A compassionate and honest explanation of Church teaching on same-sex attraction

Having referred to the “hard sayings” of the Catholic faith in my last blog about the Word on Fire broadcasting apostolate of Bishop Robert Barron, I was struck by the words of Cardinal Sarah in his foreword to Daniel C Mattson’s book, Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay (Ignatius Press 2017). Sarah writes of meeting people with same-sex attraction and reflects that “They still encounter the Cross. Their lives are not easy or without sadness”. In the characteristic way of a man whose writings on faith reveal his own profound understanding of it, he adds “To omit the “hard sayings” of Christ and his Church is not charity…We cannot be more compassionate or merciful than Jesus.”

Sarah also stresses a truth not heard among those voices in the Church who have somehow managed to make the words “mercy” and “compassion” mean the opposite of Christian love: “Jesus does not ask anything from us that is impossible or for which he does not supply the grace”, reminding readers that “the wisdom of the Church in this difficult and sensitive area expresses genuine love and compassion.”

I quote the words of Cardinal Sarah here, simply to place them in the context of another recent publication from Ignatius Press on this same topic: Made for Love; Same-Sex Attractions and the Catholic Church, by Fr Michael Schmitz. Schmitz explains why the Church’s teachings on same-sex relationships are both loving and compassionate, even though the world might not think so.

Beginning with Jesus’ words in the Gospel to the woman taken in adultery – “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more” – he says they are the “underlying thread” of his book. He analyses what it means for men and women to be “made in the image and likeness of God”; why sexual relations are designed within marriage to be both unitive and procreative; and the consequences of that radical rupture between God and mankind at the beginning of creation which we call the Fall.

He exposes as a lie the belief that “God made me this way” when we experience “an attraction to sin” and constantly emphasises that “God’s plan for your life is freedom, His plan for your life is redemption, His plan for your life is love.” He is also clear, contrary what society tells us all the time, that we are not defined by our sexual orientation but by our relationship to our Creator, in which our destiny is “life eternal with God.”

Schmitz reminds readers that Christian love is transformative: “We are called to be…saints.” And, as all the saints throughout history have come to understand, this love means to “become a disciple, to take up one’s Cross and follow [Christ]”.

Quoting the German theologian Romano Guardini, Schmitz makes it clear that before becoming a disciple of Christ, we have to learn to accept ourselves. In Learning the Virtues that Lead You to God, Guardini put it thus: “I have a certain character and no other…certain strong and weak points, definite possibilities and limitations. All this I should accept and build upon as the fundamental basis of my life.”

Fr Schmitz has written a thoughtful, sympathetic and well-reasoned book. I recommend it.