Fr. Paul Check Interview

Father Check, the fearless and well-loved leader of the Courage Apostolate was recently interviewed in the Catholic World Report.  It’s a great read.  Father Check hits the nail on the head regarding our sexual identity:

“We only want to give same-sex attraction its proper label. Not too much, but clearly not too little.”

The most important question ever asked in human history was asked by Our Lord when he said to the apostles, “Who do you say that I am?” It is the question of identity, because it is from an understanding of identity that we then know how to live in a way consistent with that identity. I won’t say that it is always easy, because we have concupiscence, but in order for us to understand the proper way of asking, we first have to clearly answer the question of being.

With regard to the human person, the question of “Who am I?” is best answered with the understanding that we are children of God redeemed by the blood of Christ and called to be his disciples, and we are invited to grow in this life of grace and glory in the life to come. There is the foundation of the most important or essential part of our identity.

Now there are other things that make up our identity as well. Our human family, and where we are from geographically. These things are also important but not as important as the fundamental question of our identity, our being children of God.

We are created as sexual beings and this story is told to us in the book of Genesis, which is not a science book, of course, and does not tell us in precise terms how man came to be but rather precisely who we are and who we are intended to be and to whom we are to look for an understanding of our identity. In that Genesis story it is made plain that God in his wisdom divided the human race in such a way that human nature is expressed in the masculine and the feminine. This is a very rich theological and anthropological question. But for our purposes here, while there is such a thing as human nature, that nature is always expressed very concretely in a person—a person that is either masculine or feminine, so that sexual identity is also something that is integral to who the person is. And in order to know who we are and how that sexual identity is properly expressed we go back to the Genesis story and learn about the union of man and woman, the fruitfulness of God in his plan, and how his gifts of fertility are associated with the sexual faculty and are inherently bound up with sexual intimacy.

With that preamble, the reason that the Church, it seems to me, avoids the labels of “gay,” “homosexual,” and “lesbian” as nouns is because in her maternal wisdom and charity, and in following the story of who man is, she does not want to collapse someone’s identity into only their sexual appetite. That seems unjust and uncharitable. It takes a bit more charity to say that a person has same-sex attraction than to use the labels that are very popular in the culture today.

In saying this, of course, I am not in any way minimizing the strength, the intensity, the duration or the frequency of the feelings of same-sex attraction and how important these feelings are to someone’s self-understanding. We only want to give same-sex attraction its proper label. Not too much, but clearly not too little.

And perhaps most importantly of all he says that “We have to want to live chastely, cheerfully, and joyfully.”  That’s the goal of Courage, in a nutshell:  joyful pilgrims, journeying together with our brothers and sisters at our side.

Christ’s Love As Acceptance?

This is adapted from an email I sent to a fellow who believes, as a lot of people seem to do, that the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality ignores the claim that Christ’s form of love should be defined as “acceptance.”  He also implied that Courage is doing great harm, and that Courage is full of “holier than thou” people.  Finally, the subject of his email said, “What Did Jesus Say About Homosexuality?,” inferring that because Christ never mentioned homosexuality in the Gospel’s record of His words, therefore it must not have been important to Christ.  This is a slightly edited form of my email reply to him:

I’m a member of Courage, and one who has experienced Courage as being one of the most beneficial gifts of God to me, so I’m happy to reply to some of your concerns you raise in your email.  You say that Courage (and presumably the Catholic Church) is causing “so much harm,” something which I couldn’t disagree with more.  Far from believing that Courage does harm, I am one who has been greatly blessed by its ministry.  You say that you hope that some day, Courage will do its “Christian duty” and spread Christ’s acceptance.  I’ll address the notion of acceptance a little later, but I happen to believe that Courage is doing its “Christian duty” by calling me, and my other brothers and sisters in Courage, to a life of chastity, since I’m convinced it leads to the abundant life.  I’ll try to answer a few of your thoughts below:

Have you asked yourself why you see the Courage position as being “holier than thou?”  All of us in Courage came to Courage because we realized that we couldn’t live on our own any longer, and that the way we were living didn’t bring us peace.  None of us were coerced into Courage, and none (that I know of!) joined Courage because we wanted the rest of the world to contemplate how “holy we are.”  That’s a strange assertion, since for most of us, the reason we came to Courage is because we became pretty clear of our need for God.  We sensed innately that we weren’t living holy lives.  I tend to think that people who say we’re “holier than thou” say that for one reason:  We’ve chosen to strive for a life of chastity, and usually the person who calls us “holier than thou” hasn’t made the same choice.  We’re not forcing our beliefs and decisions on anyone else, but the existence of people like us who’ve chosen chastity is somehow perceived by those who haven’t made the same choice as a self-righteous “holier than thou” position.   Is everyone who chooses chastity “holier than thou” simply by deciding that’s the best path to peace for them?  I mean, this seems very strange to me.  Why does our choice to follow what the Church says make us “holier than thou?”  We just happen to believe that what the Church teaches us is in our best interests!

In a related way, I sometimes think about how others must view my brother and his wife and their views on contraception.  I don’t view them as “holier than thou” because they don’t believe in contraception, but perhaps some people who choose to use contraception are offended that my brother and his wife don’t–and therefore, perhaps they’ll call them “holier than thou.”  I think the same thing anytime I hear anyone say that about Courage.  I find that it usually means that the person saying it doesn’t like that some people like those of us in Courage have chosen a path different than they did.  Especially when we believe that the choice of chastity leads to a better life than we had before. Those of us in Courage don’t choose Courage because of what other people think of us, and if some people think of us as “holier than thou,” it doesn’t mean that we are.  I think it really reveals more about what’s going on inside the person who’s wielding the term.

Now, about acceptance.  What about Christ’s message of love suggests to you that his love can be distilled to “acceptance?”  I think that’s the most un-Christian definition of love, and has nothing to do with Jesus.  If Christ’s message was merely about “acceptance,” he wouldn’t have been crucified.  One story that comes immediately to mind is the story of the Rich Young Ruler.  Christ told him what he had to do to achieve eternal life, and when the Rich Young Ruler heard that he had to sell all of his possessions and give them to the poor, he went away sad.  Christ wasn’t merely content to “accept” him as he was–he wanted him to be transformed by the encounter.  I used to be a non-denominational Baptisty sort of Protestant, and on more than one occasion during an altar call the choir would sing, “Just As I Am.”  But Christ isn’t content with “just as I am.”  He invites us “just as we are,” but Christ loves us too much to let us leave him “just as we came.”  He accepted the woman caught in adultery, and forgave her sins, but then said, “now go and sin no more.”  “Sinning no more” is the way we would live our lives if we truly knew who we were, and realized fully who made us, for what we were made, and where our true home is.  The words “go and sin no more” are more aptly phrased, “now go and live life to the fullest!”  Encounters with Christ lead to what St. Paul says is the transforming and renewing of our minds.  A love that accepts whatever is in anyone’s life, as if that’s the pinnacle of love, isn’t loving at all.  Christ’s love demands a response from us all, since He has never merely “accepted” us.  That’s like a father who’s content that his son or daughter never learns how to walk.  Christ is always pushing us beyond where we are because he wants much more for us than what we would choose on our own.  I have no use for Christ if his love is mere acceptance of me.

Now, as to the subject line of your email.  “What did Jesus say about homosexuality?”  Well, we could ask that about a lot of things.  Christ didn’t talk about abortion, and yet we have a moral view on abortion.  God didn’t talk about incest, and yet no one seems to question the wrongness of incest.  We can’t derive moral claims solely on “what Christ talked about,” since Christ didn’t talk about all kinds of things.  If we based all that is wrong for man based on what Christ talked about, there’s a lot that would fall through the cracks.

Christ did speak about sexual morality, however, and in Mark 6:6-8 he tells us what God ordained in the beginning:  “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh.”  Within this teaching, Christ tells us what God ordained–from the beginning!–for our sexuality.  It is not a gift to be used willy-nilly as we see fit (though most of us in Courage have misused the gift, just like most everyone else on the planet at one time or another!).  God created sexuality for men and women to be used solely within the confines of a marriage between one man and one woman.*  It is for this reason that all else falls short–from sex outside of marriage, to sex between members of the same sex.  We can extrapolate meaning about morality from what Christ did talk about–not all that is prohibited must have been talked about at one point by Christ.  An examination of the creative forms of evil that men think of to inflict on other men reveals that we make moral judgments on all sorts of things that Christ didn’t talk about.

But most of all, we in Courage actually believe that the Church’s teaching is good news!  To be shouted from the mountain top!  And we’ve used our rational minds to reach this point.  We’re not robots, and we’re not merely “yes-men and women”  to what the Church’s teaching is.  We really, really believe that chastity is the path to peace.  Perhaps some will call us holier than thou, but as for me, I just shrug that off as silly, since any amount of hanging around with us would reveal that we’re keenly aware of how unholy we are.

Anyway, God bless, and thanks for the email.

*In anticipation of the inevitable question about the Patriarchs of the faith who had more than one wife, here is St. Thomas Aquinas’s answer to this.