The second column in this series explored the reason complementarity is an essential component of the way our sexuality is meant to image the love of God. One implication of this understanding is that homosexual acts prevent us from living in this image because they are by their very nature closed to possibility of creating new life. So where does that leave those of us who experience same-sex attraction and yet feel the desire to love and be loved? It may seem by its teaching on homosexuality that the Church is somehow telling some of us that we don't have a calling to love, but that's not the case. The Church's teaching about the love that all people are called to live can help us understand the different ways we can realize that love with our sexuality.
The Call to Love
In the encyclical called “Familiaris Consortio,” Pope John Paul II writes, “Love is ... the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.” (CCC 2392.) This profound statement is very important for those of us who might be tempted to think the Church is somehow denying our desire and capacity to love by its teaching that precludes homosexual behavior. On the contrary, it is plain that the Church recognizes that love is intrinsic to our very existence as human beings. Our creation in the image of the loving God guarantees this reality. “Creating the human race in His own image and continually keeping it in being, God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion.” (CCC 2331.)
And of particular relevance, the Church acknowledges that this love must involve the whole person and recognizes the spiritual dignity of the body and sexuality. “As an incarnate spirit, that is a soul which expresses itself in a body and a body informed by an immortal spirit, man is called to love in his unified totality. Love includes the human body, and the body is made a sharer in spiritual love.” (FC 11.)
Considering the teaching of the Church that homosexual acts are contrary to God's plan, we have to ask how this inclusion of the body in the totality of love applies in a practical way to those of us with same-sex attraction.
The Two Vocations
As mentioned in the first column, our love is meant to image the love of God which is the total gift of His very self to us, given in absolute freedom, in uncompromising fidelity, and in a life-giving way that bears fruit. That sounds like marriage.
But as “Familiaris Consortio” also tells us, “Christian revelation recognizes two specific ways of realizing the vocation of the human person in its entirety, to love: marriage and virginity or celibacy. Either one is, in its own proper form, an actuation of the most profound truth of man, of his being 'created in the image of God.'” (FC 11.) Some people are called to marriage. But others “profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner.” (CCC 2349.)
Celibacy, a committed renunciation of sexual activity, is an even better way of giving witness with our sexuality to the divine love in which we are all called to partake fully in the next world. In fact, “the Church, throughout her history, has always defended the superiority of this charism to that of marriage, by reason of the wholly singular link which it has with the Kingdom of God.” (FC 16.) When questioned about the particulars of marriage in Heaven, Jesus replied that “when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” (Mark 12:25)
“In virginity or celibacy, the human being is awaiting, also in a bodily way, the eschatological marriage of Christ with the Church, giving himself or herself completely to the Church in the hope that Christ may give Himself to the Church in the full truth of eternal life. The celibate person thus anticipates in his or her flesh the new world of the future resurrection.” (FC 16.) Such celibacy as a sign of this reality is exemplified in the lives of Jesus and Mary and is an important component of priesthood and the religious life.
The Frustrated Vocation
As good as it is to recognize the vocation of celibacy as a possibility, some people with same-sex attraction are fairly certain they're not called to celibacy. What does that mean for us?
It's important to note that the Church teaches that people who experience same-sex attraction are called to chastity – the right use of sexuality – just as all Christians are, whether married or single. However, this does not necessarily imply a call to celibacy (to the exclusion of heterosexual marriage), even though it does require avoiding homosexual acts. So are those with same-sex attraction to just remain single and celibate by default?
Sometimes people conceive of a third vocation which would apply to a person who just happens to find themselves living in a single, chaste lifestyle, as many individuals do today. But because our call is to love in a total and committed way and the totality of that love includes our body and sexuality, an uncommitted single state cannot be considered to fulfill our vocation to love and should be viewed as a merely transitional stage on the way to commitment.
This can be a very difficult realization for individuals who haven't yet recognized a clear vocation to marriage or celibacy or haven't had an opportunity or ability to act on their discerned vocation for various reasons. But the reality is that sin and brokenness – in the world, in other people, and in ourselves – really can frustrate or delay our progress toward one of the two vocations.
Same-sex attraction is one of the things that can present such a challenge, especially if we feel that desire to give ourselves to another person in a committed sexual relationship. It indeed may be that some of us with same-sex attraction are actually called to marriage with a person of the opposite sex and are experiencing attraction to the same sex as a great difficulty that can temporarily or indefinitely frustrate this vocation in this world.
The Fruitfulness of Celibacy
Whether we're actually called to celibacy or we're called to marriage and find ourselves living a celibate life because of difficulty or circumstance, we can look at the charism of celibacy for ways to bear the fruit of love.
“Familiaris Consortio” reminds us that celibacy “does not contradict the dignity of marriage but presupposes it and confirms it...When marriage is not esteemed, neither can consecrated virginity or celibacy exist; when human sexuality is not regarded as a great value given by the Creator, the renunciation of it for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven loses its meaning.” (FC 16.) Even if we live a celibate life simply out of respect for Church teaching, we point to the dignity of marriage and the ultimate reality of love in Heaven.
And celibacy makes us available to do God's work in a particular way we might not otherwise experience. St. Paul writes, “The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.” (1 Cor 7:32ff)
Finally, celibacy allows us to love God and others in such a way that we can become spiritual fathers and mothers specifically by this use of our sexuality. “Virginity or celibacy, by liberating the human heart in a unique way, 'so as to make it burn with greater love for God and all humanity,' bears witness that the Kingdom of God and His justice is that pearl of great price which is preferred to every other value no matter how great, and hence must be sought as the only definitive value...In spite of having renounced physical fecundity, the celibate person becomes spiritually fruitful, the father and mother of many, cooperating in the realization of the [human] family according to God's plan.” (FC 16.)
Wherever we find ourselves on the road to our vocation, we can have hope in God's plan for our sexuality and relationship with Him, trust in His love for us, and faith that our vocation to love will ultimately be realized.
Copyright 2012 Patrick Einheber -- [email protected] -- BeforeIFormedYou.com
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.