Here’s the third in Fr. Roger Landry’s exceptional series on the issues that surfaced around St. Cecilia Church in Boston and their scandalous plan for a Mass to celebrate Gay Pride.
We apologize for the delay in editing the petition to the Vatican we thought would be updated by Thursday. Will have that to you all shortly. In the meantime, do share this with other like-minded friends, family members, any priests and pastors you know, and Boston archdiocesan officials.
Fr. Roger J. Landry
July 15, 2011
For the last two weeks, we’ve been examining some of the larger issues that have been raised by the controversy over a Mass at St. Cecilia’s in Boston to welcome those who celebrate gay pride. We’ve mentioned that those with same-sex attractions deserve and need the full and authentic pastoral care of the Church. Those who are “gay” — meaning those who celebrate sexual activity and culture based on same-sex attractions —are in even greater need of the full teaching of the Catholic Church, since in addition to the normal need for pastoral accompaniment and assistance in resisting temptations they also are vulnerable to severe attacks against the faith, considering that gay orthodoxy involves the rejection of Biblical and magisterial teaching on sexual morality and marriage, and therefore the denial of the authority of Scripture and of the Church.
Central to the Church’s full and authentic pastoral care of those with same-sex attractions is the assistance to live a chaste life. When mention is made of this call to chastity, some in the gay movement shriek with exasperated incredulity, as if chastity were a death sentence to a loveless life or, worse, some type of medieval castration ceremony executed in subterranean Vatican dungeons. Chastity, however, is the precondition for any real love.
The reason why chastity is often looked at as a curse rather than a cure is because it is not often understood, lived or preached. Even among clergy, religious and catechists, chastity is regularly confused with continence (abstinence from sexual activity) or celibacy (the state of being unmarried). When the Catechism emphasizes that “all Christ’s faithful are called to lead a chaste life in keeping with their particular states of life,” and that “married people are called to live conjugal chastity,” many married couples are left scratching their heads, wondering how they can be both “chaste” and start a family. The reason for the confusion likely stems from the fact that when term “chastity” is most often used, it’s employed in the context of the sexual education of teenagers (who are called to continence in chastity) or in the description of the promises or vows professed by priests and religious (who are called to celibate continence in chastity). The confusion points to the urgency and importance for all in the Church to understand what chastity is and how all the baptized — married couples, singles, priests, religious, those with same-sex attractions and opposite-sex attractions —are called to it no matter what their state of life.
Blessed Pope John Paul II, both prior to and during his papacy, has provided the clearest, deepest, most practical and most enlightening articulation of what the virtue of chastity is. In his 1960 work, “Love and Responsibility,” he wrote that chastity is the moral habit that raises one’s attractions to another to the dignity of that person as a whole. There is a temptation — which we see in lust in general and in pornography in particular — to “reduce” another to the values of the body or, more specifically, to the erogenous zones. There is, moreover, the further temptation to “use” another — either intentionally in one’s mind or physically through his or her body — for one’s own sensual or emotional gratification; many people in our culture consensually use each other sexually in this way. This mutual utilitarianism, however, is not love, but the opposite of love. Harmonious egoisms or reciprocal narcissisms don’t lead to the formation of a loving “we,” but just two even-more-isolated egos. Love, rather, always seeks the true good of the other for the other’s sake. When a person loves genuinely, he is willing to sacrifice his pleasure or even his life for the one loved. Chastity makes this possible, because it is the virtue that trains a person’s vision as well as his will to keep his attraction to the other person up to the level of the person’s true good rather than “consume” the other to satisfy his sexual appetites.
In his papal catecheses on “Human Love in the Divine Plan,” popularly called the Theology of the Body, Pope John Paul II went even further in his teaching on chastity. He described that the virtue of chastity isn’t so much bound principally to the virtue of temperance — the virtue that helps us to master our appetites rather than be mastered by them — but to the virtue of piety. Piety is the habit that helps us to revere others according to their true dignity, according to the image of God in them. St. Paul wrote to husbands and wives, “Be subordinate to each other out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21, calling them to recognize and revere Christ in each other and mutually lay down their lives for each other out of love for the Lord they recognize dwelling in the other. Linked to piety, chastity helps us to see the other as sacred subject instead of a sexual object, to treat the other with reverence rather than randiness.
Blessed Pope John Paul II’s insights help us better to see why all of us in the Church, no matter our state of life, are called to chastity.
Husbands and wives are called to chastity in their marriage. This means that they reverence the other as a sacred gift, raise their attractions to the level of their spouse’s genuine good (including, obviously, the good of the soul) and see the other as created in God’s image, fully accepting the paternal meaning of a man’s masculinity or the maternal meaning of the woman’s femininity, In simple terms, their love is meant to be holy, not horny. Lusting after each other — what Jesus called “adultery in the heart” — is, therefore, a desecration of the other in one’s intentions. Sexual practices that treat one’s spouse as an actor in a pornographic film are likewise totally inconsistent with the love one’s spouse deserves. The use of contraception, which makes sexual pleasure — rather than true openness to God, to the other, and to the life-giving potential of love — the goal of spousal sexual union, corrodes rather than makes love, because using another for one’s own ends is contrary to sacrificing oneself for the other’s true good.
Likewise all those who are unmarried are called to chastity. Pornography, masturbation, fornication, oral sex and other practices are inconsistent with one’s or another’s genuine good, accepting the other in his or her totality, and treating oneself and others with the reverence befitting a temple of the Holy Spirit. Pornography or porno-vision is the opposite of chastity, abstracting a person’s sexual values from the person’s overall good. Fornication takes advantage of another to whom one has not made a total commitment for one’s pleasure. Same-sex activity rejects the meaning of the masculinity or femininity and the natural ordering toward the gift of life. When there’s no real openness to God and to life, when the other is treated as a sexual object rather than a sacred subject, when there’s no commitment to the total person and good of the other, there’s can be no real love in this type of “making love,” whether among people of the same sex or opposite sexes. Symbiotic self-indulgence is light years away from the expression in body language of the one-flesh union of mutual self-gifts brought about by God in the marriage of a man and one woman, which is the only proper moral context for love-making to be truly loving.
Can those with same-sex attractions truly love each other? Absolutely. The Church by no means is condemning those with same-sex attractions to a loveless life; the question is what practices will be consistent with genuine love and the objective good of the people involved. The Church teaches that those of the same-sex can clearly exercise the love of friendship (philia) in which the other becomes like a second self. The Church teaches that they certainly can — and are called to — have true Christian love (agape) toward each other, a willingness to sacrifice themselves and even die to themselves and their pleasures for the other’s true good. But the Church stresses that they need to ensure the romantic attractions (eros) they have for each other do not damage the one they love by opposing or destroying the love of agape and philia. For this they need chastity, which helps them raise their romantic attractions up to the sacred dignity of the person, which is violated by same-sex sexual activity.
Why is this message of chastity for those with same-sex attractions and everyone else so seldom heard? Some priests seem reluctant to preach the message because, sadly, either they’re not living chastely themselves or they erroneously understand and experience chastity as a deprivation from which they desire to spare others. Many lay people are disinclined to call those with same-sex attractions to chastity because they’re not practicing it either and don’t want to seem hypocritical in calling others to live what they themselves aren’t living. Others, misunderstanding chastity, think that it will relegate those with same-sex attractions to a “loveless life,” rather than provide the conditions for the possibility of any true love through the integration of eros consistent with philia and agape. If, however, we’re ever going to help individuals learn how to love (agape) others as Christ has loved us and assist them to discover a love that saves and leads to true and lasting happiness, we need to rediscover and repropose with enthusiasm the virtue of chastity, and help them to live it.
There is a group called Courage, founded in 1980 by New York Cardinal Terrence Cooke and Father John Harvey, which is dedicated to helping those with same sex attractions live chastely — through prayer and dedication, genuine Christian friendship and fellowship, mutual support and good example. Not only do we need more Courage chapters in every diocese, but the whole Church needs to have the courage and charity to become a worldwide Courage chapter to help those with same-sex attractions (and everyone else) purify and raise erotic attractions to the level of their loved one’s true good — out of reverence for God and for the image of God in others. Anything short of this is not worthy of the Church founded by Christ to lead us to holiness. Anything short of this full proclamation of the Gospel of chastity is not true pastoral care.