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How do we combine love and truth in the same-sex marriage debate?

A new booklet written by a recently deceased priest shows us how

By on Monday, 3 June 2013

The Lords will decide the same-sex marriage Bill's fate tomorrow (PA)

The Lords will decide the same-sex marriage Bill's fate tomorrow (PA)

My colleague Stuart Reid has written a thought-provoking Notebook column in the Herald for May 31, discussing the likely social consequences of the subject to be debated and voted on in the House of Lords today and tomorrow: the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.

I cannot improve on Stuart’s conclusion so will quote it here: “A homosexual who wishes to be a faithful Catholic must resist his deepest longings. Very few of us could cope with such a burden. That’s why homosexuals deserve unconditional love, and the best way we can provide that is by believing, acting and speaking as orthodox Catholics.”

I suppose one could quote St Augustine here, from the first page of his Confessions, that “Our hearts are made for Thee, O Lord, and they shall have no rest until they rest in Thee” – which implies that our deepest longings must be for Christ, even if we don’t know it. But I know what Stuart means in the context in which he writes, which is: how does a person cope with enforced celibacy – celibacy which is not of his/her choosing?

In answer to this, I have just come across a terrific little booklet from the same CTS bundle that William Oddie writes about so eloquently in his own blog. I had intended to write a blog praising the Catholic Truth Society but William has beaten me to it; so I will confine myself to mentioning this booklet – Christian Love by John Edwards SJ – which he did not mention in his blog list of recent CTS publications.

Fr Edwards, who died last year, was a priest beloved of many people. I feel a stab of envy of those who were his friends and wish I had been among their number. But I can at least help to keep his memory alive by mentioning this booklet, first published in 1989 but still entirely relevant to our days. Indeed, how could the subject of Christian Love ever become outdated or irrelevant?

Subtitled, “Sexuality, Marriage and the Single Life”, Fr Edwards’s booklet raises the question, inter alia, of homosexuality, in implicit answer to the point made by Stuart Reid. After explaining why the Church has always taught that sexual expression must be confined to marriage, and that celibacy is thus required of all unmarried people, he acknowledges that this is “hard for homosexuals to hear”. Then he adds: “But if they can accept God’s teaching, as the Church insists it is, a wonder opens up. They are obviously being asked by God, chosen indeed by God, to follow what the person with the vow of chastity has been invited to: lifelong, complete chastity… Now that is hard (ask any Religious); but let no-one says it is not “promotion” in God’s Kingdom. But surely the Religious chose it, the homosexual had it imposed? I wonder… was not the chaste Religious chosen by God to it? … If God asks a particular fulfilment of his will he must will to give the grace – that is, he must at least will the subject to pray (to live therefore) in a way that will inevitably open him or her to the necessary grace.”

Fr Edwards concludes by saying that “the homosexual then must consider himself chosen by God to the austere, lovely, sacrificial, endlessly fulfilling and apostolic love of perfect chastity. What a tragedy if he or she were talked out of accepting that privilege!”

If we want to believe, act and speak as orthodox Catholics on this subject, as Stuart writes above, I suggest that Fr Edwards’s CTS booklet is the best place to start. It won’t get an airing in the House of Lords among the laity or the Anglican bishops today, but for us Catholics it is the sure way to combine love with truth.

  • NatOns

    “In other words I understand your premise and yes I reject it. But that does not make me wrong per se. Just different.”

    Almost, but not quite. A specific belief in God is not the foundation of the Catholic understanding of moral reason – it accepts that non-Catholics, non-Christians, and non-believers .. even poets, for heaven’s sake .. can grasp the general tenets of moral reasoning. So that your particular conclusions – based, if they are, on moral reason – might lead to something ‘just different’ to those of Catholic Truth is not the point, rather it is the universal basis of reason in morality that you seek to deny and which the Church must defend (for all our common good) .. not least in judging this or that particular instance of what is right (jus/ ‘just’) for this or that man in this or that form of society.

  • Raisinhead

    Well, The Church is defending a different version of a universal moral reason than mine. Why? Because its thinkers view ‘reason’, ‘natural law’ through the prism of religious beief. ergo, not ‘universal’.

    Much effort has been expended on systems of thought and reason down the centuries. I am not denying that such a thing isn’t somehow accessible to our consciousness to arrive at somehow. But no one can say that any particular tenet or belief derives from something universal and timeless, let’s say.

    It is merely your own opinion, or the opinion of Catholic thinkers, that your system of morality has some level of universal application or derivation from universal principles.

  • NatOns

    That is an easy – yet wholly false – assumption to make .. if only as a straw man which might easily be torn down. It is not the Catholic opinion – whatever that might be – that has a universal application even in particular instances .. it is our ability to reason morally (which is a general gift found in specific forms of mortal being, whether understood as from accident, natural volution or what we term: God). That a ‘particular tenet or belief derives from something universal and timeless’ is easily demonstrated in our daily experience, as with mathematics, order, being; for either it is or it is not, either we aim at its purpose or we do not – regardless of religious belief or none; what you seem to argue for is something contradictory or even impossible, i.e. that relativism is absolute = the truth is there are no truths (nonetheless, reason – even used in morality – rebels against such black-is-white because-I say-it-is-so assertion which demands more suspension of disbelief that any other rhetorical oxymora).

  • Raisinhead

    Agreed that being is easily demonstrated, and that for example, Maxwell’s Equations describe the universal nature of electromagnetism, in so far as no observations have been that contradict it.

    So from ‘being’ it is a short step to derive a prohibition against killing another. It is a good.

    Beyond that, well, it’s a bit grey. I don’t think there is a set of goods that all natural law theorists would agree on.

    In other words, the easy goods are easy. More tricky ones result in what we see exactly, a multiplicity of beliefs about what is a good.

    None of what I say can be taken to mean that I argue black-is-white-because-I-say-it-is-so. Everything I am saying is about the imposssility of saying whether something is black or white in a lot of case (though not all).

  • Neil Cameron

    so what if it does?
    it is a debate, discussing that very point. Of course this debate will be filled with apostasy and heresy. duh!

  • Neil Cameron

    When it comes to human relationships, there is no such thing as “purest form”.
    All is impure, there is always room for improvement.
    To claim one type of marriage as pure, is to make a false claim of perfection.
    Get over yourself, and stop with arrogant self elevation.

  • NatOns

    Grey light is light but somehow clouded; we can still generally perceive even in the mist before our eyes that the grey we see exists – even if we disagree on a specific experience of ‘grey’.

    As I say, the further we move from the universal, and the more particular the expression we give, the less easy it is to be clear – let alone agreed – on a topic.

    Hence the universal making black of white or a more particular ‘impossibility of saying whether something is black or white in a lot of cases’.

    The multiplicity of beliefs about a topic does not mean there is no truth to be found in it, rationally, even in morality. Nor is truth then divided against itself, or split as in Solomon’s judgement. Grey is of ‘white’ and ‘black’ mixed, with many variations, even as light – in moral reason.

    Ultimate end and practical application make for just such a black and white commixture.

    Yet determinedly to confuse purpose and use to suit convenience – as if more or less the same thing – is to call black white .. or make grey of it .. and is not rational (or frequently skirts the irrational).

    That marriage has a purpose and that human contracts have different uses cannot reasonably be disputed, although that dispute is the level of debate on ‘re-defining’ purpose of marriage to suit political use; what moral reasoning requires is that we recognise purpose and use are not the same, regardless of personal beliefs, experience or desire (AKA: the position of the Catholic Church regarding moral reasoning) – even if man finds it truly problematic to derive a particular ‘ought’ from the universal ‘is’.

    “The disposition of things as to goodness is the same as their disposition as to being.” Aqunias, ST I-II 18.

    Note well: this truth can help individual men and women make sense of their relationships without the need for making marriage what it is not (in common purpose) .. a political statement, a tool for social re-engineering, or an imperious expression of personal will (even if it is at times used in those ways).

  • Bac

    “How does one convince those that the sexual act is ultimately for natural procreative purposes” – I wonder how many married couples have only had sex when it is open to procreation? Virtually none I suggest. The natural family planning concept is about having sex when you will not become pregnant. How can that differ so greatly from using contraception in other forms? Many couples know that for them to conceive another child is not right for them – many have prayed about it. The sexual act must surely still be a part of their loving committed relationship. It is of God, it is not vulgar and dirty as the church and some people seem to want to suggest, it is of love it is of God. In same sex relationships there is also this physical expression of love, a meaningful part of a committed relationship. I wish the church would interfere as much in the plight of the needy of our world as it does in what goes on in bedrooms.

  • 441019

    All unmarried Catholics who wish to be good Catholics are called to practice celibacy–it is not only homosexuals. I am a divorced, older woman. But I can’t complain about my life–my married relatives and friends have many family responsibilities, while I have a lot of freedom.