Homosexuality: A Special Call to the Love of God and Man

Most of us are forced by cultural circumstances to say far more about homosexuality than we would like. Because of the persistent moral challenge presented by gay advocacy, most of what we have to say is negative. This troubles me because it is just another burden for those with homosexual inclinations who are committed to living chastely in accordance with the teachings of Christ and His Church. So I’d like to take time out from the culture wars to look at things from the perspective of these courageous men and women, to whom I believe we owe a significant debt.

Sexuality is an important part of our identity as persons. By this I mean primarily the question of whether we are male or female, which is part of the core definition of who we are. I do not mean that our sexual inclinations are part of our self-definition in the same sense. Inclinations, however deep-seated, do not define us for the simple reason that we can master them. For example, I cannot change the fact that I am male no matter how much self-mastery I attain, but I can control to a considerable extent how my maleness expresses itself and I can even alter over time the degree to which I am subject to the temptations that typically afflict males. Yes, my inclinations are part of me. But they do not define me.

At the same time, sexual inclinations play a huge role in our lives because they are so closely linked to our core identities. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts this nicely in number 2332: “Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and to procreate, and in a more general way the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others.” The Catechism goes on to say that we should “acknowledge and accept” our sexual “identity”— that is, our maleness or femaleness:

Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out. (2333)

Trial and Cross

For the overwhelming majority of men and women, it is one of the more significant moral, spiritual and psychological projects of life to integrate, control and channel a broad set of sexual inclinations which essentially fit this natural model, this model of complementarity and mutual support between men and women. Some may voluntarily deny direct physical expression of this complementarity, adopting virginity for the sake of the Kingdom; others may do so because they do not have the opportunity for marriage and they wish to be chaste. Clearly, both situations can be challenging, and the acceptance of an involuntary single state can be a heavy cross.

But a person with homosexual inclinations faces an even greater challenge. He or she must not merely integrate, control and channel sexual inclinations, but must largely deny them altogether, not only in their physical expression, but also in a far broader range of affectivity which is conditioned even in small ways by sexual interplay: Heightened interest, a sense of romance, a special tenderness. It is true that a celibate priest must be very careful of what we might call sexually-tinged affectivity, on the altogether sound theory that one thing leads to another. But the person with persistent homosexual inclinations must suppress or redirect such inclinations to an even greater extent. This is an enormous challenge.

Now consider such a person in a culture which is pressing full tilt for the embrace, approval and even glorification of this same affectivity which he is called by Christ to suppress or redirect. And finally, consider him (or her) in a subculture of chastity in which he must constantly hear arguments against the positions of gays (i.e., those who advocate a specifically homosexual lifestyle), arguments which are sometimes clumsily expressed in ways which denigrate “homosexuals” generally and which, even if they are not clumsy, keep his conflicted sexual inclinations ever before his mind. In this subculture of chastity—hopefully a Christian subculture—others may find relief from their long, wearying preoccupation with their sexual defenses, but not he.

Which of us, in our wildest flights of sacrificial piety, would beg God for this particular cross?

Perception and Disorder

In a cultural vacuum, it ought to be relatively easy to understand intellectually that homosexual inclinations are disordered. It ought to be fairly clear that the sexual faculties are both naturally ordered to the propagation and preservation of the species and supernaturally ordered toward a kind of union among man, woman and child which mirrors the essential fecundity of Divine love. When one notices that one’s own sexual inclinations do not tend toward this sort of union and fecundity—or even this ability to reproduce—then one can perceive a very definite disorder in those inclinations. There may be something one can do to alter them; they may be a very confused set of inclinations which are bound up with past experiences or habits, and so amenable to change as one comes to terms with these experiences or habits. Or there may be no way to eliminate the inclinations at all. Nonetheless, that they are disordered can be intellectually grasped.

But we are fallen, and our intellects are dark, and the predominant ideas of our surrounding culture often darken them even more. It can be very difficult to see what ought to be obvious. In our own culture, sexuality is commonly viewed from the point of view of the immediate pleasure it can provide; its deeper meanings and longer-term consequences are typically ignored. Most people slip into a lifestyle based on this relatively superficial understanding of sexuality through the practice of contraception, which distorts the nature of sexuality and seems to permit a more casual definition. This is why, in treating the question of contraception within marriage, the Catechism quotes John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (On the Family):

Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality…. The difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle…involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality. (Cat 2370; FC 32))

A culture which is built upon the premise that the meaning of sexuality is exhausted by its ability to be manipulated for immediate pleasure does not lend itself to informed intellectual judgments about what is or is not disordered. The question simply doesn’t arise. Our culture, therefore, is an enormous barrier to the self-understanding of all men and women, and it places particular obstacles in the paths of those who are trying to understand, alter or at least live at peace with their inclinations toward other persons of the same sex.

Affective Reach

Those of us whose human affectivity is not rendered fundamentally problematic by the disorder of homosexual inclinations may find it difficult to perceive just how deeply and in what a far-reaching way our affectivity colors our entire lives and all of our relationships. We all must learn to control our likes and dislikes, our emotional reactions, our tendencies to favor some persons and ignore others, the way we pay compliments, the amount of flirting that is acceptable, and the degree to which we permit attractions that are at least partially sexual to color our behavior. We also learn to shape the expression of our masculinity or femininity in various ways, smoothing rough edges, exercising restraint, suiting ourselves to the situation.

For those with a properly ordered heterosexual affectivity, there is a general subconscious delight in the interplay between male and female, a sense of difference and complementarity and joyful mystery. On those occasions when we act inappropriately, the consequences may be unpleasant, but both our affective range and our mistakes are generally understood. We may have to learn to behave differently—to guide and channel our affectivity more suitably and more productively—but we do not have to suspect, reject or alter its basic orientation. Though our sexuality colors and influences much or most of what we do in subtle ways, there is nothing about it that we must fundamentally call into question or doubt.

This is not the case for those whose affectivity is persistently imbued with homosexual inclinations. The attractions they find natural, mysterious or even exhilarating will be perceived by most people as inexplicable or even repulsive. If one seeks comfort and solace in the company of the small minority who share these attractions, the dangers are obvious. Yet not to do so can force one to question one’s affectivity at nearly every level. Why is so much of what I feel and how I interact with others imbued with a sexual pattern that others cannot understand and are likely to reject violently? Is my entire outlook, my entire attitude toward life and love fundamentally broken? Am I therefore incapable of love? Am I even unworthy of it?

Am I worthless? If our affectivity itself is suspect, how can this question fail to arise? I do not wish to exaggerate the issue. Even though every human difficulty can be assigned to some class, each difficulty remains above all personal. The depth and consistency of our feelings are very personal, and different people will surely experience the problem of homosexual inclinations in different ways, to different degrees, and with greater or lesser impact on larger concerns about their fundamental integrity and worth as human persons. In general, however, it seems fair to say that the question of self-worth must surface whenever the fundamental nature of one’s own affectivity is called into question. Therefore, with this particular cross, the question is very likely to come up.

Affirmation and Mission

Some wonderful supporters of CatholicCulture.org have written to me about this, expressing something of their trials, their struggles, their hope and their faith. This has been inspirational for me, and I am even more convinced from such exchanges that whenever devastating questions arise in the mind and heart of anyone with persistent homosexual inclinations, these questions must be answered decisively—and without a moment’s hesitation—in a way which affirms the person as one who is so beloved by God as to have been entrusted with a special mission.

The Catholic tradition is rich in understanding of victim souls, those who seem to have been put on this earth primarily to suffer physically, perhaps being ill or even paralyzed their whole life long, yet embracing a mission of love for souls, and growing into an intense and fruitful union with God. All of us, of course, are victim souls in smaller ways in that we each have our own crosses, which are so many opportunities for spiritual growth and cooperation with Christ: “In my flesh,” says St. Paul, “I make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His body, the Church” (Col 1:24). So must we all, if we are Christians, and we should rejoice in the opportunity. Nonetheless, it is clear that some souls are singled out for a particularly obvious mission of redemptive suffering.

All of us are afflicted by deficiencies, defects and disorders in our human nature as a result of the Fall, but no deficiency, defect or disorder comes to any one of us by chance. In every case, then, these things are crosses to be embraced for our own good and the good of others. And in some cases, the particular deficiency, defect or disorder provides a signal opportunity. It is an opportunity to bear the cross as a witness to a particular aspect of Christian life which needs strengthening if souls are to grow and prosper in the love of God.

Now again, some persons may find that they can free themselves of homosexual inclinations through a change in lifestyle, through therapy, and through prayer. But it is nonetheless clear that as long as they are afflicted by this disorder, they are called to be chaste. Let us again consider the Catechism:

Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teaches 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. (2359)

But note that something precious follows from this. Homosexual persons, by the very nature of their particular cross, must raise chastity to a special height, dealing not only with physical temptation but with the broad range of their own human affectivity. It follows that those who must suffer this disorder throughout their lives have been chosen by God to give a particular and exalted witness to the virtue of chastity. This is vocation as beautiful as it is arduous, and it is doubtful that its importance to our sex-saturated age can be overestimated.

One must be wary of using single terms to describe anyone, for such terms obscure more than they clarify even as they minimize the rich diversity of the human personality. But I will use the single term here for the first and only time in this essay: The homosexual is called to be a special and extraordinary witness to the triumph of love over feeling. There is in this, I think, an analogue to the dark night of the soul. It is Love Himself who calls the homosexual, perhaps in a special kind of darkness, and it is in Love alone—and not in feeling—that he will bring many souls to heaven in his wake.

Dr. Jeffrey A. Mirus

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Dr. Mirus is the founder of Trinity Communications and a veteran Catholic writer. He was previously a professor and co-founder of Christendom College. His writings can be found at CatholicCulture.org.

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  • http://prairiehawk.me PrairieHawk

    I have never seen before a positive, doctrine-based treatment of persons with homosexual inclinations. Thank you, Dr. Mirus.

  • http://onesimplemama.com Erika Marie

    Dr. Mirus, I have been struggling with how to approach this subject in a loving yet firm manner. I have tended to generalize the homosexual in my discussions and realize, much in part through this article, that doing that is really not a fair or just way to approach the issue or the person who suffers in their homosexuality. I think my anger really stems from an anger at the modern society that is pushing them to deny their cross (instead of embracing it in the way you so elonquently illustrate) and my anger should not be directed so generally to those who ‘practice’ their homosexual lifestyles. As Immaculée Ilibagiza, survivor of the Rwanda genocide said: If forced to choose between being kind and being right, be kind.” Catholics and those who are opposed to same-sex marriage, unions, or any type of gay-right advocacy are right. but we still have to be kind about it.

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  • http://treacherousbrook.blogspot.com/ Denise Smith

    Beautiful! Thank you Dr. Mirus. As I read your article, a dear friend is trying to ‘wade in’ to his local parish. Even though he has basically been in this parish for most of his life, it is frustrating to see him struggle as a chaste, SSA male with his place in the Church, not to mention the culture. We must be mindful to include and embrace the gifts they have to offer. My husband and I find him to be a wonderful sounding board on issues involving grown children and familial relationships in general. There is a certain objectivity that he has on family matters that I never really understood until you brought up the subject of their ‘gift’. Indeed. May God be with His Church in these difficult days.

    As an aside, our culture tends to see honest disagreement as ‘negative’. That is a shame. There was a time in our history, when people could disagree and still respect each other. Not doing so only shuts down debate/dialog. Honest dialog lifts the fog surrounding contentious issues and allows the clear reality of the Gospel to shine.

  • peanutbutter

    Here’s a thought. What distresses me about homosexual unions is I think they make the union of a man and a woman in lawful and sacramental marriage seem as if it should be easier than it really is. I think Dr. Mirus is projecting an ideal situation where the homosexual person is chaste. In same-sex oriented unions we encounter every day in our own familie, one gets the distinct impression that the same sex couple have it a lot easier. Their union is not complimentary but mirroring. What I am saying is that same sex couples mirror each other, and they see things the same way being that they are of the same sex. The danger to civilization, it seems to me, is that same sex unions destroy the respect we should have for people who live as man and wife. The consequences of that are obvious. Men and women living together in the married state need the help of an institution both sacramentally and in the secular legal realm because it is difficult and can be, often, a huge cross as well.

    Same sex unions are a farce and the children that live in those unions are lied to because they are told it doesn’t matter if they have a parent of the opposite sex (of their same sex parents). Whenever you lie to a child like that, because in fact someone of the opposite sex had to contribute the sex cells to produce this child in lesbian unions, or someone had to bear the child in the case of male same sex unions, the child grows up in a lie that I feel does violence to them. That is cruel and not kind, and those children are in danger of becoming violent people in reaction to the lie.

    Kindness is always needed first and foremost, but lies to a child should not be ignored either. I don’t know anyone who treats a homosexual person who is trying to live chastely harsly. If they do,it is a sin and a grave one. But the problem doesn’t lie in chaste behavior. We are far more “advanced,” “evolved,” down the river of no return, than that. Civilization is really at stake here. Being kind to a chaste person of disordered sexual orientation is not the problem. We need to be kind to everyone, no doubt, but it would be nonsense to say that same sex unions are as difficult as marriage of one man and one woman. Dr. Mirus’ position begs to invite just that sort of a position to same sex unions. That is where the problem lies and why people really get annoyed. I do, anyway. I think same sex unions are a piece of cake by comparison and saying otherwise is really a joke. This produces a lot of anger in people who are trying to do the hard work of living with a person of the opposite sex. living the procreative teachings of our Church, and avoiding divorce.

    But children are being born by in vitro, some homosexual want to adopt a child to further make themselves seem “normal.” They want the church to change and adapt to a new culture that sees no distinction between a same sex couple and one that is a lifelong union between one man and one woman. They want to leave that union and divorce just like everyone else when “things don’t work out.” We are just too far gone and kindness is important but so is the fact a same sex union mirrors the narcissistic need between two people of the same sex and begs us to accept this as the norm.

  • lkeebler

    May I share the “One Bread One Body” post for based on today’s Scripture readings: (Would we choose… “If forced to choose between being kind and being right, be kind…” but think about it, God chooses to be Right and in His Righteousness He is also Kind. Although He gives us hard and seemingly “unkind” words in His Scripture, are we then going to follow God and His example of true Kindness or what we want kindness to be?)

    “Do not deceive yourselves: no fornicators, idolaters, or adulterers, no sodomites, thieves, misers, or drunkards, no slanderers or robbers will inherit God’s kingdom.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

    “Make no mistake about this: no fornicator, no unclean or lustful person in effect an idolater has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with worthless arguments. These are sins that bring God’s wrath down on the disobedient; therefore have nothing to do with” these sins (Eph 5:5-6).

    Notice that in both passages above, from 1 Corinthians and Ephesians, the language does not refer to sin but to sinners. These sinners are so entrenched in their chief sin that they can be identified by its name. For instance, an adulterer is someone who is committed to adultery and has not repented of it. The adulterer has lost his identity and is now identified by the name of the sin that he has committed. By contrast, a person so entrenched in Jesus and His lifestyle of obedience and righteousness is identified by the name of the One to Whom he has committed and is called a Christian.

    Many people are fornicators, adulterers, drunkards, slanderers, etc. Because it’s commonplace, we can be deceived into thinking these lifestyles are acceptable. Do not be deceived! (1 Cor 6:9) All arguments to the contrary are worthless (Eph 5:6). Some of us were once entrenched in these sins (1 Cor 6:11), and some still are. So repent immediately! Invite others to do the same. “The person who brings a sinner back from his way will save his soul from death and cancel a multitude of sins” (Jas 5:20).

    Prayer: Father, may I love sinners enough to share hard scriptures with them.
    Promise: “Power went out from Him which cured all.” Lk 6:19
    Praise: Spending much of his adult life enmeshed in alcoholism, Ryan accepted the grace to be totally alcohol-free.

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  • Anon

    Thank you very much for this post. You have no idea what a load I was able to take off of my chest. I was told, when confessing that I should fast for three days because of my homosexuality. I consider myself a good Catholic, praying the rosary frequently and staying in church. Again thank you for understanding the plights we all must go through.

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