Dear Friends in Christ, August 2, 2015
I would now like to address one of the big questions that sometimes arises in conversations on the topic of same-sex attraction, identity, and of course marriage.
Q. If a person is born with a same-sex orientation, isn’t it just as reasonable for that person to live out that orientation, or attraction, as for those who have a heterosexual orientation?
A. I would like to begin my response by referring to some of the Church’s teaching regarding the human passions. Here are a few references, again from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“The term ‘passions’ belongs to the Christian patrimony. Feelings or passions are emotions or movements of the sensitive appetite that incline us to act or not to act in regard to something felt or imagined to be good or evil.” - #1763
“The principal passions are love and hatred, desire and fear, joy, sadness, and anger.” - #1772
“There are many passions. The most fundamental passion is love, aroused by the attraction of the good. Love causes a desire for the absent good and the hope of obtaining it; this movement finds completion in the pleasure and joy of the good possessed. The apprehension of evil causes hatred, aversion, and fear of the impending evil; this movement ends in sadness at some present evil, or in the anger that resists it.” - #1765
“Strong feelings are not decisive for the morality or the holiness of persons; they are simply the inexhaustible reservoir of images and affections in which the moral life is expressed. Passions are morally good when they contribute to a good action, evil in the opposite case. The upright will orders the movements of the senses it appropriates to the good and to beatitude; an evil will succumbs to disordered passions and exacerbates them. Emotions and feelings can be taken up into the virtues or perverted by the vices.” – #1768
“In the passions, as movements of the sensitive appetite, there is neither moral good nor evil. But insofar as they engage reason and will, there is moral good or evil in them.” - #1773
So what does all this theological jargon mean in plain English? It is simple. Let’s say I experience a very strong desire to gobble an entire bag of chocolates. (This is hypothetical!) Do I eat them or not? OF COURSE I DO!!! Because after all if I feel it so strongly then it must be right! Ok maybe not. So, instead I decide I’ll have one or two of them; enjoy them, put the bag back, and smile with satisfaction that I own their tasty flavor but they don’t own me. My desire is now ordered toward the virtue of temperance, or moderation, and not toward the vice of gluttony.
Another example. I get very angry at someone, so what do I do? I lash out with a long stream of attacks and obscenities, or even seek vengeance BECAUSE THEY DESERVE IT!!! Yes, I’m sure that will result in building many bridges and friendships. Ummm, no not really. So maybe I think about how I redirect this anger. Instead of a destructive reaction I strive to use my anger, or indignation, to build up through personal encounter, patience, charity, understanding, and the sincere desire to right what was wronged without causing further harm to my fellow man.
Now to the sexual passion. As with any passion, we cannot determine the moral quality of a feeling without considering the end to which it is directed. In other words, what acts arise from these feelings or passions? Our Catholic faith has always taught us that the sexual passions exist to orient man and woman toward the good of the one-flesh union of marriage. Furthermore, when husband and wife desire each other not as objects to be possessed but rather as subjects to be encountered, while also being completely open to the gift of children, acting on the sexual passion actually contributes to their HOLINESS. In such an instance, their “self-donation”, as St. John Paul II termed it, now reflects the full, faithful, and fruitful love of God himself. This is the virtue of marital chastity. However, the sexual passions are not to be directed, or oriented, toward any other acts outside of the one-flesh complementary union of husband and wife. Consider these examples - Pre-marital sexual relations are not full because the couple has not publicly vowed their full and life-long commitment to each other; adulterous relations are not faithful for obvious reasons; and homosexual relations are not fruitful because there is no physical possibility of conceiving children together, which are the ultimate good of marriage. Since in each of these examples the acts are not ordered toward a full, faithful, and fruitful marriage union, and thus in each case the virtue of marital chastity does not exist, one can conclude that the specific passions that lead to these types of actions should not be followed.
As I mentioned in a previous bulletin, the Church recognizes that the “psychological genesis [of homosexual attraction] remains largely unexplained.” That said, it does not then logically follow that someone is simply “born this way” and therefore not only can but should act out this way. There is always a choice. In the end, our sexual identity is always determined by our ACTIONS, not merely by our feelings or attractions. The virtue of chastity, to which we are all called no matter what state of life, or even “orientation”, is built up by individual acts and not by feelings.
To be continued….