The Catholic Church has long recognized that a not negligible number of men and women experience deep-seated homosexual tendencies. Catechism of the Catholic Church (“CCC”) 2358. It further recognizes that for many these tendencies constitute a very real trial.
Importantly, the Church doesn’t try to analyze – either psychologically or theologically – why these tendencies exist. Nor does it condemn those who experience them.
What the Church does do is set forth certain moral obligations and guidelines – but not solely for those who are gay.
The Church makes clear that homosexuals “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity [and that] every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (Id.).
That’s a clear obligation to which we, as Catholics, must adhere – or else we ourselves will fall short and be in need of our own grace and forgiveness.
The Church then reminds that all are called to celibacy outside of the bonds of marriage. Of course, this constitutes a particularly difficult trial and challenge for gay men and women because same sex marriage is not and cannot be recognized within the Church. Catholic men and women who identify as gay are ever called to a life of celibacy.
Is this just? Is this necessary? Is this even possible? Why would any rational person who is not seeking to become a member of the clergy commit to such an onerous, and quite possibly lonely, lifestyle?
The Church provides one answer. It may well be the answer:
By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. CCC 2359
Christian perfection. Well, isn’t that – shouldn’t that – be our ultimate goal as Catholics no matter who we are, and no matter what tendencies we ourselves might experience or bring to the table?
Fellow Patheos blogger Eve Tushnet recently published an important book on the subject: Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith. It deserves both a wide audience and a serious, respectful discussion.
Importantly, she unveils another, more here and now, advantage that gay Catholics may well recognize and take comfort from (highlighted below).Eve takes us through her own transformation, her own decision making, that has led her to actively, consciously choose to be a faithful Catholic, even as she has had to come to terms with what that means as a gay person within the Church.
Here’s a brief synopsis by her publisher:
In this first book from an openly lesbian and celibate Catholic, widely published writer and blogger Eve Tushnet recounts her spiritual and intellectual journey from atheism to Catholicism and shows how gay Catholics can love and be loved while following Church teaching.
Eve Tushnet was among the unlikeliest of converts. The only child of two atheist academics, Tushnet was a typical Yale undergraduate until the day she went out to poke fun at a gathering of philosophical debaters, who happened also to be Catholic. Instead of enjoying mocking what she termed the “zoo animals,” she found herself engaged in intellectual conversation with them and, in a move that surprised even her, she soon converted to Catholicism. Already self-identifying as a lesbian, Tushnet searched for a third way in the seeming two-option system available to gay Catholics: reject Church teaching on homosexuality or reject the truth of your sexuality.
Gay and Catholic is the fruit of Tushnet’s searching: what she learned in studying Christian history and theology and her articulation of how gay Catholics can pour their love and need for connection into friendships, community, service, and artistic creation.
We would all do well to read and understand that last sentence again. It dispels the notion that a life of celibacy is necessarily a lonely one.
It can be. But there are other possibilities.
Interestingly, I’ve heard similar thoughts expressed by clergy: celibacy is said to enhance their ability to love, and to love more deeply, more people than if they were in a one-on-one marital relationship. The time, the caring, the love not concentrated on the one can be more readily available for the many.
Christian perfection and potentially more intimate, loving friendships. Quite a trade-off.
Gay and Catholic.
Yes it’s possible. Perhaps not easy. Perhaps not desirable. But certainly possible.
And it just might be the one road – albeit fraught with its own peculiar landmines, disappointments, and pain – that ultimately leads many home.
From the sound of it, Eve has already traveled pretty far along that road.
May you find that your own particular path home is blessed.