Thursday, March 31, 2016

Certain matters of sex and the believing deacon

Over the past few weeks I have been having what I think is a very fruitful dialogue with an old friend, a Christian brother who I love very much. We have been discussing Church teaching on the matter of homosexuality. While I believe and seek to personally adhere to what the Church teaches on matters of sexuality, I don't presume for one moment to have it all figured out.

The immediate cause of our exchange was a homily he heard at Mass in which the preacher, in an apparently very forceful manner, was heard not only to condemn homosexuality, but homosexuals. For a variety of reasons, not least among which his son, a baptized Catholic, identifies as homosexual, this gave my friend pause. I have no intention of re-hashing our whole correspondence, but our discussion took an interesting turn as the result of my post earlier this week on Camus. Reading that prompted him to read Camus' "The Unbeliever and Christians." He was struck by Camus' insistence in this talk, given to a group of Dominican friars, that "the world of today needs Christians who remain Christians." I think this admission goes some distance to support the point that Camus knew there was more to Christian faith than he was often willing to admit, for whatever reasons.

In his lengthy newspaper correspondence with the recently deceased Umberto Eco, the late Cardinal Martini (their correspondence was published in book form, entitled in English Belief or Non-Belief: A Confrontation), specifically writing about why the Church does not ordain women, said- "The Church does not fulfill expectations, it celebrates mysteries."

When it comes to sexuality, it seems to me the mystery involved is well-summarized in verses 31-32 of the fifth chapter of the Letter to the Ephesians, concerning the meaning of marriage. It begins by citing what I usually call the Bible's ur verse on marriage, Genesis 2:24: "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." The next verse notes, "This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church" (Eph 5:32).

In the wake of finishing the second book of C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy, Perelandra, last fall, I took a stab at addressing this matter: "Metaphysical dialectics vs Sophiology." After finishing Perelandra, I went on to read Lewis' memoir Surprised by Joy. I was very much struck by what he wrote at the very beginning of the book's seventh chapter about the schoolboy homosexuality at the boarding school, Wyvern, he attended in his teens:
Here’s a fellow, you say, who used to come before us as a moral and religious writer, and now, if you please, he’s written a whole chapter describing his old school as a very furnace of impure loves without one word on the heinousness of the sin [homosexuality]. But there are two reasons. One you shall hear before this chapter ends. The other is that, as I have said, the sin in question is one of the two (gambling is the other) which I have never been tempted to commit. I will not indulge in futile philippics against enemies I never met in battle.

("This means, then, that all the other vices you have so largely written about…" Well, yes, it does, and more’s the pity; but it’s nothing to our purpose at the moment.)"
I found much for personal application in this passage. In the same chapter, Lewis went to observe: "There is much hypocrisy on this theme [of homosexual relations]. People commonly talk as if every other evil were more tolerable than this. But why? Because those of us who do not share the vice feel for it a certain nausea, as we do, say, for necrophily? I think that of very little relevance to moral judgment."

At least for me, it's not necessary either to figure everything out all at once or figure anything out once and for all. By "figure out" I am referring to the why of things, not the what, which is pretty straightforward and easy to grasp. I've found it's good for me to re-visit matters and be open to the Lord's leading. Being open does not include expecting God to contradict himself, especially given how central marriage is to the divine plan; the Bible, after all, practically begins with a marriage and certainly ends with the wedding feast of the Lamb.

I suppose the question that I find relevant is a variation on Msgr. Giussani's all-encompassing "Is it possible to live this way?" - "How do I live the truth in love?" I've found a compelling and provocative answer in Micah 6:8, which tells me what the LORD requires of me: "Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God." Especially as a deacon, it's not my place to judge others, but it is my God-given duty to lovingly serve them in persona Christi servi. The only person I am in a position to judge is myself and I do so each and every time I go to confession. This reminds me how much I persistently have to be humble about.


  1. Thank you for the post. We seem to identify ourselves with the desires and passions we experience in life, rather than focusing on living out our core identities as men and women who are adopted children of God. As you know, the words "homosexual" and "heterosexual" essentially didn't exist until the 19th century. Before then, as best I know, no one identified themselves in such ways, but looked only at how they lived sexually as men or women.

    I always approach a brother or sister who experiences same-sex attractions as a man or a woman who is first and foremost God's son or daughter called to live chastely in this world, as all are called. Any man or woman, who can honestly reflect on his or her life will recognize the great struggle or us in this regard, our near constant need for perfection and purification, and how our sexuality is a reflection of God's love for us and our obligation to love God as Jesus has loved us.

  2. Deacon Scott -

    I am in diaconate formation. God willing I will be ordained with the class of 2020. I am glad I found your blog and will be reading through it as time permits.

    I am sorry to hear about what your friend herd preached at Mass. It goes to prove that none of us are without error.

    My first wife had same sex attraction. We have one son together. It has been difficult to understand Church teaching and apply it in a loving way. Below is my blog entry on the subject. I am interested in your feedback. We gain so much from the wisdom God gave each other to share.

    God bless you for your yes to God's call to service and your yes to his gift of life. May He be with you always to guide you through your ministries.

  3. Robert:

    Thanks for your comment and the link to your post. As my response grew rather long, I turned it into a blog post: "More on sex by a believing deacon".

    I would note that the idea that the forbidden fruit was sex is not new. However, it is a theory with very little, if any, theological or scriptural credibility. After all, aren't the man and the woman commanded to multiply and replenish prior to the fall? Pope St. John Paul II, who died 11 years ago today, in his magnificent work on the Theology of Body masterfully deals with the sexual repercussions of the fall. I urge you to read it.

    Please accept my prayers and best wishes for you diaconal formation.



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