Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Do We Need a New Language to Speak about Homosexuality?

Note: I apologize for my sporadic posting these past months. Big tests, traveling, and hospital ministry have taken me away from my writing. My hope is to start writing more soon, provided I have something interesting to write about.

I am also experimenting with using this spacing on my articles to make them a bit easier to read. No pictures this time either, sorry :(. I do hope we get some good discussion out of this, though.
Originally posted on Ignitum Today.
====
The first is “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers” (1997). - See more at: http://www.ignitumtoday.com/2014/08/30/new-language-speaking-homosexuality/#sthash.iIaQ3CTM.dpuf
The first is “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers” (1997). - See more at: http://www.ignitumtoday.com/2014/08/30/new-language-speaking-homosexuality/#sthash.iIaQ3CTM.dpuf
The first is “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers” (1997). - See more at: http://www.ignitumtoday.com/2014/08/30/new-language-speaking-homosexuality/#sthash.iIaQ3CTM.dpuf

The first is “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers” (1997). - See more at: http://www.ignitumtoday.com/2014/08/30/new-language-speaking-homosexuality/#sthash.iIaQ3CTM.dpuf
One of the more popular, misunderstood, and challenging problems Catholics face today is the topic of homosexuality. I think of the many great strides we as a Church and as a culture have taken in speaking about it. In the same way, neither side whether secular or religious, has spoken more clearly on the subject. Catholics, at the very least, have always been very good at making distinctions. The process of making distinctions is not just good philosophy and theology, but it also aids in our practical and charitable responses to what we experience.

When we respond to homosexuality we should know what it is. Moreover, when someone is homosexual it does us little good to categorize that person according to preconceived notions about their sexual activity, sexual purity, or moral state. In fact I've usually seen these reactions as one's own personal, moral blindness than as a useful discussion geared towards understanding something so as to respond to it more effectively.

That being said, I also see among many Catholics and (more understandably, perhaps) secular homosexuals a departure from language such as “disordered.” A great deal of language focuses on “natural” sexual desire. It should be granted that the word “nature” (or “natural”) is not as clear as it first appears, but some have achieved a greater sense of clarity about it.

Part of my worry is that even good, Catholic homosexuals have found the language of “disorder” offensive and disheartening. My worry is not so much their individual feelings about the word, but it does bring forth the valid question as to whether or not our language about homosexuality is unsound, invalid, or ineffective.

This is also not as easy to determine right away. Our language could be unsound it simply isn't true or because we are operating under false premises. It may be invalid simply because what we do know about the human person and human sexuality is not properly expressed (i.e., our conclusions may not be properly derived from our premises). Our language may be ineffective as a result. Effectiveness is not only a matter of truth but also rhetoric. Speaking ineffectively is just as damaging to an argument as it is to be untrue or be lacking logically. This also accepts that, like Jesus, some people simply will not accept what is true—but this should stop us from pausing and considering our own words.

Should we discard the use of the term “disordered,” then? I am inclined to say 'no' for the time being. I say this for a number of reasons, some of which I'll list:

(1) is that scientifically speaking we do not know what causes one to be homosexual or to what degree one is a homosexual. Furthermore, as part of our species, what function or role does homosexuality play?

(2) The notion of “disordered” is often improperly univocated. There can be disordered states of being and there can be disordered acts. An act whose content or purpose is “good,” such as sex, but which is realized improperly is disordered. Thus both homosexuals and heterosexuals can engage in “disordered” sex.

Something that is disordered, however, is both simple and complex. An eye that cannot see is “disordered” insofar as it can not operate according to its purpose. A keyboard whose keys work except the “t,” “h,” and “e” is unable to fulfill its function adequately.

Thus something can be “disordered” either in execution (i.e., how it's carried out) or through inability (i.e., it's incapable of doing what it should).

Catholics hold that the purpose of sex is unitive and procreative. The act of sex is reserved as an expression of marital love. This does not mean that sex must result in procreation. Marital sex must be open to the possibility of procreation lovingly, otherwise that act of sex is disordered. Thus to be truly married and have sex according to the order established by God, the couple must execute the act in an “orderly” way (i.e., they must be married, freely have sex, truly love one another, and be open to (one of) the natural consequences of sex) and both must also be capable of fulfilling these criteria in order to be “ordered properly” in the first place.

(3) We should not be afraid to label ourselves as “disordered,” homosexual or heterosexual. Sin itself is a disruption of “order” insofar as all sin is contrary to God's will. One who is addicted to masturbation acts in a disordered way. One who is prone to spreading rumors and gossip acts in a disordered way. Those of us who do not go to mass on Sunday act in a disordered way. Those who do not forgive others for their transgressions against us act in a disordered way.

Many of us, because of family history, genetics, or circumstance are also born into a state of greater probability for certain sins or vices, whether we want them or not. We are all born into an existence both ordered by grace and disorderly because of sin.

And so...?

My intention is not to “solve” the problem we have since I do not believe we have the full tools to solve it. I have some self-criticisms that I will briefly connect to my points above:

(1) Sifting through today's science (biology, sociology, psychology, etc.) on the subject is at times biased, confusing, and willing to promote certain findings for reasons that aren't always “scientific.” Nevertheless honestly engaging what we are discovering about human sexuality, along with their impulses, are necessary endeavors. Regardless of a lack of scientific clarity those of us who do minister to or interact with homosexuals (etc.) must recognize them as persons created in the imago dei.

(2) My hope is that there is still clarity and a lack of clarity in the term “disordered.” How do we call homosexuality, the state of being, “disordered.” For too long we considered someone who was openly homosexual as one who was by necessity sexually active and predatory to the same sex. This is simply untrue, otherwise we would have to bring the same complaint to heterosexuals.

Homosexuals, by virtue of their homosexuality, are still fully capable of practicing virtues, discerning right from wrong, and making rationally informed choices. Thus their homosexuality is not a disorder to their will and, perhaps one could even say with confidence, their souls.

Their biology is another matter. Their homosexuality does not affect their internal or reproductive organs. In fact we have seen cases of homosexuals who have a desire to reproduce yet, for obvious reasons, can not do so by means of their 'native' sexual inclination.

Sex has the ability to improve (or deteriorate) intimacy and trust, to procreate, and give pleasure. In what ways does our insistence on procreation cloud our understanding of sex. I remain, however, a firm believer in the premise that procreation is one of the biological purposes of sex, to which pleasure and intimacy aid in the realization of a new human life.

(3) Perhaps this is too negative a view of the current state which we live in. Some are more willing than me to speak of the goodness of the world/state/circumstance we live in. On the one hand any of us are capable of loving another and love is the only means to break the cycle of sin, since it is only love (according to Paul) that is eternal. Since we have the capacity to love does this mean we are more ordered than disordered? In many ways there is a greater confusion over the terms “evil” and “sin,” in my view, than terms such as “homosexuality” and marriage.

It would be good for all of us to consider more deeply the difficulties at hand with intentionality and patience. 

(Please consider these documents:

The first is “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers” (1997). - See more at: http://www.ignitumtoday.com/2014/08/30/new-language-speaking-homosexuality/#sthash.iIaQ3CTM.dpuf
The first is “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers” (1997). - See more at: http://www.ignitumtoday.com/2014/08/30/new-language-speaking-homosexuality/#sthash.iIaQ3CTM.dpuf
To that end I would suggest two documents by the USCCB for your consideration:
The first is “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers” (1997).
The second is “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care” (PDF, 2006).
- See more at: http://www.ignitumtoday.com/2014/08/30/new-language-speaking-homosexuality/#sthash.iIaQ3CTM.dpuf
To that end I would suggest two documents by the USCCB for your consideration:
The first is “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers” (1997).
The second is “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care” (PDF, 2006).
- See more at: http://www.ignitumtoday.com/2014/08/30/new-language-speaking-homosexuality/#sthash.iIaQ3CTM.dpuf
To that end I would suggest two documents by the USCCB for your consideration:
The first is “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers” (1997).
The second is “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care” (PDF, 2006).
- See more at: http://www.ignitumtoday.com/2014/08/30/new-language-speaking-homosexuality/#sthash.iIaQ3CTM.dpuf

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Redemptive Suffering

The fear of suffering, pain, and death seem like unconquerable mysteries. My time here at CPE has helped me to understand, via experience, that they are not necessarily things that need to be conquered. No amount of faith excludes us from experience pain, loneliness, and death. Money, power, and other earthly things makes these three experiences even worse. With this in mind, I began to wonder if the words of Qoheleth were not as negative as they appear: “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (Ecc 1:2). Earthly things will pass which also means these things, both good and bad, will pass. Yet this does not ease the blow of the mystery of suffering and death. Even if they pass away they still remain with us our whole lives.

For me, this mystery is one that is only solved by the Cross. The cross is, for me, the foundation of my theology the ministry I do. The cross is the Incarnational moment where love and suffering meet. Love because “God is love” (1 Jn 4:16b) and suffering because the human condition is deeply affected by sin and death (Gen 3:16ff). Christ took upon himself the entirety of our human condition. While this expressed itself in his person I believe it was brought to completion by his sacrifice. It was only in his death that he was able to “reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col 1:20).

How does this inform my theology? First, if Christ chose to take on all of humanity he also took on pain, loneliness, and death in all completeness. He did not run from them but endured them and experienced them to the full. Thus any ministry inspired by Christ must be a ministry willing to encounter and experience all of the human condition. Secondly, did not Christ through His actions reconcile all things to himself? If this is the case he also reconciled what is lowly and base to our human existence. Thus in ministry encountering what is base, disgusting, and disturbing is an opportunity to encounter Christ in the same capacity as that which is lofty, beautiful, and joyful. There is no discrimination in what Christ assumed in our humanity. He became like us in all things but sin (cf. Heb 4:15).1

As such, in my mind and in my ministry I attempt to approach a Catholic theology of suffering. The primary way is the Catholic view of suffering or, more specifically, redemptive suffering. What do I mean by redemptive suffering? Only this: that our suffering when united to Christ shares in his mission of salvation. How is this so? Christ is married to the Church as his spouse and the “two [have] become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). Moreover “no man hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the Church, because we are members of his body” (Eph 5:29-30, cf. Eph 5). We are by virtue of our baptism joined to Christ and the Church. We are joined to the body of Christ such that we are one with him. “This is a great mystery” (Eph 5:32). Yet Scripture proclaims that as Saul persecuted the "disciples of the Way" Christ himself said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? … I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:4, 5). Lastly, Paul himself says, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete2 what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Col 1:24).

Christ entrusted his disciples with his Spirit to carry out his mission of salvation to the whole world and to all ages. The Church was established as his bride and He himself is the head of the body. We are extensions of his body. We share in the sufferings of those to whom we minister (and we ourselves also suffer). Christ identifies with us, especially with those who suffer (cf. Mt 25:40), should we not also identify with Him in turn? Christ assumed humanity so as to redeem it, thus with confidence I say he also redeemed suffering. The suffering we experience can be joined to Christ who even after the Resurrection complained to Saul that He himself was being persecuted. Christ's suffering continues in His Body, the Church, because we live in a world redeemed but not yet saved.3 We too, in joining our sufferings to Christ, suffer for the sake of His Body (cf. Col 1:24). And indeed “he did this once for all when he offered himself” (Heb 7:27b). Thus we too “must present ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom 12:1). This means that the suffering I experience in myself and others can be effective in Christ's saving work for the one who suffers (and even myself). When I share in the suffering of another I attempt to share in the suffering of both Christ and the individual.

1“For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning.”
2In Greek the verb “antanapleiro” also has the sense of “filling up” or “making full.”
3For while this present age is passing away (1 Cor 7:31) it is still in the process of doing so. We await the “glory to be revealed in us” (Rom 8:18).

++
In a special way keep Grace Oliver, 23, in your prayers as she battles cancer in the face of a very difficult diagnosis. While my words may express a cognative struggle with this issue, my words are shadows compared her words in the face of suffering and death. Please pray for her and please read what she has to write: Grace Oliver and Dumb Cancer