“Holiness is nothing other than charity lived to the full.” – Pope Benedict XVI
“The important thing is that each believer discern his or her own path, that they bring out the very best of themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts (cf. 1 Cor 12:7), rather than hopelessly trying to imitate something not meant for them.” -Pope Francis
I had drinks with a friend a couple of years ago, and our conversation turned to the question of Catholicism and homosexuality. He was working on a graduate thesis that explored this question, but he’d come up against the problem of limited magisterial resources.
This was a problem that I once found incredibly frustrating. Why is it that the Church prioritizes explorations of the many facets of the married vocation, handing to couples discerning or living out marriage numerous resources and guidance on very specific questions, while the question of homosexuality and the vocation of the person who experiences “homosexual inclinations” is allotted three brief paragraphs in the Catechism and a couple of dated documents from local bishops’ conferences? And the written explorations of these questions are so broad as to say practically nothing that couldn’t be easily assumed based on an elementary reading of other passages in magisterial texts: no unjust discrimination, no sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman, God loves us all.
Considering the dearth of magisterial resources and what this means for how I should think about my life, I was reminded of a conversation I once had with an old friend. He was dating at the time, and though he and his girlfriend wanted to live their relationship within Catholic teaching, they weren’t entirely sure what that meant physically. He was frustrated, because no one seemed to be able to give him a good answer as to “the line” when it comes to physical intimacy before marriage. The frustration put a lot of pressure on both his sexuality and his faith, and no one seemed able to resolve it for him.
But perhaps that’s how it should be: no one should be able to resolve it for us. I sometimes worry that Catholics try to hide behind doctrine, rather than live out of it. They start to think that being in a relationship is getting as much as you can out of it while staying “in the lines,” rather than loving that person as fully as possible. They don’t understand that not cheating isn’t the same thing as loving.
Perhaps the frustration at not having everything spelled out isn’t so much a frustration that my concerns don’t seem to matter to the Church, as it is a frustration at actually having to figure things out and to take responsibility for my own actions. If I live “by the rules” and things don’t turn out well, then I can just try to blame the rules for the mess I’ve created. But if I’m tasked with living out my vocation through careful discernment and the general principle of loving freely, then when things don’t go well I have to consider what I ought to change about my own approach and take responsibility for my past actions.
The Church doesn’t spell everything out for us. And She shouldn’t. Ultimately, we’re called to live charismatically, and not just to turn back to some training manual for all our decisions.
I’ve come to appreciate the vague treatment of homosexuality given by the Church. It means that when I’m discerning how to live my life, I have to engage Her whole tradition, and I can’t get away with just turning to a narrow analysis of one particular issue. It means I have to create. I have to explore. I have to take risks and put myself out there. It means I am responsible for myself.
Chesterton talks about the Church’s teachings as the fence within which we can play without falling off a nearby cliff. I’m not going to complain that the playground for the question of Catholicism and homosexuality is so large.
More on Catholicism and Church teaching here.
Chris Damian is a writer, speaker, attorney, and business professional living in the Twin Cities. He received his B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and his J.D. and M.A. in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas. He is the author of “I Desired You: Intellectual Journals on Faith and (Homo)sexuality” (volumes I and II). He is also the co-founder of YArespond, a group of Catholic young adults seeking informed and holistic responses to the clergy abuse crisis. In his free time, he enjoys hosting dinner parties and creative writing workshops.