Don't Shoot Those Helicopters Down
Oh, there was lots to hate in my post from last week, "Gay Man Denied Last Rites?" Some people hated the idea that homosexual behavior is sinful; some people hated the idea of homosexual people calling themselves "gay" (why? It's just descriptive). A few people pretty clearly just hated homosexual people, period. And several readers really hated two specific lines I wrote:
The Church is just taking its first steps in developing a compassionate, humane approach to serve gay people. The Church's history in this matter isn't pretty.
This comment sums up readers' objection to those lines:
There is an effective pastoral approach. it is called confession. Just like the rest of humanity.
I recently heard someone say, "If everyone went to confession, therapists and pharmacists would go out of business!" -- the implication being that every problem we have -- every mental illness, every disorder, every unwanted preoccupation, every intrusive thought, every unhealthy habit, every sinful propensity --- all, all can be healed in the confessional.
And every priest I've ever met knows that it's false, too. You know the old joke about the helicopter. One day, in the middle of lunch, there is a flash flood, and everyone climbs up on the roof to await rescue. A boat comes by, and takes on as many passengers as it can. One man declines, saying, "No, I have faith that God will save me." Then a helicopter flies up and loads up the rest of the stranded people -- but again, the man declines, saying, "No, I believe that God will save me!" The flood waters continue to rise, until finally the man is drowned. He turns up before the throne of God, and man, he is not happy. "What happened?" he demands. "I had faith that you would save me!"
And God says, "What, you didn't see the boat or the helicopter I sent?"
So, there it is. Confession reconciles us with God, restores us to grace, strengthens us, and remits sin. We need it, and we cannot do without it. But it is not always all we need. Many, many of us need something else to help us off that rooftop, whether we've climbed up there ourselves, or been chased there by circumstances or by other people or by the trick of biology, or some combination of those things.
Sometimes we come out of the confessional knowing that we must try harder, pray better, recommit to a life of holiness. And sometimes, we come out of the confessional knowing that, in order to try harder, pray better, and recommit to a life of holiness, we need help.
This help may come from secular sources -- therapy, support from family and friends, medication -- or it may very well come directly from the Church, through priests or laymen trained to counsel people for specific problems. In either case, this is what Cdl. Ratzinger was talking about when he said that homosexual people need "witness, counsel and individual care" as well as "the sacrament of Reconciliation [and] prayer." (from "On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.") You see? Even Pope Benedict doesn't say, "Get to confession, the end."
Now, clearly, there are some things that won't help. It doesn't help a homosexual seeking chastity when his Church offers a special rainbow gay pride liturgy. It doesn't help when the liturgical band plays "Same Love" for the recessional hymn. It doesn't help anyone -- gay or straight -- when you can't even find the confessional, much less a priest who is there for more than fifteen minutes a week. It doesn't help anyone to hear, "You don't need to go to confession."
We all do. We all need confession, and without it, we cannot change, we cannot become holy. But sometimes, we also need something else besides confession. Because society has changed so much and so quickly, the temptations a 21st century homosexual person faces are different from what, say, a 3rd century homosexual person faced; and so the Church is in the process of figuring out the right way to help 21st century homosexual people come closer to God, beyond offering them confession. The world has it wrong when it says, "Celebrate who you are! All that matters is consent!" But a Catholic who says, "Just go to confession and shut up about it, you deviant, narcissistic crybaby" is just as wrong.
Again, from Cdl. Ratzinger (emphasis mine):
Christians who are homosexual are called, as all of us are, to a chaste life. As they dedicate their lives to understanding the nature of God’s personal call to them, they will be able to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance more faithfully and receive the Lord’s grace so freely offered there in order to convert their lives more fully to his Way.
God is calling everyone to a life of holiness; and God is calling particular people, individual, to embrace and to learn from the particular crosses they care called to carry. How are they to understand "the nature of God's personal call to them"? That's where the helicopters come in. God has sent these helicopters -- specialized pastoral care, therapy, support groups, and charity and compassion from other Christians -- as a way of rescuing his children.
Heterosexual Catholics, sitting in safety on another rooftop, must resist the urge to shoot those helicopters down.