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The Blessing of a Chaste Life

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted

The following is a three-part series, "The Blessing of a Chaste Life," written by
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted and published in The Catholic Sun, the diocesan newspaper of the Diocese of Phoenix, in May/June 2004. The series is reprinted here by the kind permission of Bishop Olmsted and The Catholic Sun.

The call to holiness of homosexual persons | May 6, 2004 | 1 of 3

When the Church at Vatican II lifted high the universal call to holiness, it rightly received an enthusiastic response. For it is indeed good news for people of every time and place. How good to know that it is possible for us all to have a close, personal relationship with Jesus Christ and even to become like Him.

God creates each person in love. He redeems each with a love even unto death on the Cross. He calls each of us to share in this amazing love by taking up our cross each day and following in His footsteps. There is only one road to holiness, one way to a profound communion with Christ (Mark 8:34-35): "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it."

It seems especially urgent to remind every follower of Christ today, and in particular homosexual persons, that He is calling them to a close personal communion with Himself. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) speaks of this call to holiness of homosexual persons in the following way (#2359): "Homosexual persons are called to chastity. 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."

The journey to holiness always requires a firm belief in the word "can." We can be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. We can be holy. It is not an impossible dream for anyone. Growth in holiness requires the help of God and it requires effort on our part, but we can do it. It begins with the grace of conversion, turning away from sin and turning towards the Lord. It requires obedience to God’s will, for as Jesus tells us (John 14:15), "If you love me, you will keep my commandments."

In order to progress along the road to holiness, the Holy Spirit helps us to forge virtues, i.e. habits for good. Homosexual persons particularly need to focus their efforts on developing the virtue of chastity. Chastity is defined in the Catechism (#2337) as "the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being." Every human person is called to integrate their sexuality according to their state in life. Chastity will always involve abstinence for those who are not married. Other virtues are also needed but chastity stands front and center for persons with a homosexual inclination. This is because homosexual acts are always wrong, always the opposite of holiness. However, persons who have homosexual inclinations but do not act on them are not guilty of sin. In fact, with God’s grace and good intentions, they can grow in virtue and make great progress along the path to perfection, the goal to which the Lord Jesus has called us all.

Necessary distinction

A key distinction, then, is needed when considering homosexuality, namely between the homosexual tendency on the one hand and homosexual acts on the other. Those who engage in homosexual acts commit serious sin, as both the Old Testament and New Testament teach (Cf. Genesis 19:1-29, Romans 1:18-32, I Timothy 1:10) and as Christian Tradition has consistently affirmed (Cf. Catechism, #2357).

Those with homosexual inclinations are sometimes tempted to believe that chastity is beyond them. They may incorrectly feel that just to have a homosexual tendency makes them guilty of sin and excludes them from growing in holiness. At times, they may also encounter these kinds of confused and false attitudes in others and unjustly suffer because of them. In the face of all these difficulties, the love of Christ remains constant and His call to conversion and holiness never fails. No less than other persons, Christ calls them to take up their cross each day and follow after Him.

The Cross of Christ, in our own day just as 2000 years ago, seems like foolishness to some and nonsense to others but as St. Paul writes (I Cor 1:24), Christ crucified is "the power of God and the wisdom of God." Those who take up the cross each day out of love for Jesus find themselves flooded with the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22), "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." And St. Paul adds (Gal 5:24-25), "those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires."

All who follow Christ can and are called to live the virtue of chastity. What a blessing when, with God’s grace, we do so. What a blessing when we freely and gladly embrace the Lord’s call to holiness.

The pastoral care of homosexual persons | May 20, 2004 | 2 of 3

A few weeks ago, I sent a letter to some priests of the Diocese of Phoenix, asking them to withdraw their support from a public statement entitled "No Longer Silent Phoenix Declaration." The letter was intended to be personal and confidential because I had hoped to engage these brother priests in a person-to-person conversation about the pastoral care of homosexual persons, without the distraction of publicity. To my disappointment, news of the letter was leaked to the press. While not making my fraternal dialogue with these priests impossible, the leak has made it more difficult. Nonetheless, I have been able to engage the majority in substantial conversations about this important pastoral matter. And I am grateful that most, in accordance with my request, have withdrawn their support from the declaration. I continue to hope and pray that the others will do the same.

Since portions of my letter have become public, I have decided, for the sake of accuracy and fairness to all, to publish it in its entirety in this same issue of The Catholic Sun. I would like also, in this part of my series on the "Blessing of a Chaste Life," to write about the pastoral care of homosexual persons: what not to do and what to do.

What not to do

• Do not see those with homosexual inclinations as problems but as persons, persons whom Jesus redeemed by His Cross, persons called to holiness, persons with an inviolable dignity and an eternal destiny bestowed on them by God, persons like you and me, persons who have a welcome place in our Church.

• Do not condone homosexual activity or fail to teach clearly that it, along with all sexual activity outside of marriage, is seriously wrong. We should not presume that others know that homosexual behavior is wrong. Our silence about it could reinforce that mistaken notion.

• Do not support any group such as No Longer Silent or Dignity that fails to uphold clearly the teachings of the Bible and the Church on homosexual acts and homosexual persons. We cannot help one another along the path of conversion and union with Christ if we deny the truth.

What to do

• Lend encouragement to groups like Courage that offer support to homosexual persons in their vocation to holiness, and who do this in full conformity with the teachings of the Church.

• Be well informed about the teachings of our Catholic Christian faith on this topic. Read what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about this topic (#2357-2359). Read the Letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons. Read good books on this topic such as those by Fr. John Harvey: e.g.
The Homosexual Person and Truth about Homosexuality.

• Should you be aware of persons who have homosexual inclinations, accept them as brothers and sisters in Christ and support them by authentic love and prayer.

• Should persons you know be engaged in homosexual activity, look for an opportunity to invite them back to the faithful practice of a life of abstinence, assure them of the power of God’s mercy to forgive and to bring fresh hope, and pray for their conversion. Christ calls us all to on-going conversion of life; so our prayers for conversion encompass ourselves as well as others.

These are only a few of the dos and don’ts of a full program of pastoral care of homosexual persons. The books and documents mentioned above can provide a more encompassing program. As I stated in my letter to my brother priests who signed the declaration, our relationship with homosexual persons needs to be that of Christ, one that offers full and fraternal acceptance of each person as made in the image of God and one that is animated by both truth and charity. When carried out with the help of the Holy Spirit, it can help us all to grow to full maturity in Christ.

Difficulties faced by homosexual persons | June 3, 2004 | 3 of 3

Since the universal call to holiness demands of all a share in the Cross of Christ, it is not surprising that persons with homosexual inclinations face difficulties of various sorts as they, like all other followers of Jesus, seek to love God with all their mind and heart, and to love their neighbor as themselves. These difficulties include the following four.

1) Intellectual confusion about whether sexual activity outside of marriage is always wrong. In recent years, one sector of the popular culture has made a concerted effort to persuade public opinion that same sex relations (indeed all kinds of sexual relations outside of marriage) are normal and morally neutral (or even morally beneficial!). Whoever would challenge such assertions runs a high risk of being labeled as homophobic or some other derogatory term.

In fact, what has occurred in these cases is a rejection of an understanding of human sexuality found in most cultures and major religions of the world down through history, one found in both the Old and New Testaments, and one found in Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christian Tradition. According to the modernist view, a morality based on truth and on objective norms is being replaced by a "morality" based on desire. Feelings, not truth, become criteria for whether something is right or wrong.

However, a morality not built on objective norms will never stand the test of time nor does it serve well the men and women of our present age. Truth does not change to suit our tastes. Some things are always wrong, no matter the times, the circumstances, or people’s intentions.

It is not homophobia that leads followers of Christ to consider homosexual acts to be wrong, it is the word of God found in the Old and New Testaments and in more than 2000 years of the Church’s consistent moral teaching. A brief look at a few Scriptural texts makes this abundantly clear. For example, there are the commands of God contained in Leviticus (18:22 and 20:13) that point out the sinfulness of homosexual acts. And in the New Testament, St. Paul teaches the same in several places (e.g. I Cor 6:9-10, Romans 1: 18-32, and I Tim 1:10). The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2357) summarizes our Christian tradition quite succinctly: "Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from the genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved."

2) Confused notions of what constitutes marriage also make it difficult for homosexual persons and others to make good judgments about love and responsibility. The present push to give "homosexual unions" equal legal status with marriage shows the prevalence of such confusion in popular culture.

But marriage can exist only between a man and a woman because only the union of male and female can express the sexual complementarity created and willed by God for marriage. In the marital embrace, husband and wife make a total gift of themselves to one another in their masculinity and femininity. They do so as persons with equal dignity but truly different as man and woman; as such, they are able to express sexual love as intended by God to build their communion as persons and to serve the transmission of new life.

For this reason, it is not unjust to deny legal status to "same-sex unions" because such unions are essentially different from marriage. Moreover, such a legal redefinition would harm the institution of marriage itself. As the U.S. bishops stated recently, "When marriage is redefined so as to make other relationships equivalent to it, the institution of marriage is devalued and further weakened. The weakening of this basic institution at all levels and by various forces has already exacted too high a social cost."

3) Reductionist views of the personhood of those with homosexual inclinations present serious obstacles for them on their road to holiness. A certain fixation on one’s sexual orientation can occur such that the rich and complex nature of a person gets reduced to just one part of his or her identity, only the sexual orientation. This serves neither a person’s dignity nor inner freedom. Rather, it gives exaggerated emphasis to a single aspect of one’s identity while undercutting or obfuscating the other dimensions, some of which are far more important. For example, more important is our identity as sons and daughters of God, created in the divine image. More important is the privilege of being brothers and sisters in Christ. In addition, this reductionism can hinder one’s ability to see the human body as a temple of the Holy Spirit created by God for the fruits of chastity, joy and peace.

4) False views of human freedom assert that homosexual acts are not sinful for homosexual persons because of their sexual orientation. They assert instead that such acts are morally neutral or even morally beneficial. After all, the argument goes, a good God would not allow homosexual inclinations if they were ordered towards a sinful end.

But such argumentation reflects a false understanding of human nature and the way it has been wounded by original sin. In addition, it runs contrary to both love and truth. St. Paul talks about this struggle with sinful tendencies common to every human person (Romans 7:19-25), "For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want… For I take delight in the law of God, in my inner self, but I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord."

Yes, the whole human race stands in need of a Redeemer. We all have temptations and sinful inclinations to oppose. We all need to be strengthened by grace in order to avoid what is wrong and to know the blessing of a chaste life. But that is precisely what we have in Christ. He gives us the grace to love in truth; He gives us the call and responsibility to do so. To excuse oneself of this freedom and responsibility is to take a road that spirals downward into ever-greater sadness and confusion. It is a road no one needs to take.

Rather, God calls us to the opposite road, the narrow road, the way of holiness, the way of the Cross, the way that leads to fullness of maturity in Christ.



Copyright 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved