Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Why I accept what the Church teaches about gay marriage

The article below is intended for a future edition of our parish magazine and was written in response to one expressing the view that gay marriage should be allowed.   

This is very much a topic of the moment, although some say that there are many injustices in the world to tackle such as poverty and violence and that we should “live and let love”... I would argue that marriage is in fact a subject that is so intrinsically bound up with our concept of who and what the human being is that we cannot form a true concept of human dignity without having a true understanding of human sexuality.  It is from a true concept of human dignity that all justice and peace issues draw their justification.

Of course the human person is more than his or her sexuality.  “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” as St Paul tells us in Galatians 3:28.  However this essential equality does not diminish the importance of masculinity and femininity, and much of that importance lies precisely in their relationship with each other.  We are made in the image of God, as Genesis 1:27 tells us, “male and female”.  Blessed Pope John Paul II in his writings on The Theology of the Body offers us a striking insight; the human person’s creation as male and female is in itself of foundational importance in the way in which he images God.  “It is not right that the man should be alone” (Gen 2:18); the human being made as a response to this is of the opposite sex to Adam.  In the union of man and woman - expressed consummately via sexual intercourse - they become, in John Paul II’s words, “an icon in some sense of the inner life of the Trinity”.  It is a fruitful union, for just as the love between Father and Son blossoms forth in the form of the Person of the Holy Spirit, the love of man and woman can produce a child. 

We should never reduce human sex and procreation to the level of mere biology. “The soul is the form of the body” (as Aristotle first put it), which means that every aspect of the human person’s physical existence in some way expresses and embodies his spiritual essence. Physical realities point to spiritual truths. That’s why the Church has always been able to see marriage and the sexual complementarity it involves as reflective of the relationship between Christ and His Church.  This isn’t an idea that originated with St Paul but from the Jewish tradition from which he came, as we see from reading the Old Testament. Three millennia of rich theology have emerged from reflection on the complementary union of the sexes; the time is ripe for us to rediscover and re-explore that theology.

Of course marriage is not the only relationship that can express something of the love and fidelity that exists between the three Persons of the Trinity.  Human beings do this in all our friendships and our loves but marriage does so in a particular way.  Love and commitment are wonderful things but sex is not the appropriate way to express every form of them.  

This leads us on to a major reason why the Church teaches that marriage can only exist between a man and a woman.  Sexual intercourse represents a total giving of oneself to another in such a way that binds the two partners together in an exclusive covenant relationship, mirroring the covenant between God and His people made in Christ.  Advocates of gay marriage argue that this can be the case between two men or two women as well - but in arguing thus, they fly in the face of the Church’s constant teaching that you cannot separate the unitive (loving) and procreative aspects of sex.  If you do, it is no longer an act involving the totality of being of each of the partners; something (each partner’s capacity to create life) is held back and sex is no longer expressive of what it is meant to express.  This rules out not only gay sex but also artificially contracepted or sterilised sex.  The special type of spiritual fruitfulness inherent in marriage is intrinsically bound up with its capacity for physical fruitfulness (and this capacity is an attribute of maleness and femaleness, even if a circumstance such as age or natural infertility thwarts it in practice). 

Developments in our scientific knowledge are in one sense irrelevant to the Church’s theology of marriage, although they can of course be of great benefit when it comes to pastoral care. We do not yet have a fully developed understanding of the biological, psychological and social factors that may interact to form an individual’s sexuality. We are all however aware that nature does not always work as it is intended to; this is a result of the Fallen state of our world.  Describing homosexual inclinations as “disordered” does not mean that the Church is denigrating homosexuals as being somehow worse than the rest of us, somehow “abnormal”.  We are all disordered in various ways.  The Catechism is clear about the dignity that gay people share in common with everyone else. “The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible... They must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.  Every unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.  These persons are called to fulfil God’s will in their lives...” (CCC 2358).

We all have the same calling to sanctity and we all have the same chance to achieve it.  In Christ we are indeed all equal and, as St Peter exclaims, “God does not show favouritism” (Acts 10:34). There can be no justification for making anyone feel like an unwelcome outsider in our churches.  At the same time, true love means willing the best for the other and that means speaking the truth to our Christian brothers and sisters. 

Some may object, “All this is just the Church’s point of view and it is out of touch.”  Certainly, on a purely intellectual level there is always a counter-argument to be made.  Pope Francis on the other hand speaks a lot about the “heart”.  The Pope as we know is a Jesuit and in the Jesuit tradition, according to a recent article by Alejandro Bermudez in the National Catholic Register, “the heart is the core of the human person, the place of the soul, where the encounter between God and man takes place”.  It is in this sacred place, the place where we are most intimately ourselves and where we meet God face to face, that we need to find our answers to the issue of gay marriage.  How do we do this?  How will God speak to us through the great cloud of personal emotions and prejudices that we all have and the changeable winds of currently prevailing social attitudes?  

Like many other debates, the issue of gay marriage draws attention to something on which we all, as individual Catholics, need to sort out our position.  What authority do we accord to the Magisterium (the teaching function) of the Catholic Church?  Is it Christ’s voice to us or is it not?  What meaning do we take from the words of the Catechism that “It is this Magisterium’s task to preserve God’s people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error.  Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates.  To fulfil this service, Christ endowed the Church’s shepherds [the successors of the apostles, that is the Bishops in union with the Pope] with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals” (CCC 890).  

We can nit-pick about the conditions for infallibility, or we can simply reflect that the Church in the course of formulating her teachings has pondered for two thousand years on the insights of greater minds than ours.  The ultimate discernment about which of these insights into the Revelation of Christ’s Gospel are true rests with that part of the Church which bears Christ’s authority to formulate and defend His truths.  It is not, in the final analysis, a question of how many people in the pews of our parish or in the wider Church agree with something.  Faith and morals are not a matter of consensus.

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