomplete, self-crippled as both creator and lover.

Sex that is not sex recognizes no boundaries between gays and heterosexuals. Sodomy is not an act of love. Whether it happens between two men or a man and a woman, sodomy is inherently septic and puts both parties at risk. Fornication is not an act of love. Sex outside of a lifelong, committed marriage denies its life-creating significance, discounting the very life it may create. Contracepted sex is not an act of love. A contracepted marital act denies the full humanity of its participants, divorcing them from the very nature of their male and female selves. Though seemingly disparate sexual activities, sodomy, fornication and contraception are all unnatural and disordered. The moral import of all is the same, an act of love desecrated. The tragedy of all is the same, men and women broken loose from natural moorings defining who they are. The heartache of all is the same, a love that is incomplete.

I see beauty in Church teachings on human sexuality, but I see something broken in the eerie silence emanating from ecclesiastical authorities, from Bishops, Priests and the laity, on contraception and sexuality, silence. A church that cannot teach the beauty of a sexuality realized in the Trinitarian unity of mother, father and child has nothing to say to the gay community. But, I know that isn’t true. I know the Church has much to say, but it has lost its voice because those who speak don’t see the beauty. This is sad, because if they could see it they could not be silent. Those who won’t speak are joined by the majority of American Catholics who neither see it nor live it. This also is sad, because if they could see it, they would want to live it.

However, it is the nature of mankind to poke itself in one eye to ensure that it sees only what it wants to see with the other. Such is the case for the overwhelming majority of Catholics in the United States, in both pulpit and pew, who view the Church teaching on sexuality through the one eye that sees rules, rules, rules while the eye that sees love remains scarred and darkened.  To see the love that challenges the homosexual and offers him more is to see the same love that challenges non-marital and contracepted heterosexual sex. The life-changing love we show the gay population is the same love that will change our lives. Bishops, priests and laity cannot simultaneously speak to gay marriage and remain silent about heterosexual relationships that are not truly marriage either, not because they don’t involve love, but because that love is incomplete, and it is the completion of all love that is the Church’s central purpose.

Contraception is the divide that redefines sexuality and love and separates the two. We cannot see the lie of homosexuality without seeing the lie of contraception, because it is the same lie. Only a man and woman can come together as “one flesh,” where they truly become a single biological entity for the purpose of creating new life. But this only remains true when the marital act is not impeded artificially. Contraception destroys the uniqueness of the marital act and changes its very nature from an act of creation to one of pleasure, power, or some other basic selfish desire. Contraception nullifies marriage because it breaks the bond that unites two unique people into one. Only in that oneness does the concept of marriage even make sense. Once that bond is broken we no longer act as male and female but as persons of no sexual identity where one pairing of sexes makes no more sense than another.  The couplings we incur are no more sex than casting seeds on the Walmart parking lot is horticulture. Though we may still love we have shed our innate ability to love completely as one who is either male or female. Contracepted sex is not an act of love because love always gives completely and always fulfills the other. Contraception diminishes love because it truncates the humanity of its participants. It declares man and woman something undefinable, something other than what they are. Contraception renders the terms homosexual and heterosexual indistinguishable because it renders the act of sex nonsexual. This is how we become bigots for opposing gay marriage. This happens not because gay marriage is right, but because when we abandoned Church teachings on contraception, we abandoned true marriage. Why should we object to gay aspirations simply because those wishing to join the club are attracted to the same sex?

But to who is this bigotry directed? From a worldly perspective, it is gays we persecute. From the upside down world of Jesus where death is victory and truth is light, both the homosexual and the heterosexual, blinded and groping in darkness, have been persecuted through neglect. A gay person can excuse him or herself for missing a message inadequately taught to those whose lives are considered more mainstream. Rather than light the darkness that now covers human sexuality, many Catholics, both high and low, clerical and lay, have either accepted blindness or judged those blind as unable to bear the light the Church shines. Like lemmings those blinded seem happy running toward the cliff of divorce, abortion, child abuse and broken families. As humans they will take insult at the very idea that they do not see the cliff. Why should anyone think it right to disturb this complacency and needlessly upset the rush to oblivion, particularly when the cost is to be called a fool by those who don’t want to see? But to not speak is to not love. In remaining quiet we miss the entire meaning of Jesus, who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). We miss the love of one labeled a fool and crucified. We no longer see the Church as Christ embodied, called to share His love and endure His persecution. When Christ claimed he came to fulfill the law, it was not a cracking whip he offered but more, more love, more life and more joy. Only when we see that more will we see the love behind the law.

To see that more is to see the beauty in Church teachings on contraception and human sexuality. It is to see that they are not a reduction of the human experience but a path to its fulfillment. A man can only fully love a woman if he loves her as a woman, a person born for creation. To deny that nature is to neuter a woman, to love her as something she isn’t. A woman can only fully love a man if she loves him as a man, a person also born for creation. To deny that nature is to neuter a man, to love him as something he isn’t. Only as a potential mother and potential father do the terms man and woman, male and female, mean anything at all. Creation is inherent in the love of a man and a woman. In denying the creation we deny not only the love but the full humanity of both man and woman made in God’s image.

When we deny the creative nature of man and woman we recreate man as a figment of our imagination. No longer are we an image of God (“male and female he created them” [Genesis 1:27]) but an image of our own making. We will build this image on fantasies bounded only by the reach of our selfish desires. We will love men as women and women as men and in any and every combination our minds may compose, because to be a man or woman has no meaning whatever. No longer will a man be a man if he thinks otherwise. No longer will a woman be woman if she thinks it inconvenient. The person we think we love will be a vapor in our mind rather than the reality before us. In seeing men and women as interchangeable, we will fail to see them at all. Fantasy will romance fantasy. As those fantasies fade so will our relationships.

When we truncate our humanity we will truncate that of our children also. Rather than bonded by blood to mother and father, children will become interchangeable parts in our quest for whatever we pursue in a world full of people denied their humanity. Children will no longer be persons in their own right but will be fetuses to be disposed of or pegs we use to fill holes in our lives. They will not have unique needs but will be there to fulfill our needs as we uproot them and transplant them at our convenience from one family to another or simply leave them behind altogether. When we recreate man in our imagination we will render our lives and our love incomplete, chasing one mirage after another. Contraception is not the liberation of human sexuality but its denial. Beyond it is endless anarchy and meaninglessness.

If ever we needed a white knight charging on a white horse restoring love and romance to its proper throne that time is now. Yet the knight we need sits in armor rusted with a horse uncombed and underfed. The white knight has grown timid and weak, half believing the dark knight’s rumors that it is she who is the villain stealing joy and bringing darkness to all. Now is the time for the Catholic Church to burnish her armor and groom her steed. Refurbished and remounted she can still bring us tales of love and romance. She can teach us about men who love their wives and women who love their husbands from the first stirrings of adolescence, long before they ever meet. She can teach us about men and women who love completely, withholding nothing from each other. And from that love freely given will be children born into the love of a man and woman who love each other and gift themselves (not as two individuals–but as a “one”) to their children for life. As witnesses of that love these children will not only know the love of a mother and father but, also, the love of husband and wife. In teaching us the completeness of marital love the Catholic Church and only the Catholic Church will help us see the beauty of the Trinitarian love that is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Those we label gay and those they love can be forgiven for also wanting the false happiness of a heterosexual world run amok. They can be forgiven for seeing no reason why they should not partake of its perceived pleasures. They can be forgiven for seeing us as bigots, because many of us, seeing gay people as different, erected stop signs for them where we placed none in our own path. We could not see that most of us are no different, that we had fallen for the same lies, that what they truly needed we needed also.  Both the beauty and love in human sexuality lie in its inherent creative life giving power.  We cannot divorce ourselves from that creativity and not change ourselves. Our bishops and our priests need to see that beauty and to call all to it.  The laity needs to see that beauty and make it a part of their lives. Not only at stake is our ability to see ourselves made in the image and likeness of God; but, most importantly, our ability to see God Himself dwelling in us.

God bless,
Gary Downey

One Response

  1. Sarath
    Sarath at |

    Apologies for the delayed reply. Seminarians for Reproductive Justice is home to a nuebmr of people of faith. The organization has members that are Roman Catholic as well as many other denominations. Check out the Your Denomination page to see what each specific tradition has to say about reproductive choice.

    Reply

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