In the media this past month there’s been a bit of a kerfuffle surrounding the University of Toronto’s Newman Centre. One student in particular has been making a fuss over the Newman Centre’s decision to invite Courage onto its premises. Courage is an archdiocesan-approved, Catholic support group for people struggling with same-sex attraction. Since both this student and most of the media have been revealing an erroneous understanding of the Church’s attitude towards people who have same-sex attraction, I would like to offer a more faithful representation. Keeping in mind dear friends who disagree with the Church on this matter, often for personal reasons, it is very important to me to approach this subject with great sensitivity, charity, and reverence. A gentle, compassionate response is the only response fitting of a Christian.
To understand the Church’s teaching on same sex relations, it is absolutely essential that one first acquire an appreciation for her teaching on human sexuality in general. To say that the Church hates gays simply because she cannot endorse homosexual acts is a great misunderstanding. Quite simply, the Church has a very strict code of sexual morality that applies to every individual, regardless of their sexual orientation. Not only does she uphold the natural law that the male sexual organs correspond to the female sexual organs, but she also believes in a God who intentionally created two complementary sexes, designed to give to one another. Our bodies are no accident, no mere add-on to our souls, but a fundamental part of our identity.
Consider how well designed our bodies were for the reception of the body of the opposite sex and you behold a wonder and a marvel! Any sexual intercourse that does not witness to this beautiful, logical design does not evoke the same sense of marvel and wonder at creation — except at our ability to be sexually stimulated by a wide variety of means. Such an alternative focus does not invite the human being to transcend his or her own sexual urges, does not allow the sexual act to become an act of worship and thanksgiving worthy of a human being and properly due to the Creator of our bodies and souls, which He made capable of such a profound act of unity and procreation.
Furthermore, following the natural design of human sexuality, the conception of children is a natural possibility. Children are therefore central to the Church’s regard for sex, although it is a common misconception in society that the Church sees them as the only good of marriage. On the contrary, there are two, equally important goods: the unity of the couple and the openness to children (cf. CCC 1643, 1660). Contraception, therefore, is prohibited, even among married couples, for it also rejects and defies the natural design of healthy bodies.
The Church goes further: only within the exclusive, monogamous, committed relationship of marriage can sexual intercourse be for the glory of God and the full happiness of human beings. Fornication and adultery are forbidden by God, for both harm the people involved and others. Adultery violently assaults the bond of marriage, and turns the joy and tenderness of marital relations that the couple are ideally working to offer each other (and, indirectly, society) into jealousy and betrayal. Fornication also does not allow for emotional security. Lastly, of course, any act of sexual intercourse outside of marriage can lead to the conception of a child without a stable family, without a home.
Likewise, sexual stimulation through pornography and masturbation is a misuse of our sexuality. Such activities reduce our sexual selves to mere bodies seeking pleasure, not souls seeking relationship. They also abuse our faculty of the imagination to remove us further from reality (in which God dwells), rather than using our imagination to be creative and to bring life to others. Again, it is impossible to glorify God here, for it thwarts His design and His desire for our fullness.
It has been said that the Church is strict about sexual morality because she despises the body, but I hope you will see that, if anything, the Church should rather be accused of loving the body too much! She approaches the body’s mystery and power with great reverence, trusting that in accepting the body for what it is and how it would naturally behave, that that is the key to good living. She rejects anything that opposes the body’s natural, healthy design, which helps her to understand that cancerous tumours are to be removed but embryos are to be nourished and allowed to grow.
Not only are our bodies precious and sacred, but our emotions, minds, and souls, too. Happiness is our natural state, what we were made for and what we yearn for so much that it is what we seek all our lives. We must do what we can to preserve our hearts from malice, jealousy, and betrayal and our souls from separation from God. It is also imperative that we do not through our imagination allow for a schism between our physical selves and our metaphysical selves, for a kingdom divided will not stand.
The Church does not hate. She loves. She loves so much that she will never stop offering what is the fundamental guide to our fulfilment and happiness. Although she upholds a very strict code of sexual morality, she upholds at the same time that we must love our neighbours as ourselves, never persecuting the sinner but always offering the right path with firmness and gentleness. As St Paul writes:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery…. You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whateveryou want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. (Galatians 5)