This is adapted from a series of bulletin articles from Fr. Benjamin Sember
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
On June 7th, I celebrated a wedding at St. Mary’s in Lakewood. It was my first wedding since coming to these two parishes last July. As an interesting coincidence, this same weekend a federal judge struck down a Wisconsin state law barring same-sex marriage.
The Green Bay Press Gazette reported that Berri and Lisa West were the first same-sex couple to tie the knot in Brown County. “[They] have lived together for almost five years. They have been domestic partners for almost three. They have a daughter together and are expecting a son. But until Monday, they had not been able to legally marry in Wisconsin” the Press Gazette stated.
What is happening in Wisconsin is clearly part of a much larger cultural shift that is taking place in Western society. This is not a passing trend, but a shift in how we, as a nation and as a society, view marriage and family and incorporate that vision in law.
The Catholic Church, as you may have already heard, has refused to get on this train. The Catholic Church firmly believes that the basic structure of marriage that the Church promoted in the first century (against Roman practices of cohabitation, prostitution, and the keeping of mistresses) and continued to promote in her missionary efforts (against polygamy), was not only valid for the 1st – 18th centuries but was valid for all time.
This basic structure of marriage is the unity of a man and woman who are called to be faithful to one another for life. The Church believes that God invented this structure as part of a radical plan for creating the human race: God wanted us to help Him create new people. We know that God directly created all the angels. Angels were not conceived or born, but were called into existence directly by God. God has created far more angels than the human mind can comprehend.
When it came to creating the human race, God could have easily done the same thing. God could have instantly created a trillion human beings. Instead, God decided to create the human race in a totally amazing way by sharing some of His power with us. God gave us the power to create new people, making us co-creators with Him. The angels stand in awe of the power God has given us because none of them can create new people. (This, by the way, is the reason why the demons are obsessed with sex and why they hate fertility. Even Satan himself, the most powerful of all demons, cannot conceive a son).
In the book of Genesis, the Bible teaches us that God planned for us to be His partners in creating the human race. Genesis chapter one says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it’” (Gn 1:27-28a).
What makes this gift even more amazing is that people are eternal. Most of the things we do in our life, even impressive things like making sculptures, building buildings, writing books, and inventing new technologies, are not destined to last. Sooner or later this world will pass away and all our books and all our projects will pass away. There something, however, that certainly will not pass away: every human being will continue to exist forever. This means that having children and raising them is not simply contributing to our world, but is contributing something which is destined to last for all eternity.
This fundamental truth means that a sixteen year old girl might “accidentally” do something which is greater than all the works of Michelangelo and all the art treasures in the history of the human race, put together. In our hearts we all sense the truth of how precious and eternal a person is, but no one senses it more deeply than mothers, fathers, and grandparents.
In my article last week, I mentioned that God created human beings with the task of being co-creators with Him in making new human persons. In the book of Genesis this is not an invitation but a command; it is the first commandment given in the Bible. In connection with this command God has given us the power to carry it out. This power is something He did not give to the angels, and so it is a unique gift to the human race.
Although God wants us to help create people, God wants us to do this in the right way. We cannot just sow our wild oats constantly. We are not the master-builder but only co-workers. We cannot build this house in any haphazard way, but we have to build the house in the way that God wants it to be built.
The house which is the human race is made of bricks and mortar. The bricks are the people, and the mortar is the love that holds them together. The bonds of love are just as important as the birth of children. God wants many, many children, but He does not want His children to be a jumble of disconnected individuals like a pile of rocks. God wants us to be connected and built up in love.
Strong families make strong bonds of love. One of the reasons why our society seems to be falling apart and becoming a jumble of disconnected and independent individuals is because our families are not strong. God wants us to say “yes” to life, but God also wants us to say “yes” to love. Saving sex until marriage, remaining faithful to one another, and resisting the temptation to divorce are all ways to co-operate with God in creating strong, enduring bonds of love.
God’s plan for marriage and family is a plan to create new persons in bonds of enduring love. This plan is also God’s plan for the sexual act that a husband and wife share together. The sexual act is meant to bond two people together, and it is also meant to create new persons. Catholic theology traditionally refers to these two purposes as the unitive and the procreative purposes of sexual intercourse.
Sexual intercourse impacts every level of the person: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. This is exactly what God intended. In the context of a committed, lifelong relationship, the sexual experience helps unite two people at every level: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. This means that it has the power to bond two people together at every love of human existence.
The amazing power of sexual intercourse is creative when used as God intended, but it is destructive when used in any other way. Because it impacts every level of the person, it can wound and destroy a person at every level when used in a selfish and abusive way. It can lead to addictions and ruined lives, and it actually drives people apart rather than bringing them together.
We cannot build this house in any haphazard way that we want to, but we need to follow the plan of the master builder.
Last week, I mentioned that God gave us the sexual power for two reasons. One is to cooperate with God in creating new human lives (the procreative purpose), and the other is to cooperate with God in helping the human race to be built up in love (the unitive purpose). When we use the sexual power as God intended, in committed love and lifelong fidelity, it cooperates with God in bringing new life into the world and building up strong bonds of love.
As part of God’s plan to unite the human race, no single person has the power to create children. When God made the human race, He divided up this power and the gifts connected to it. God divided the power into two parts, giving a part to men and a part to women. I am not just talking about physical gifts, but also emotional and psychological gifts. God took the physical, psychological and emotional gifts that He wanted to give the human race and gave a portion to men and a different portion to women. This means that each gender has a unique set of gifts and both sets are necessary to make a complete whole. There is a synergy when these gifts are brought together, and we call this the natural complementarity of the sexes.
In their 2006 letter on marriage, the Wisconsin bishops talked about God’s plan of marriage in these words:
The witness of scripture and our Catholic tradition teach that marriage, as instituted by God, is between one man and one woman. It is within this unique bond of mutual and reciprocal marital love that a man and a woman become one. This reciprocal love reflects the natural “complementarity” between men and women. This complementarity blends the differences between men and women and enables them to cooperate physically, emotionally and psychologically. Complementarity is truly the gift through which a married couple becomes more than the sum of its parts.
Marriage cannot have three or four partners because it is built on a unique bond of mutual and reciprocal love. Including multiple people would prevent the bond from being mutual and reciprocal, and so the basic structure of marriage involves only two people. These two people need to be one man and one woman because God gave different physical, psychological, and emotional gifts to men and women, and both sets together are necessary. Marriage is the unique bringing-together of the masculine and feminine gifts.
Advocates of same-sex marriage are very right when they say that we need to treat every person with equal dignity. A “homosexual” person is not essentially different from any other person, and our society must recognize and accept that. However, the marriage debate is not about individuals but about relationships. A same-sex relationship is not equal to a male-female relationship because it is missing the natural complementarity of masculine and feminine gifts, and it is missing the power of creating new life which only exists when the male and female gifts are brought together.
In this perspective, the relationship of two men is not equal to the relationship of a man and woman. In fact, the relationship of ten thousand men is not equal to the relationship between one man and one woman, in the sense that an army of ten thousand men is missing the feminine gifts and is not capable of conceiving new life. Marriage is the unique bringing-together of the male and female gifts.
Last weekend I talked about how God had divided up the gifts that He gave to the human race. God gave a certain set of physical, emotional and psychological gifts to men and a different set to women. God’s plan was that both sets would be necessary for marriage, family, and society. A same-sex relationship fails to include both sets of gifts, and so it fails to achieve one of the purposes of marriage which is uniting the two halves of the human race (the unitive purpose). A same-sex relationship also fails in the other purpose of marriage, which is cooperating with God in the creation of new human life (the procreative purpose). Because this relationship falls short of marriage, it is wrong to treat it like a marriage.
This truth only supplies part of the answer to the question of how to respond to a friend or family member who indentifies as homosexual. The other part of the answer is that every human being has been created by God for love and communion. This means that even those who are attracted to persons of the same sex are made for love and communion. How do we reconcile this truth with the one about marriage?
These truths are not in competition, but they seem to be in competition because our modern world has reduced love and communion to the nuclear family. We don’t typically have extended family living together in the same home, and so nearly everyone who is not married ends up living alone in adulthood. In fact, these days the nuclear family itself seems to be in danger of disappearing as children are less and less appreciated. In our brave new world, love and communion is turning into nothing more than sex.
This is not what God intended. One of the things I enjoy about being here in the summer is the family gatherings and family camps. These gatherings give a picture of love and communion as God intended it: parents and brothers and sisters, grandparents and cousins and nieces and nephews and friends all hanging out together. This is what Heaven will be like. Not everyone is called to marriage, but everyone is called to this kind of love and communion.
This gives the shape of an answer to the struggles of people with same-sex attraction. Everyone has a place in God’s family, no matter what their issues are, and we need to love and accept them for who they are. While we must love and accept each person, we cannot accept any sexual relationship which is outside of God’s plan. We cannot use our sexual power however we want, but we need to use it as God intended or it becomes dangerous and destructive. There is no easy way to handle these situations and it is important to reject the temptation to an “easy” solution. The “easy” solutions are accepting the relationship because we love the person, and rejecting the person because we must reject the relationship.
It is a serious tragedy that people with same-sex struggle have often felt alienated and rejected by the Church and by sincere Christians when they come out about their issues. We cannot accept a sexual relationship that is wrong, but we must love and accept a person no matter what their struggles are.
Peace in Christ,
P.S. For some good information on same-sex issues, you can visit www.couragerc.net