Every June in major cities around the world, what is commonly called “pride” week or month takes place. The period focuses on those who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender celebrating their identity and culture.
On the one hand, taking a stand against discrimination is a good thing. There is no excuse for ever taunting, demeaning or insulting someone.
However, every year when I see this festival, the “pride” parade, or the other events, I respectfully disagree with what I think the focus has become. If this were just about respect and non-discrimination, I think that would be a great thing. But, defined at the Twin Cities Pride Festival website as simply a “celebration of the LGBTQ community,” I would contend there is much more to celebrate than part of one’s identity.
I remember in seminary, our rector at the time, Bishop Frederick Campbell, commented one day on “pride” movements, saying that the problem was they focused on only part of one’s identity, not the whole human person. He’s right. The problem is in a society that puts so much emphasis on sexuality, this part a person’s identity can dwarf over the other things that make up a person. A person is one created in the image and likeness of God. A son or daughter. A friend. A family member. A good listener. A hard worker. The point? Many things, not just one, make up our identity.
And others share these views too. Eighteen years ago, a gay pride parade came to Rome. Saint John Paul’s response? He said this was an “offense” to Christian values and an insult that commanded acrimony. His exact words: ”In the name of the Church of Rome I can only express my deep sadness at the affront to the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 and the offense to the Christian values of a city that is so dear to the hearts of Catholics throughout the world.” He went on to say “Homosexual acts are contrary to the natural law…The Church cannot be silent about the truth, because she would fail in her fidelity to God the Creator and would not help to distinguish good from evil.”
More recently, Pope Francis also gave a speech with respect to the importance of heterosexual parents. Talking to about 25,000 followers from the diocese of Rome, the pope said the differences between men and women are fundamental and an “integral part of being human..” He said: “Children mature seeing their father and mother like this; their identity matures being confronted with the love their father and mother have, confronted with this difference.”
Now does this mean that the Church somehow “hates gays” as some in the media would say or is “homophobic”? Far from it. For Pope Francis also affirmed to a gay man that God loved him, and when asked about saying “who am I to judge?” in reference to gays, he stated: “On that occasion I said this: If a person is gay and seeks out the Lord and is willing, who am I to judge that person? I was paraphrasing by heart the Catechism of the Catholic Church where it says that these people should be treated with delicacy and not be marginalized…because before all else comes the individual person, in his wholeness and dignity,..And people should not be defined only by their sexual tendencies: let us not forget that God loves all his creatures and we are destined to receive his infinite love…I prefer that homosexuals come to confession, that they stay close to the Lord, and that we pray all together…You can advise them to pray, show goodwill, show them the way, and accompany them along it.”
What I love with the comments of both Pope Francis and Pope John Paul II is they get to the Catholic response to a culture that has done what Adam and Eve did in taking from the fruit of the tree of which they were forbidden to eat: taking what belongs to God and applying it to man, namely defining morality. God has ordered natural law; it is not up to us to re-define it, as we have done with marriage. This is why on the one hand it is so important to respect the dignity of the human person, but also on the other to not be afraid to speak up for what we believe, even when doing so could cause one to be called names, labeled or ostracized. We as Catholics cannot shy away from the truth.
So what then is our response to those who want to re-define marriage? How do we walk the line between tolerance and respecting one’s choices, but at the same time speak out on the truth that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that marriage is the proper place for physical relations between people?
First, we start with love and charity. I realize this is a difficult issue for people; many of us have family members or friends who have same sex attractions or may be in a same-sex relationship. If I had a sibling or close friend who asked me to be at a “gay wedding”, while I obviously would not officiate, because I loved that person and cared about our relationship, I would attend. (And indeed I’ve told people who’ve asked me if they could attend that they could). Why? Because perhaps a good starting point is showing someone that you love them and care about them. It could be down the road, because you stood by them and they remembered this, that this is the impetus for further conversation.
Second, that loves means we must never discriminate or show hate. I think perhaps the original intent of pride festivals was a good one – people saying we as a group have been harassed and ridiculed and lived in the shadows and this is wrong. There is never an excuse for cruelty. Jesus would not use hurtful language, and neither should we.
Third, we can’t though be afraid to remember that as Catholics we have to live out the spiritual works of mercy. These include instructing the ignorant and admonishing the sinner. These are very counter-cultural in an age of relativism. But as I’ve said before, is our goal to make others “feel good” or avoid conflict, or do we truly want to help others? This does not mean we go looking for a fight, but engage in a true argument (not a shouting match or online war of words). There is a reason “God created them male and female.” There are reasons why it is beneficial to have two parents of the opposite sex. There are goods that come from marriage as being defined in it’s definition from God as between a man and a woman. We should not shy away from these. And of course, as we do so, we have to expect people may not like what we have to say. But we might start to get people to think and get past emotion on these issues, which may eventually lead to them seeing the truth as God defines it, rather than how culture defines it.
Fourth, we have to be patient. As I said, it’s a lot easier to shout or be a keyboard warrior on social media than someone who actually argues and has a discussion. Odds are a person isn’t going to change and at the start may just be angry and hostile. But don’t give up on talking about the truth.
Finally, through it all we of course pray. We pray for strength. We pray for people who disagree with us; who hate us. We pray for all of God’s people.
Indeed, we are called to love one another. But love isn’t just a warm-fuzzie feeling, or saying to someone all is well when it’s not. When we love one another, we truly want them to become a saint and to grow in holiness and virtue. Talking about how to do that isn’t intolerance. It’s OK to make someone feel uncomfortable. It’s OK to stand up for what is true. Doing so might get us all kinds of labels in our modern society, but it also just might help people to think more deeply about what it means to respond to the love that God has given us.
I’d like to close with a link to a great organization I learned about while helping out one summer at the Archdiocesan Office for Marriage and Family Life: Catholic EnCourage. The website address is: https://couragerc.org/encourage/. As noted on their website: “EnCourage is a ministry within Courage dedicated to the spiritual needs of parents, siblings, children, and other relatives and friends of persons who have same-sex attractions. Standing by the true teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, EnCourage members support one another and their loved ones through discussion, prayer and fellowship.” This is an outstanding organization with local chapters that ensures family, friends and those with same-sex attractions first and foremost know that they are precious to God, and helps them on their journey.
Have a blessed week!