Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Extraordinary Synod (2014 Edition)

In light of the many articles and comments arising from I would like to offer some thoughts on the topic at hand that may be helpful for others who are (attempting to) follow the news on this issue. In any academic setting and even in every investigative setting one must first look at the source and, from there, investigate what others are saying about the source.

In this instance the "source" is not much of a source. It is a written document, yes, but as a written document it only serves to chronicle what has been spoken of at this time. This document carries with it no legislative power in the Church. Many people are surprised of the language used concerning homosexuality and others and have praised its content, but these praises are only sung by people who have no desire to investigate what the Church has already said. Websites, such as Human Rights Campaign, have opened up their article on the Relatio saying,
The preliminary but potentially ground-breaking document released today by the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops asserted that LGBT people have “gifts and talents to offer the Christian community,” and, for the first time, referred to LGBT couples as “partners” instead of sinners.
Moreover the Huffington Post, "the bastion of quality journalism" as readers call it, reported that
A day after signaling a warmer embrace of gays and lesbians and divorced Catholics, conservative cardinals hit back strongly Tuesday (Oct. 14), with one insisting that an abrupt-face on church teaching is “not what we are saying at all.” ...
The summary document, presented to the media by Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo, immediately provoked the fury of conservatives about how he and his colleagues were interpreting the spectrum of views aired on the synod floor.
In typical fashion, holding a stance on anything is considered a sort of conscription into an ideology whereby one forfeits his reason and knowledge in favor of some safe and accepted rule. At least that's how I read this excerpt saying that 'finally those conservatives are getting some pushback.' Compassion and warmth can not, apparently, come from anyone considered "conservative." What I dislike about this article in particular is how it tries to pit two groups against one another.

Both conservatives and liberals have overreacted to this synod. Sadly it has become yet another instance where even the Church is labeled as having two camps. Catholics who can not debate topics with integrity and honesty, even if they get heated, are neither liberal or conservative but rather just bad apologists.


With that said I'd like to make a few points as there are those who have spoken to me saying, "Is the Church going to cave in to societal pressures?" while others have said, "Finally the Church is recognizing gays and homosexuals on (more) equal footing."


I. As Catholics we need to exercise patience.

All to often I think we forget that we live in history. With 2000 years of Tradition, traditions, and development we casually quote Nicea, Trent, and Vatican II among others as singular events. These were Ecumenical Councils that contained debate, (fierce) disagreements, and in the fire of competing intellects language refined six and seven times over. The Church does not shy away from disagreement, debate, and asking difficult questions.

The Acts of the Apostles ought to give Catholics some rest about how the Church proceeds. First the Church in local communities identify a problem of disagreement and proceed from there. But even in local churches there can be "no small dissension and debate between them" (Acts 15:2). Likewise, when brought to the assembly of Apostles and presbyters, there was still "much debate" (v.7).

Thus we as Catholics should not be afraid of debate because we never have been. While others may consider us to be doctrinally locked into a singular way of thinking this is far from the truth. Nevertheless we are constantly confronted with new information and problems. All of us share in the task of transmitting the faith with intentionality which includes us bringing the Gospel to each new problem.

This task requires patience. Just as Christ was rejected and accepted in His day we are no different. If we really do believe in the organic growth of the Church and her understanding, we ought to judge the fruit of this synod when it is in bloom, not now. In our patience we, meaning all sides, must listen to each other and be open to correction.

II. Homosexuals and others should be co-laborers to the Gospel

Homosexuals and others in more difficult categories are in a difficult spot. Many are isolated from the Church while those who do stand up for Church teaching are rejected as self-hating and enemies. Having grown up myself in environments where gays were ridiculed and, likewise, seeing how easy it is to demean those I misunderstood I have challenged myself in the following way:

=What is science (biology, psychology, etc.) actually saying about homosexuality?
=Can I, being critical enough to distinguish descriptive or ideological claims, understand the challenges they face if they do indeed wish to walk the path the Church does?
=Can I use this information to better understand human sexuality and our humanity?

We must be able to affirm the teachings of the Church on marriage and family while also being what we are called to be, one. I still recall being labeled as a certain type of person because I am from Chicago. I was told what my work ethic probably was among other things. Being labeled as having this or that moral quality, having this disposition, or other per-determined traits is not only insulting but about as reliable as "blood typology" common in many Asian countries.

It is easy to fall into the trap that "everyone deserves love" and that "who are you to say I can't have sex." Sex does not complete us, no matter how good it feels. What completes and perfects us is holiness. Our individual human perfection comes from both our vocation (what I, personally, am called to be by God) and a growth in love that imitates God's love.

Thus, when we work with others treat all persons with dignity and all ideas with scrutiny, carefully exploring how those ideas do or do not fit with the Gospel. "Test everything, hold fast to what is good" (1 Thes 5:21).

III. Be informed

This synod, while not the best PR episode we've had in a while, has opened up some discussion. Confusion has that effect sometimes. Can you as families sit down and discuss the synod? Can we as Catholics openly debate with ourselves and be vulnerable enough to acknowledge our ignorance on certain issues?

Nothing reveals ignorance better than conversation which is why most of us are usually silent, even among friends. We must fortify ourselves with humility and speak with one another about Scripture, Tradition, and the Church. More than that, we should not look with disdain at Rome or our Church as if they have nothing to teach.

The only way to abolish ignorance is through investigation and, after investigation, testing it against the intellects of believer and non-believer alike. Our children can teach us as can our elders. No one knows through whom the Spirit will speak and how, but no one is beyond scrutiny and testing. Love of knowledge is one thing, but a love of wisdom is another thing. Wisdom orders all things and no one receives wisdom except through prayer.

Some of us will assent easily and others assent with difficulty, but we should all be open to truth. No one will believe the Church has that attitude unless we practice it ourselves.


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