A Reader Struggles with the Church's Teaching on Gay Marriage
A reader writes:
I am a cradle Catholic. Hetero. I have always felt strongly that the Church's doctrine has not caught up with the bio-science associated with homosexuality. I disagree with the Church's position, yet I am not going to become a homosexual (if that is even possible) to spite it. My own opinions are not relevant. I get that. But me having them does not make me a sinner, bad Catholic, or -- heaven forbid -- a Protestant.
For what it's worth, the Church has no doctrine about the biological or psychological origins of homosexuality. It leaves such matters to the sciences and other disciplines to sort out just as it leave it to the relevant disciplines to sort out the origins of heterosexual disorders such as porn addiction. All disorders in the human person are, of course, traceable back to the fall and original sin in Catholic understanding. But as the story of the healing of the blind man emphatically teaches, it does not follow that there is a direct cause/effect relationship between disorder in body or soul and the personal sin of the one struggling with the disorder. The apostles assumed the blind man or his parents must of sinned for him to be blind. Jesus would have none of that. Christians who assume a person with same sex attraction must be a sinner are no more right than those who assert that the attraction is "gift of God". The Church urges us, not to speculate on the state of a person's soul or where he stands in the holiness bathing suit competition, but to address them with love.
More than this, the Church makes no assertion at all that the disordered appetite of homosexual desire is sinful. No. Really. Temptation is not sin. It is merely temptation. (And before anybody gets upset about the words "disordered appetite" recall that any sexual appetite--hetero or homo--that is not ordered toward self-donating love between a man and a woman within the sacrament of marriage is disordered.) Disordered desire, whether for homosex or heterosexual fornication is merely concupiscence not sin, like my disordered desire for more food than I need. Concupiscence is the darkened intellect, weakened will, and disordered appetites resulting from the damage done by original sin. Baptism takes away original sin itself, but even the baptized are, in the providence of God, left to struggle against concupiscence with the help of grace. One surprising implication of this (at least for people influenced by Calvinism--and these include not a few Catholics) is that Concupiscence is not sin but merely the "tinder for sin" in the Catholic tradition. Resistance to it is, in fact, virtuous. This is very liberating if you have been raised to believe that the mere fact you are tempted to sin makes you guilty of the sin. It does not. When you resist the temptation, it demonstrates your (sometimes heroic) virtue. God's response to even attempted resistance to temptation is "Well done, good and faithful" and he is please even with our stumbles.
So, to return to our subject: The reason for the Church's view of gay marriage (as its view of other forms of disordered sexual attractions) is not that the Church is wrong about science. It's that the Church's entire view of marriage is conditioned by its understanding of Jesus Christ. He is the Bridegroom and the Church is the Bride. All earthly marriage is a reflection of that cosmic Marriage. This is why the Church will never budge on this. Just as the matter of baptism is water and not gatorade and the matter of the Eucharist is bread and wine and not Twinkies and Dr. Pepper, so the matter of marriage is one man and one woman. The Church cannot alter what Christ and the apostle have instituted.
My reader replies:
This is helpful. The posted meme, which is the subject of this thread, made me curious as to basis for the Church's view of marriage being between a man and a woman. I still believe that the bio-science of sexuality will be understood fully by the Church, eventually, because I believe that God reveals himself through science (when we are ready). I am optimistic that the Church will find a reasonable way to express itself about that revelation. The Church moves slowly, which is also part of God's plan.
I'm skeptical anybody, let alone the Church, will ever fully understand the bio-science of sexuality. But what I can tell you is that science won't change a thing about the Church's understanding of marriage since it is predicated not on science, but on the revelation handed down by Christ and the apostles. It's like saying that a fuller understanding of the digestive process will change our understanding of the Real Presence in the Eucharist. It won't because the Real Presence is not subject to scientific analysis, however much the accidents of the Eucharist (which include chemical composition) are.
I don't think it's really possible to grasp the Church's approach to the question without seeing how deeply the nuptial dimension of Christ's relationship with the Church informs its entire understanding of the sacrament of marriage. Jesus calls himself the Bridegroom multiple times and uses wedding imagery constantly in his parables. His archetypal sign is, according to John, the miracle at Cana (followed in the very next chapter with John the Baptist calling him the Bridegroom). John's gospel climaxes with Jesus side being pierced and blood and water (think "baptism") flowing from the side of the Last Adam to birth a New Eve: the Church. His Revelation climaxes with the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (early Christian code for the Eucharist). That's why Paul's entire discussion of marriage in Ephesians 5 conclude by saying "but I am speaking of Christ and the Church".
Merely sociological approaches are therefore not adequate to sorting out the Church's teaching here. To be sure, the Church begins with natural marriage since the grace of the sacrament builds on our animal nature as creatures who reproduce by sex just as the grace of the Eucharist builds on our animal nature as creatures ingest food to maintain life. That's because it's where Jesus begins: "“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
There's simply no way to get from there to gay "marriage". Whatever a gay coupling is, it is not and never will be marriage according to the teaching of Jesus. And the Church, constrained by that fact, will never be able to call it a marriage. There's just no way around that fact.