A compassionate approach that honors truth and genuine well-being
On the opening day of the Synod on the Family, Ron and Mavis Pirola – co-directors of the Australian Catholic Marriage and Family Council – sparked some confusion over the example they gave as a “model of evangelization.” They stated in part:
Take homosexuality as an example. Friends of ours were planning their Christmas family gathering when their gay son said he wanted to bring his partner home too. They fully believed in the Church’s teachings and they knew their grandchildren would see them welcome the son and his partner into the family. Their response could be summed up in three words, ‘He’s our son.’
What a model of evangelization for parishes as they respond to similar situations in their neghbourhood! …
Aleteia invited Rev. Paul Check, Executive Director of Courage International, to describe a model of evangelization that combines compassion with truth and seeks the best interests of men and women struggling with same sex attraction:
We can never be more pastoral than Jesus. Good God that He is, He knows well the weaknesses to which we are prone, especially in matters relating to love and affection. But He also sees the dignity in every human heart, because He placed it there. And He sees the potential for great nobility in each heart, too, because He knows the transforming power of His grace. The Communion of Saints bears witness to the goodness of God at work in the humble and trusting human heart.
“Only in truth does charity shine forth, only in truth can charity be authentically lived,” writes the Pope Emeritus in his last encyclical. “Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality.” God is both Agápe and Lógos, Pope Benedict reminds us.
To love people with same-sex attractions is to love them for their God-given and Christ-redeemed dignity. They are not less than any of the Father’s children. Like everyone, they deserve more than sentimentality. They deserve compassion … compassion founded on the truth of their humanity.
The story of our humanity begins in the book of Genesis. The two-fold expression of our nature is not heterosexual and homosexual, but male and female. God made Adam, but the first man was “blessedly incomplete,” as aptly put by Dr J. Budziszewski. Eve completes Adam … the two become one … each giving to the other what he or she did not possess in themselves.
So that life could be shared, because it is such a surpassing gift, Adam and Eve together were given by the Lord the power to co-create with Him. Sexual intimacy, according to the story of our origin, our identity, is integrally bound with fertility. That the contraceptive industry exists testifies, in a negative way, to this reality.
We can falter in embracing chastity – self-giving, self-forgetful love – as part of the “good news.” We can deliberately try to set aside, to our own detriment, God’s wisdom “from the beginning,” which does not mean so much a point in time, as it indicates a guiding and generous hand that crafts the human identity, an identity that reflects, and can share more deeply in, the divine identity through grace.
God’s pastoral, shepherd’s heart for spousal love, according to the testimony of Sacred Scripture, reveals itself in the complementarity of the sexes and the procreative potential of the sexual faculty. Only a man and a woman together have a “reproductive system,” in the words, again, of my friend Dr J. Budziszewski. Male and female genitalia only make sense in light of their complements. The sexual organs are best described as procreative organs. And procreation is how husband and wife share in the divine power to bring life into God’s kingdom.
When we are unchaste in any way, we come into collision with ourselves, with “our story,” as told by the sacred writer in Genesis, and confirmed by Jesus in the Gospel. When the Church asks two people of the same sex to avoid being unchaste, she does so with the compassionate heart of Christ, because she believes the words of Christ: only the truth will liberate us – from ignorance, confusion, fear, neglect, pain, malice – and fulfill us.
Our fallen nature can be especially vulnerable to many forms of unchastity: masturbation, fornication, contraception, adultery, pornography … and homosexual activity. Each of these actions falls outside the limits of the humanity of which God is the author. If we fail to lead people away from any of these sins, we fail first in truth and then in compassion. We lose our trust in Jesus as Agápe and Lógos.
Pope Francis has wisely reminded us that the Church is a field hospital for sinners. His predecessor of saintly memory, John Paul II, spoke of the “law of gradualness” in leading souls to Christ. These good shepherds guide us away from sentimentality, because they are loyal sons of the Church who trust in the goodness of God and the efficacy of His grace.
To welcome people into the Church, into our homes, into conversation … to “accept them” in an authentic Christ-like way would never call for a compromise of the truth, i.e., to say to someone in some form, “Well, that’s the best you can do.” At the same time, we can only share the truth if we first share a relationship with someone, and that takes time and trust to develop.
Our Lord’s conversation with the Woman at the Well in John 4 offers a helpful pastoral model. A mutual human need –water – opens the door for a conversation about a topic of mutual interest: God. Jesus leads the conversation, in truth and in compassion, to the topics of grace, eternal life, and chastity. He does not begin with the moral question, but He does not avoid it. And for her part, the woman later describes the encounter with joy, because another heart took a deep interest in hers, and the truth that Heart conveyed, set her free.
For the last seven years, Fr. Paul Check,a priest of the Diocese of Bridgeport, CT, has gratefully served as the executive director of Courage International (http://couragerc.org), the Catholic Church’s apostolate to men and women who experience same sex attractions, and of EnCourage, a ministry for their loved ones. Courage has recently released a documentary, “The Desire of the Everlasting Hills,” which is available online at http://everlastinghills.org