In “That Uncomfortable Silence,” Let Love Grow

I haven’t blogged since Wednesday. Struggling too much with what to say and how to say it, taking my pain to the cross. That pain, I have to be honest, does not come from the rulings the Supreme Court made on same-sex marriage, which the US leadership of my Church—to whose mysteries, including the sacramentality of marriage, I give full assent, though I have a devil of a time with the way those mysteries are proclaimed—called “tragic.” It’s far more personal (and therefore selfish) than that.

My pain was from joy, stifled.

There are people—lots and lots of people—in my life I wanted to call and text and sing and dance with on Wednesday. Couples whose commitment to each other in sickness and in health, through good times and bad, have lasted longer than most marriages I know. Families raising children no less lovingly and well than anybody else, in a world where children are too often unwanted and things are tough all over for parents. Couples with strong religious ties, who keep coming back with love when the doors are closed against them. People I love, and who have brought me God’s love. The woman I wanted to marry, once.

But I stayed silent, because I could not find a way to share joy that would not be read as hypocrisy by people all over the issue of same-sex marriage. Seeing what was out there in the comboxes and on the news over the past two days, I stayed silent because the extremes were not my words, and anything in the middle would be read as assent or dissent anyway.

My pain was from fear.

I was afraid that the comboxes might instruct me that my urge to rejoice was grounds for excommunication from the Church I am so inexplicably grateful to have found my way back to. And God help me, I was afraid they might be right.

Because for all the Catechism’s good words and all the assurances to the contrary, I fear that this is not, in the long run, about religious freedom or the call to chastity or separating the person from the action or even the ideal of sacramental marriage, but about the fact that the Church does, de facto, consider homosexual persons a special category of sinners. (If you think there was no “improper animus” motivating supporters of DOMA, as the Court found in Windsor, just read the things many Catholics have said over the past two days.)

It’s not just about reserving the sacrament of Matrimony to one man and one woman. How many Catholic parishes welcome same-sex couples or even uncloseted homosexual persons to sit in the pews, even when they keep themselves from Communion and don’t volunteer for ministries (other than music, of course) and don’t ask Baptism for their children or try to send them to Catholic schools? These are all things we do for other categories of sinners on a regular basis. I’m not talking about agitators protesting or people trying to make some political point; just regular folks, seeking the truth and solace of the Church, trying to get by, in need of conversion and grace and the support of the community as any of us.

I’m afraid that, in practical terms, my Church believes that homosexual persons (where my Church believes there are such persons, which is a whole other problem) are not just sinners, but sin. I pray I’m wrong.

And I’m glad to hear other voices speaking into the “uncomfortable silence,” as The Jesuit Post named it today (H/T Fr James Martin).

In fact, we find ourselves in a very profound tension: we understand why so many are rejoicing. At the same time, we recognize the beauty of the Church’s understanding of the natural purposes of marriage. And we struggle because we do not know how to hold these two things together. Neither of these are maliciously motivated; neither deserves to be vilified by the other side. Nor can we opt for silence simply because anything we say will offend.

Here, then, is what we can say: there is something to be learned in that uncomfortable silence; there is something to be learned from the fact that denunciations are less credible — by far — than images of rejoicing and gladness.

TJP’s call for leadership in messaging—which is the 21st century term for evagelization—is one I fervently echo. Here’s another (H/T Elizabeth Scalia), from a Catholic much more faithful and orthodox than I who has been struggling, too:

Gay Marriage – not because I think it should exist. I don’t. I believe that marriage is the fruit of natural love, a gift from God, of that familial bond between husband and wife with the ideal purpose of having children.  Sounds archaic to you maybe, but that’s what I believe to be true. But I do see these people, and I realize that they want to be happy. They’re just like everyone else, trying to live their lives quietly. Often extraordinarily talented, generous and caring about the world they live in.  They want to love, and for some reason I cannot define, that is the way that they are pulled. And many may interpret our words and our votes as a denial of happiness. A denial of life, in the only way they can see. We become the enemy. My heart breaks. You might say, “but they have an agenda. they want to change our nation. they want to change the Church.” Some might, but I don’t think all do. I think most of these folks are just living their lives as best they can, just like you and I.  I also think of their loved ones. They are a son or daughter, a parent, a coworker, a childhood friend, a neighbor, a confidant. To them, they are not a statistic. They are not a news story. They are a person. To be valued and loved.

And all these people, they listen to our answers and comments and thoughts and hear:

“you cannot love. you cannot be happy.”

That’s not Catholic, that bit about “you cannot love.” In the end, all I know is that God is love, not in some slogan-y, easy way but in a way that we are called to live and testify to and rejoice about, even when we don’t understand it. And to retreat into silence, however comfortable, is never the answer.

So I’m celebrating this week, and praying for the words and the deeds that will make love visible and active in the world. And I’m repeating my initial advice to Be not afraid. John Corapi used to say, to great applause, “We have nothing to fear, because we have seen the ending, and we win.” No, not we. Love wins. Always, always, always.

Here’s a song to sing into the silence, as a prayer and a jubilation and a promise. It comes from people I love in Dayton (by way of Jesus and and St Francis a number of other very fine influences), to people everywhere who need practice showing love. Go ahead, sing along, dance, whatever you feel about this week’s SCOTUS rulings. Where there is hate, let Love grow.

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  • Margaret Rose Realy

    I just wanna HUG you!

  • Manic Doodlings

    Perfect timing on that video, as this weekend is City Folk here in the gem city ;)

  • Y. A. Warren

    If we had never combined church with state, we would not have had these issues with domestic partnerships, married or otherwise.

  • Cojuanco

    But how do you respond to people that say, as one of the people celebrating this sort of thing said to me, that you and any Catholic that believes what the Church teaches should be barred fromcpublic life or the professions? When people on the pro-SSM side say that to me, I find it hard to have sympathy.

  • Chris Altieri

    I admire your courage, Joanne, and I share more than a few of your concerns about the type and temperature of rhetoric from Church leaders and Catholics engaged in the national debate. I recently put it elsewhere in the following manner: “[P]eople on the right side of an issue are not guaranteed – and indeed often do not employ – better arguments than their interlocutors on the other side of the issue. Very often, all too often, indeed, the people on the right side of an issue are the wrong sort of people – the sort of people who frown at hot fudge sundaes and gripe about the noise the neighbors’ children make while playing in the yard on Saturday afternoon. Too often people think that being right gives them a right to be nasty, or a claim to moral superiority.”

    I understand that you might not think proponents of traditional marriage (or, more accurately, defenders of the legal and societal status quo vis à vis marriage). Then I would ask: why is the state involved in marriage? Is a marriage license some sort of official state sanction or ratification of a declaration of affection? If so, I cannot see my way to the state telling me: “I approve of the way you feel about so-and-so.” That is not the sort of thing a limited government erected for the maintenance of a free society has any business saying to citizens. So, again: the question before us all is not whether we can or ought to approve of XYZ’s living arrangements. It is rather twofold: what is marriage? What is the state’s interest in marriage?

  • Diane Beattie

    This is a sad commentary -unbelievable.

  • Jaybird

    Doesn’t TRUE happiness only come from fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives through doing His holy will? Can homosexual marriage and thus homosexual sex be His will? God only wants what is best for his children and I would assume He knows what that is much better than we do, so if He states through the teachings of His Church that marriage is between one man and one woman, should we not accept that with humility and obedience? I’m sure same-sex attraction is a massive cross to bear, but based on the lives of the saints, might not overcoming the bigger cross, rather than giving in to it, lead to greater sanctification? I sincerely would like to know your thoughts on these questions. Thank you.

    • Diane Beattie

      Thanks Jaybird, you said it well.

  • grammie

    then so do not call the partnership a marriage come up with another name, and let the church believe what it has for centuries. Marriage is for a Man and a women only.

  • Paul Adams

    But the issue is not about love – I love my family and friends, my neighbors, my community, the Church and God, as well as my wife. But I am married only to my wife, in a bodily as well as an emotional and spiritual bond, distinguished thus by its comprehensiveness. Unlike the other forms of love and friendship, marriage rests on the sexual complementarity which alone produces new life and for that very reason calls for permanence, exclusivity, and the union of one man and one woman. The real issue is not the love of homosexuals for each other or the social respect due that love, it is the nature of marriage as a natural and child-friendly institution that precedes the state and the crucial importance of marriage rightly understood for children, for civil society and religious freedom.

    • Billiamo

      An “institution that precedes the state” – this is so very true.

  • Manny

    No one is denying that two people of any gender can’t love Platonically, sexually, or in any manner they want. If the nature and fulfillment of their love is a sin, that’s an issue for them before God. And frankly it’s none of my business what they choose to do. But we are talking about changing the structure of marriage for society. That’s not trivial. To change marriage from a complementary gender basis to “love” is saccherine at its core, and frankly absurd. Once absurdities are are “normalized” more absurdities will come. The nature of western civilization, what’s left of it, has changed over this issue.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    I still can’t see the love for the lust, when it comes to homosexuality.

    The best way a homosexual can express love, is by giving up lust.

  • brucenyc

    I think this commentary leaves out Truth. God is both Love and Truth at the same time. Love which not truthful cannot be God and truth which is unloving in not God either. And human beings are much more than their sexual orientation. But our society has become so dramatically oversexualized, that sexual activity has now become the ultimate defining trait of all human beings. So I dont think we can be loving and at the same time accept homosexual behavior uncritically but we must affirm their basic underlying humanity as much more than their sexual orientation.

  • John Russell

    You are right that many Christians wrongly “consider homosexual persons a special category of sinners.” They are, in fact, perfectly ordinary sinners. Those who perform homosexual acts are committing a perfectly ordinary sin and need to repent in the usual way. It is perfectly ordinary, just like petty theft or drunkenness. And it should be illegal, just like petty theft or drunkenness.

  • linda daily

    Don’t worry, all things come together in Christ. I don’t believe we need to have all the answers. God’s love is wide and more embracing than we can imagine. Yes, to a point, Catholic doctrine is important . . . the way high school is important – we must learn from it and carry its lessons with us into real life, which is the Kingdom among us. We are not meant to stay in high school forever.