Saturday, July 13, 2013
Immediately after college, I worked as a social worker in St. Louis. One of my community-mates worked with a hospice program for AIDS and HIV patients. During my year in St. Louis, I visited with many of these patients, who were gay and straight, sober and drug-addicted, rich and poor. I remember watching as their bodies and minds deteriorated as the disease took over. I recall one particular man who I had first met when he was healthier, and then visiting with him for the last time as he lay on his death bed. What I remember most about that visit with him was that at his bedside was his dad holding his hand, wiping his forehead, telling stories. That moment changed me forever – I began to put aside my homophobia, my fears and insecurities, as I saw a man suffering and in pain, yet who loved and was loved; I saw a man created in the image and likeness of God, created good, a man of worth and dignity – I saw in him my neighbor. I share this story to introduce the fifth in my series of homilies on the myths of the Catholic Church. As you may recall, I have been following Dr. Christopher Kaczor’s book, The Seven Big Myths of the Catholic Church, and using the Sunday readings during this Year of Faith to counter some of the popular misconceptions about the Catholic Church. This has really been a challenge for me – as I grow in my faith and understanding, as well as my ability to share this faith, AND I remain steadfast, even energized, to spread the Gospel. Dr. Kaczor’s fifth myth is that that Church hates people with same-sex attractions. I know the sensitivity of this issue in this parish community and Diocese, and I also know the good news that the Church teaches on this issue. And with that in mind, I share with you that the Church, the body of Christ, loves and welcomes all persons regardless of their sexual attraction. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that we must accept with respect, compassion, and sensitivity men and women who have same-sex attractions. As Dr. Kaczor adds: “God loves everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, regardless of anything, and this is the basis for the intrinsic dignity of every single person. God’s love includes every single man and woman on earth unconditionally – gay, straight, bisexual or whatever…the message of Jesus, the message echoed by the Church, is that every person should love, value and respect every other person, without exception and without condition. This is the point of Jesus’ parable in today’s Gospel. We are challenged to love – often by our acts of mercy and compassion, beyond our comfort zone. For a Samaritan to care for Jew was unthinkable. Jesus commands us to “go and do likewise.” To move beyond our fears and insecurities to love – to love without exception or condition AND with great mercy and compassion. Dr. Kaczor makes an interesting observation in his discussion on homosexuality. He states that prior to the nineteenth century, people were not identified as nor did they understand themselves as “gay,” “lesbian,” or even “straight,” as is common today. They may have engaged in specific behaviors but that did not make them a specific kind of person. I think that this is an extremely important observation, especially in today’s culture. Even though society does, we must not allow ourselves to be defined by our actions, desires, attractions, successes, failures. We are more than our sexual attractions, for sure. Our sexual attractions are often not chosen and should not be cause for shame or guilt. And while sexuality is an important part of who we are, we are first and foremost men and women in Christ – children of God. By our Baptism, we are transformed and free to experience the peace and joy that comes in our personal encounter with Jesus Christ. As St. Paul reminds us in today’s second reading, it is Jesus who is the image of the invisible God, all things were created through him and for him, he is before all things, and in him all things hold together – it is thus in him and through him that we experience true peace, true freedom, true love – now and eternally. Our response, really the only possible, honest and true response is to love. To love “the Lord, our God, with all our heart, with all our being, with all our strength, and with all our mind, and our neighbor as our self.” To love without exception or condition AND with great mercy and compassion. In fact, we cannot avoid or deny this response to love because, as Moses states in today’s first reading, “it is already in our mouths and in our hearts; we have only to carry it out.” Bishop Campbell recently reminded his clergy that “the responsibility of every baptized person is to answer the call of Jesus Christ to holiness…[Bishop Campbell adds that ] an important part of this call to holiness is the pursuit of the virtue of chastity. There are many facets to chastity, but clearly a central part is the understanding that sexual intimacy is reserved to the state of marriage, a covenant of life and love between a man and a woman freely united by the vows of fidelity, permanence, openness to the transmission of life and the upbringing of children. [Bishop Campbell concludes this point, by saying:] Every Christian, of whatever sexual orientation, is called to chastity. Dr. Kaczor states that to live a chaste and moral life requires effort and struggle. Married couples struggle not to use contraception and to be faithful to their vows of fidelity; single people struggle to wait until marriage; people who have taken vows of celibacy struggle to live their commitment; and persons with same-sex attractions struggle not to engage in homosexual behavior. And I will add that in our sex-crazed culture, these struggles are especially difficult because there is so much pressure to be sexually active while at the same time there is such great confusion as to its meaning and purpose. And so, it would seem that the Church’s teaching on sexual matters, including homosexuality, is at least as difficult as her other teachings. The truth is that while our struggle to live a chaste life can be difficult, the struggle to love God and our neighbor – as Jesus commands us to do in today’s Gospel – will always be more difficult and require more effort. The struggle to love without exception or condition AND with great mercy and compassion will always be the greatest challenge we have in life. AND this struggle to love will also always lead us to the greatest joy and peace. And so, in the midst of our own struggles to follow Christ – whatever that struggle may be – let us, as we sung in today’s Psalm: “Turn to the Lord in our need” with hope and trust that we may find life! Let us turn to God for his grace – that patience, wisdom, courage, humility, whatever we need – to love without exception or condition AND with great mercy and compassion. May God bless you.
Posted by Jeffrey Fortkamp at 4:55 AM