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At a European conference on the emancipation of homosexuals in The Hague, an Amsterdam alderman has called for all religious leaders in the world to take their responsibility regarding the acceptance of homosexuals and transgendered people.
“As long as the Pope and most Muslim leaders do not accept homosexuality as a sexual orientation, millions of people will consider violence against gays, lesbians and transgendered people to be justified,” Andrée van Es (pictured), who holds the diversity and integration portfolio in the Amsterdam city council, said. This sweeping generalisation, putting religious leaders in all their diversity in the same corner, is not only a gross misrepresentation of reality, but also a worrying example of the imposition of one society’s political philosophy on others.
Writing as a Catholic and as a blogger with some knowledge of Catholic teachings on these matters, I will limit myself to the Church and her faith, leaving Muslim thoughts about homosexuality aside.
To begin with the very first words of the statement quoted above, I must explain that the Church does accept homosexuality as a sexual orientation: she accepts that it exists, that people can experience sexual attraction to people of the same gender. However, she does not accept it as a true expression of the ordered nature of man as created by God. That is why she will always be opposed to same-sex marriage, for example, as it is an impossibility. However, that is far from the same thing as advocating violence against homosexuals. The Church always upholds that ancient teaching of hating the sin, loving the sinner. Whatever a person’s sexual orientation, he or she has an innate dignity and should always be treated in accordance with that dignity that all men have been given. The Church will always defend that dignity, which is most visibly in her pro-life attitude, but also in her pastoral relations between individual faithful, laity and clergy alike.
However, and this is an important distinction that is often misunderstood or overlooked, this loving understanding of people’s equality in their human dignity is far from the same as accepting everything a person does (not is or has, but does). Indeed, when we love someone, we are bound to correct that person if he or she makes mistakes, and we should guide and help them in their lives, whatever the difficulties are that they may face over the course of it. Be it illness, poverty, social issues or a disordered sexuality, we must be there to stand with them, help them in their lives, to achieve the fulfillment of life as God has willed it. We are people with a purpose, created for that purpose, and God has given us the possibility to achieve that purpose, to live in unity with Him for all eternity, despite the obstacles and barriers that we find on our path. He has given us the means to overcome them, and we often find those means through the help of others.
That reality governs the actions of the Church. God has willed to reach out to us through her, that she may be there to lead us to Him. As members of His Church, we are called to make that possible. We do so through the love that Christ has showed us, and that is not a sappy kind of love which sees everything through rose-tinted glasses and accepts everything. No, that love wants the best for its object: us. And therefore it guides, corrects, teaches.
The Church accepts reality, but does not accept that that is all there is. We can and must always strive for something better, for the very best. God is that very best, and He is what we strive for.
All of the above commits us to something which is not easy, certainly not in our modern society. It can come across as discriminatory, hateful even. But just like a parent correcting a child, there can be no hate between God and man. The Church does not hate homosexuals. She loves them like she loves all men, and she teaches them through the faculties given to her by the Lord, in love, like a parent teaches, guides and sometimes has to correct a child.
When suggesting someone to do something, the first step to is to make sure you know what you are talking about. Ms. van Es has clearly failed to do this, as she so clearly links the Pope, and thus the Catholic Church, to violence. A cursory search soon comes up with Paragraph 2358 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”
In 2008, while offering some criticism, the Holy See welcomed
“the attempts made in the statement on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity – presented at the UN General Assembly on 18 December 2008 – to condemn all forms of violence against homosexual persons as well as urge States to take necessary measures to put an end to all criminal penalties against them” [source].
In 2009, the Permanent Mission to the UN reiterated much the same sentiments:
“The Holy See also opposes all forms of violence and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons, including discriminatory penal legislation which undermines the inherent dignity of the human person. The murder and abuse of homosexual persons are to be confronted on all levels, especially when such violence is perpetrated by the State” [source].
Three quotes found through a short search via Google and Wikipedia. Ms. van Es could and should have known much better.
Photo credit: Gemeente Amsterdam
Yesterday I watched a movie befitting the national day of remembrance we mark every May the 4th in the Netherlands. Sarah’s Key deals with a journalist investigation into the fate of a French Jewish girl whose family used to live in the house she and her husband have just bought. The girl’s entire family was deported to and killed in the Polish death camps, but of the girl and her brother there is no trace in the records. A story, therefore, about a girl who was deemed unwanted, but fought and managed to survive her would-be captors and murderers’ efforts to see her dead.
One storyline deals with the lead character’s unexpected pregnancy. As she and her husband have tried for years to conceive and are now somewhat older than the average first-time parents, there is some conflict about what to do. She wants to keep the child, he pushes for abortion.
In a movie about the Holocaust this is an extremely poignant topic. The one lies in the past, the other is very current, but both are centered around death. Public opinion about the Holocaust is, rightly, one of horror and unanimous rejection, but abortion is extremely well-accepted in modern society: it is a medical procedure and an expression about a person’s control over and right to her own body. Or so many genuinely believe.
But put both side by side and compare them: the Holocaust was the conscious and wilful murder of persons that some decided were unwanted, not worthy of life and without a place in their world order. Abortion is the wilful killing of an unborn person that one or more people have decided is not wanted, should not be allowed to burden other’s lives and has no place in their world.
There may be seemingly mitigating circumstances in many cases of abortion, but those guilty of the Holocaust would have said the very same thing. “We had no choice, we were under orders, what could I do?” Today we hear, “I can’t take care of a child, there is no place for a child in my life at this moment, I have no choice.” And so human lives are daily sacrificed to other people’s rights, choices and (perceived) limitations.
When talking about the Holocaust we do not accept this: the murder of countless people is not suddenly alright because others wanted to exercise their rights or choices, and not even because they were forced to. The murders are not suddenly okay.
The same should be true when we talk about abortion (and, for that matter, euthanasia). Murder is never alright. Mitigating circumstances don’t make it so. It is certainly never a clinical procedure, an industry as the Holocaust was in the past, and abortion is today.
Remembering the dead, as we did yesterday in this country, must never be a safe ritual which only refers to the past. There are organisations which rightly emphasise that many of the atrocities we remember still happen today in other parts of the world. But we are not exempt from that realisation. In our society there is also still a Holocaust taking place every day: a Holocaust against the unborn.
And those unborn are persons, just like the Jews and other unwanted persons during the Holocaust never stopped being persons. Many would wish it so, but there is no magical transition during birth which make a fetus a person. A person is a person is a person from the get go. Killing a person is never alright, never a medical procedure, never an industry.
Time to stop the Holocaust.
Two days ago, Pope Francis spoke about the often-heard comment of people who are generally spiritual, even generally believe in God, but won’t go so far as to say anything concrete about what they believe in. The Holy Father asked, “But who is this God you believe in? An ‘all over the place’ god, a ‘god-spray’ so to speak, who is a little bit everywhere but who no-one really knows anything about? We believe in God who is Father, who is Son, who is Holy Spirit. We believe in Persons, and when we talk to God we talk to Persons: or I speak with the Father, or I speak with the Son, or I speak with the Holy Spirit. And this is the faith. “
God-spray… there’s an image. Father Tim Finigan got creative and advertised the imaginary product thusly:
All joking aside, the image and wording is thought-provoking and indicates what our faith is: not just some vague background noise to make us occasionally feel good, but a true relationship with a God who allows Himself to be known. We can know God, and we can let Him direct our lives. There are consequences to faith. If there weren’t, it wouldn’t really be faith.
Back in 2007, tonight was the eve of Easter, and in the evening I received no less than three sacraments. Six years of being a part of Christ’s mystical body, and still not a regret in sight.
One of the dangers of having a new Pope is that we see everything he says and does as a break from the actions and words of his predecessor. This is especially true if the charisma of the new Pope is so different than that of his predecessor.
In the short weeks since his election, Pope Francis has captured the imagination and enthusiasm of lots of people, through his easygoing nature as a people’s person, at comfortable with social interaction and obviously valuing the contacts with his coworkers, not just in the Curia, but also the people working the kitchens, offices and streets of the Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI is clearly a more private man, appreciating the quiet of his study and his books, of contemplation and the written word. That is not to say that he avoided people, or that Pope Francis is a stranger to solitude and careful thoughts, but for the sake of this blog post, the difference is certainly noticeable.
Does this make the one Pope better than the other? Obviously not. But there is risk that we start thinking of the one we most easily identify with as the origin of many seemingly new thoughts and actions.
Today, Pope Francis told Archbishop Gerhard Müller, the Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, to continue “along the lines set by Benedict XVI, act decisively with regard to cases of sexual abuse”. Many media, both secular and Catholic, reported this today as a new position taken by the Holy Father, as a tougher stance on sexual abuse. This is, as the official blurb says, quite untrue. Pope Francis wants to continue what Pope Benedict started.
Of course, Pope Francis’ recommendation is praiseworthy, but it must not be understood as a divergence from the path taken by Pope Benedict XVI. It is a continuation. By presenting it otherwise, we unfairly pit the one Pope against the other, and depict Pope Benedict as somehow not as good as Pope Francis. And why? Only because Benedict is less of a people’s person, more retiring and at ease with decorum and ritual than Pope Francis is.
It is true, both Popes are different, but neither exists in isolation. Father Z is right when he says that we should “read Francis through Benedict“. If we don’t, we not only run the risk of misunderstanding either man, but also of being guilty of deception and, in fact, superficiality.
“One thing above all appears different, seen with the eyes of faith: death! Christ entered death as we enter a dark prison; but he came out of it from the opposite wall. He did not return from whence he came, as Lazarus did who returned to life to die again. He has opened a breach towards life that no one can ever close, and through which everyone can follow him. Death is no longer a wall against which every human hope is shattered; it has become a bridge to eternity. A “bridge of sighs”, perhaps because no one likes to die, but a bridge, no longer a bottomless pit that swallows everything. “Love is strong as death”, says the song of songs (Sgs 8:6). In Christ it was stronger than death!”
It was the Day of Preparation, about the sixth hour. ‘Here is your king,’ said Pilate to the Jews. But they shouted, ‘Away with him, away with him, crucify him.’ Pilate said, ‘Shall I crucify your king?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king except Caesar.’
So at that Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. They then took charge of Jesus, and carrying his own cross he went out to the Place of the Skull or, as it is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified him with two others, one on either side, Jesus being in the middle.
Pilate wrote out a notice and had it fixed to the cross; it ran: ‘Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews’. This notice was read by many of the Jews, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the writing was in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. So the Jewish chief priests said to Pilate, ‘You should not write “King of the Jews”, but that the man said, “I am King of the Jews”. ‘
Pilate answered, ‘What I have written, I have written.’
When the soldiers had finished crucifying Jesus they took his clothing and divided it into four shares, one for each soldier. His undergarment was seamless, woven in one piece from neck to hem; so they said to one another, ‘Instead of tearing it, let’s throw dice to decide who is to have it.’ In this way the words of scripture were fulfilled: They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothes. That is what the soldiers did.
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. Seeing his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing near her, Jesus said to his mother, ‘Woman, this is your son.’ Then to the disciple he said, ‘This is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.
After this, Jesus knew that everything had now been completed and, so that the scripture should be completely fulfilled, he said: I am thirsty. A jar full of sour wine stood there; so, putting a sponge soaked in the wine on a hyssop stick, they held it up to his mouth. After Jesus had taken the wine he said, ‘It is fulfilled’; and bowing his head he gave up his spirit.
Today all the affairs of our daily life, important or trivial, come to a stop. It is Good Friday, the day on which we return to the very heart of everything, our entire life and all the things that concern us.
We’ve all heard it before, the story of the agony in the garden, the arrest, the innocence and the death closing off this day. But it never gets old, and we must not pretend it does, even when it is sometimes hard.
In our lives there are good times and bad times. For all those experiencing difficulties of some sort, know that Christ is there with us, especially today. His agony, his pain is elevated by His intention to do what is right for us. Not for Him, but for us. Part of his pain and suffering are the problems we experience, whether they exist because of our own mistakes or because we are innocent victims of circumstance. The Lord is concerned with our plight, not with questions of guilt. Taking our pain on His shoulders, He merely looks us in the eye and tells us to sin no more (cf. John 8:11).
Today, in the Stations of the Cross and in the Service of the Passion of the Lord, our suffering becomes joy, even as we contemplate the death of Our Lord and Saviour. “Go, and sin no more” becomes a commandment that elevates His shameful death from pointless cruelty to saving grace. With Jesus, our old self dies, the self who suffered, who made mistakes, who caused others grief or who simply could not take things anymore. The Cross becomes the sign of this fundamental change: “Behold the wood of the cross on which hung the salvation of the world”, we hear the priest chant today.
Our faith is not a depressing faith, or one which reminds us of all the things we do wrong, or how unworthy of everything we are. As Pope Francis reminded us recently, ours is a joyful faith. And even the events we remember and experience anew today move us further along the road to joy.
“Go and sin no more”.
Christ took the first steps. Let us follow.
Today is the feast day of Saint Joseph, which is by “a significant coincidence” also the day on which Pope Francis is inaugurated as Bishop of Rome and Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church. St. Joseph is patron of the universal Church and, on a far smaller scale, also my own patron. So he can’t go unmentioned on the blog today.
“In the Gospels, Saint Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love. We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!”
Art credit: Saint Joseph with the Infant Jesus, by Guido Reni, ca. 1635
Saint Joseph, you are the faithful protector and intercessor of all who love and venerate you. I have special confidence in you. You are powerful with God and will never abandon your faithful servants. I humbly invoke you and commend myself, with all who are dear to me, to your intercession. By the love you have for Jesus and Mary, do not abandon me during life, and assist me at the hour of my death.
Glorious Saint Joseph, spouse of the immaculate Virgin, Foster-father of Jesus Christ, obtain for me a pure, humble, and charitable mind, and perfect resignation to the Divine Will. Be my guide, my father, and my model through life that I may merit to die as you did in the arms of Jesus and Mary.
Loving Saint Joseph, faithful follower of Jesus Christ, I raise my heart to you to implore your powerful intercession in obtaining from the Heart of Jesus all the graces necessary for my spiritual and temporal welfare, particularly the grace of a happy death, and the special grace I now implore: In gratitude for the election of Pope Francis, that he may receive love and charity from both above and below.
Guardian of the Word Incarnate, I am confident that your prayers on my behalf will be graciously heard before the throne of God.