Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Sexuality and Spirituality

Father John J. Lombardi

"The Catholic Church is sure going thru a lot of challenges today," a Grotto-pilgrim-friend said to me recently. Later he added, just as acutely: People today want popularity more than they want morality. Those are wise and true words to discuss sexuality and spirituality-and the Catholic Church's teachings regarding them.

Recently the United States Catholic Bishops met in Baltimore and produced two documents on human sexuality, concerning homosexuality and married sexuality of couples. Behind these documents and statements on sexuality it is vitally important to remember that, as I was just reminded by a famous psychologist, that culture is the externalization of inner, psychosocial issues and forces. In other words, what you seen on the outside in daily life is what is inside mankind, culture is a kinda "mirror-image" of what is going on within man and woman. More on that later. Let's see what the Catholic Bishops are saying-and, though it's not always popular it is liberating.

The document "Ministry to Persons with Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care" is a fine document-both pastorally charitable and also culturally challenging. In the document the Bishops make important points, including: Human sexuality is a gift of God and should be seen as both beautiful and a responsibility. Persons with a homosexual inclination (same-sex attraction) should be respected. Persons who minister to them should be pastoral and charitable, and also purify their intentions and present the Catholic Church's teachings truthfully. Any homosexual inclination in itself is not sinful, but is a disorder. Acting on such an inclination is sinful (as it is for heterosexual persons outside marriage). Virtue is needed wherein self-mastery over passions can be learned and ingrained and, perhaps, triumph over previous wrongful tendencies (once again the same is true for heterosexual persons). There must be growth in both human friendship/community supports of such persons as well as growth in holiness-aiming to unite oneself to Jesus Christ and transformation in and thru Him. There is much confusion over homosexuality and the Church's teaching upon it, and objective truths (commandments,etc.) may be neglected or rejected in today's world. The Church's teaching on marriage between one man and one woman must be safeguarded; it is "natural law" (God's wisdom implanted within each human individual) that man was made for woman and visa versa. There is a tendency in Western society toward hedonism (pursuit of pleasure for itself detached from objective norms) which degrades the individual and may end up in promiscuity. Therapy for homosexuality has not been proven empirically valid but those who may find it helpful should pursue it. Participation of homosexual person within the Catholic Community should be a positive support for living a life of chastity and integrity and conversion. Catechesis-intellectual formation thru spiritual principles-should be taught, promoted and integrated into parish life…

The most controversial points of this document?: homosexuality is objectively a disorder. The document makes explicit distinctions which are very important. That homosexuality is an objective disorder does not mean that the whole person is in disorder, nor that the person should be treated so. Also controversial is that the homosexual inclination can be mastered, just like any other passion that is disordered (like excessive love, fear or sadness). Just as controversial is that naming and using these distinctions alienates or "objectifies" homosexual persons. Amidst these accusations we must remember that "The truth shall set you free" (Jn. ) and that when we learn, realize and integrate the truth about human sexuality in its' God-given intention will we, all, be whole and holy persons. Realizing the truth should never alienate persons; it may at first cause upset, but gradually, deep liberation may come about. We Catholics must learn these distinctions about homosexuality and learn, also, how to present them to others. If you read the entire document you will see: explicit, repeated attempts are made to treat persons with homosexuality with respect and that those who truly try to live the Church's teachings may really find a home in the Church. You may perhaps know some persons who have homosexual inclinations and are trying valiantly to live a Catholic, chaste and spiritual life in Christ Jesus: this is noble, inspiring and helpful to all.

The U.S. Bishops also approved the document "Married Love and the Gift of Life". Some excerpts include: Married life and preparing for it is a joyful time. Sexuality is a gift of this state in life. Sometimes sexuality is seen negatively as preventing against birth or disease-how sad this is. In married life the couple become, in sexuality, one body, and this "body language" -"what a husband and wife say to one another thru intimacy of sexual relations-speaks of total commitment and openness to a future together…So the question about contraception is this: does sexual intercourse using contraceptives faithfully affirm this committed love? Or does it introduce a false note into this conversation?" "When married couples deliberately act to suppress fertility, however sexual intercourse is no longer fully marital intercourse. It is something less powerful and intimate, something more 'causal.' Suppressing fertility by using contraception denies part of the inherent meaning of married sexuality and does harm to the couple's unity. The total giving of oneself, body and soul to one's beloved is not time to say: 'I give you everything I am except'…The Church's teaching is not only about observing a rule, but about preserving the total, mutual gift of two persons in its integrity…

As many couples who have turned away from contraception tell us, living this teaching can contribute to the honesty, openness, and intimacy of marriage and help make couples truly fulfilled. "

The Bishops support Natural Family Planning whereby a couple may, during infertile times, have sexual relations and not conceive a child and avoid other times of fertility. This is valid because it does not involve contraception. The difference between the two is that in NFP the couple never introduces and alien element into the mix and that more communication and honesty is needed and also that the individuals will less likely treat each other as objects and more like whole persons. The adverse affects of contraception are noted-as prophesied by Pope Paul VI (in his encyclical, "Humane Vitae, On Human Life"-1968) -including a burgeoning "contraceptive mentality," sexually transmitted diseases, cohabitation, children born outside marriage and abortion on demand. Contraceptives such as the Pill actually change the woman's body functions and organs…"By using contraception couples may think that hey are avoiding problems or easing tensions, that they are exerting control over their lives. But the gift of being able to help crate another person, a new human being with his or her own life, involves profound relationships, It affects our relationship with God, who created us complete with this powerful gift. It involves whether spouses will truly love and accept each other as they are, including their gift of fertility."

I was recently visiting one of our college professor's home and noticed: How loving these parents were to give life in the first place (four children so far on a shoestring budget!); how they deeply cherish and nourish their children; and how, actually I did think this during our visit!: it is within marriage that these children-any children-are best protected and given life, and that it is thru marriage for the way for families and individuals to grow and become human beings. I.e., the Catholic Church is not making this up! Marriage and family life is God-designed, inscribed in our human nature, and wherein life, fertility and children are best promoted and protected. Oppositely, contraception is an attack on: the family, on human sexuality, on human nature, on God's design for human relations, on fertility-fecundity. Some more reasons not to contracept: it's not natural-one introduces and "false note" to a joyful song of sexuality. It is anti-life (contra-ceptio, >Latin, means, literally, against life) .It is not organic (introduces physical mechanisms or chemicals to an "elegant marital-dance"). Contraception suppresses spontaneity, and provides money to cold, multi-national-profiteering companies who are careless for your welfare. It buys into and builds up the culture of death…

Some conclusions…

Now read this: Fr Peter Ryan, SJ, of Mt St Mary's Seminary, said to me recently: The Church doesn't simply make up rules and command people to follow them, at whim, over and against other rules or possibilities. No, the Church has investigated what is the nature of being human and sexual and what is the God-intended way this is to be realized and shared…And so the Church has "dis-covered" at least some of the mystery of sexuality and relationships in accord with the Bible so we do not make mistakes and experience suffering in the process. We should be grateful to Holy Mother Church for her wisdom no matter how hard it seems. Obviously the culture around us proposes other ways, and we therefore should help all to avoid these false promises.

Thumb-nail Survey: Both homosexuality and contraception are not "natural" to the human being-they are, rather, aberrations of what it means to fulfill human nature. Both phenomenon do not fulfill the "ends" (or goals) of human sexuality (homosexuals cannot procreate thru sexuality and contraception destroys the possibility of procreation). Neither phenomenon is biblical. In two-thousand years they have never been promoted as Biblical or traditional ways of life within Christianity.

"The Two C's of Jesus and the Spiritual Life": Challenge and Compassion: we need to use both in various ways, sometimes one, and sometimes the other. We need to challenge the dominant paradigm of hedonism and "biblical forgetfulness" of political and cultural movements which press the Church to change her Teachings; she, we cannot. There is a steady steamroller of cultural relativism and aiming to loosen our biblical moorings and God's intentions for human life. Always remember: false liberations only mean more enslavements and loss of human dignity. Conversely, those who are genuinely seeking Truth in human sexuality and marriage deserve compassion and a community of love and support.

Back to civilization and psychology. Just as Karl Marx tried to melt and meld human beings from dignity into worker-cogs; and Fredrick Nietzsche attempted to reduce man to will-to-power minus love; some social Darwinists make mankind into the whims of animalistic natural selection, and Freud reduced man to sexual drives, so some projects of sexual-alternatives try to re-make human nature and culture into what it is not intended to be. Thru same-sex unions and contraceptives social progressivists want to change the paradigm and matrix of healthy, natural, God-given directives to re-order human nature. Culture and civilization become the mirror-image of false, interior problems posed as solutions. Pope John Paul II often spoke of "the language of the body"-that is, how the human natural body "speaks" and acts and is designed for a given, godly goal and end, and we must learn about and respect this 'natural law" inscribed within all of us. When people try to manipulate this and introduce a "counterfeit language" mankind's dignity will be manipulated and messy mechanisms will set in.

Let's recall my pilgrim friend who spoke about popularity versus morality: Sexuality rooted in true spirituality is a test of our time-to be chaste even though it is difficult; to be holy though hedonism is a seemingly appeasing option; to follow the Lord's commands versus the culture's demands. Remember the bumper-sticker slogan: "What is true is not always popular. What is Popular is not always true." So true. We are, indeed, as my friend said, undergoing difficult challenges and we should be thankful to our Bishops for leading us in Truth and Holiness!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi