False dichotomies

Loving the sinner versus holiness

So I’ve been wanting to talk about this issue since my first blog post. It seems that I can’t go a day without hearing some controversy regarding the proper application of Catholic teachings. This all started when Pope Francis released his apostolic exhortation, “the Joy of Love” in which he advocated mercy for those in irregular unions, by suggesting that they may partake in the sacraments of the church. It continues with more and more Catholic churches and Catholic individuals embracing the LGBT community. Here are a couple of examples:
In the first example, we have a Facebook post from Lady Gaga espousing her Catholic faith. She says that she was moved by the homily in which the priest reminded everyone that, “the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect.” This is actually a misquote from Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium, which states, “Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” It is an interesting message from Lady Gaga as she has been an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights. In the second example, we have a story about the Philippines (a traditionally Catholic country) electing a transgendered individual. What does this mean? Is Pope Francis responsible for the watering down of Catholic values in favor of inclusivism and mercy? Is there room for mercy and love, while still respecting the universal call for holiness or must the Catholic church promote one over the other? Lastly, what does it mean to be an “LGBT” Catholic? I will strive to answer these questions.

Matthew Kelly begins his book, Rediscovering Catholicism, by arguing that the average Catholic has forgotten the mission or purpose of Catholicism, which is to lead us to holiness. What is Christian holiness? Christian Holiness is about the radical transformation that happens when we allow the love of Christ to change us to be more like him. We are no longer ourselves, we have been bought with a price, and are new creations. This is something that is not a result of our own striving alone, but our cooperation with a God, who loves us.
God’s grace is like an overflowing well that we have access to by virtue of our baptism. Baptism is the gateway to life in the spirit and the door, which gives access to the other sacraments. However, in real life, wells get stopped up and dry up. Likewise, this is truth of our spiritual well, in that it can dry up in us or be clogged by sin. If you’ve ever had to fix a clogged sink, you know that sometimes it is as easy as pouring liquid down the drain, and other times you need to call a plumber.
This simile will hopefully help explain what Pope Francis meant when he said,  “Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” The Eucharist is Jesus’ real presence made manifest in bread and wine. As such, it can act like drain fluid and unclog our spiritual well so that we once again have access to the life in the spirit we had at baptism. What if; however, we have deliberately shoved so much stuff into our drain, that there is no room for the drainer fluid? At this point, we can’t benefit from the drainer fluid, and need a plumber. At this point, it would even be harmful to try to use drainer fluid. People who need a plumber are in a state of mortal sin, while those, who can use drainer fluid, have only committed venial sins. When Pope Francis used the term, “weak,” he was referring to those, who have committed venial sins. So what  is the difference?
According to Catholic encyclopedia, venial sins are acts that do not avert us from our last true end, which is union with God through charity/love. Aquinas puts it this way, “he who sins venially neither does what the law forbids, nor omits what the law prescribes to be done; but he acts “beside” the law, through not observing the mode of reason, which the law intends.”  Mortal sins, on the other hand, do avert us from God, in that they give preference to some other mutable good.
The Catholic church teaches that those who have committed a mortal sin should not partake in the Eucharist. So we can see in the quote by Pope Francis that the goal is to emphasize the importance of the Eucharist for those, who have trouble acting on the intention of the law.
We can now understand what Catholics mean by holiness and why it is important. I believe that a traditional Catholic has enough knowledge of the Catholic faith to understand what Pope Francis means, when he says that the  Eucharist is food for the weak. However, what about when Lady Gaga quotes it? What about people, who favor LGBT lifestyle and want the church to be more inclusive in their doctrine? What about people deliberately going against God in some other way? In the hands of these people, it can seem that Pope Francis is watering down Catholic values.
However, I feel that is an unfair criticism of Pope Francis, especially considering the quote, “Naturally, if someone flaunts an objective sin as if it were part of the Christian ideal, or wants to impose something other than what the Church teaches, he or she can in no way presume to teach or preach to others; this is a case of something which separates from the community.” (Pope Francis, Joy of Love, 297). Thus Pope Francis recognizes that if you are publicly teaching an ideal that is contrary to what the church teaches, it separates you from the church community. The Eucharistic meal is a community meal, in which there should be no division among the body.(1 Corinthians 11:17).  So what does the church teach regarding LGBT?
First the church teaches that marriage is between a man and a women. “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.” (CCC 1601). Second, the church teaches that homosexual acts are a great depravity. The church also teaches that those, who have homosexual attraction face a great trial and should be treated with compassion.  Those with homosexual attraction are called to live a life of chastity.  Here are the quotes from the Catechism:

  1. 2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
  2. 2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
  3. 2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

From this we can learn that under no circumstances can the Catholic church approve of same sex unions. However, we are to accept same sex individuals with compassion and sensitivity. So what does this mean for Catholics, who identify as LGBT?
I believe the answer largely depends on what it means to identify as LGBT. As someone who is heterosexual, I cannot comprehend what it is like to experience same sex attraction or gender dysphoria. However, I imagine that there are two ways a person may identify as LGBT. The first way is the mere acknowledgement that same sex attraction or gender dysphoria exists for that person. This is no different than an alcoholic admitting he/she has a problem with alcohol. The second way is that identifying becomes synonymous with accepting in that the label of LGBT becomes who that person is. The second way is incompatible with Christianity generally.
Galatians 3:27-28, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
St. Paul is telling us that the worldly labels that we place on ourselves no longer exist for those, who have been baptized in Christ. Instead the only label we should be concerned about is being a follower of Christ. This process of forgoing worldly labels is a life long process for any Catholic, not just LGBT Catholics. Given this struggle, I believe the church could stand to be more welcoming to those, who struggle with gender dysphoria or same sex attraction. The question is how? Once again, I believe that Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, “the Joy of Love,” is insightful.
The key theme of, “Joy of Love” is the recognition that rigid rules cannot take into account every conceivable situation and that pastoral care is better applied for those, who have extraordinary circumstances. “What is possible is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases, one which would recognize that, since “the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases. The consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same.” (Pope Francis Joy of Love, 300 ) Likewise, Pope Francis encourages participation in the church community for those in irregular unions and while he mainly is speaking about divorced and remarried couples; I believe the same could be said of those, who struggle with same sex attraction and gender dysphoria. I believe that they too can be, “more fully integrated into Christian communities in the variety of ways possible, while avoiding any occasion of scandal.” (Pope Francis Joy of Love, 299 ).  In short, I believe there is room in the church for LGBT support ministries as long as these ministries preach the need for conversion and do not simply condone LGBT behavior as legitimate.
The eliminating of rigid rules in favor of pastoral care may scare some traditional Catholics. I believe the reason is that they see the potential for abuse and a doing away with Catholic values. We have seen an increase in liturgical abuses since Vatican II opened the door for more cultural appropriation in the Mass. However, we shouldn’t let the fear of abuse hinder our ability to practice mercy and to show love to sinners.  Likewise the fear that Catholic values will be undermined is unwarranted when recalling Jesus’ words to Peter, “And I tell you that you are Peter,and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”  If Jesus’ words are true, the Catholic church will continue to promote truth even in the face of abuse.

Posted in Christianity, The Catholic Church and tagged , , .

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