It's important to begin this post by saying I have never had this experience. I know nothing of what it feels like to find myself seriously attracted to someone or something that is condemned by the Church (other than all the time to sin, self love, pride, etc., but that's another post). So, as these unique souls opened up to me I had two options. Only two. I could tell them what I thought, believed, and had heard about their situation from articles, homilies, classes, morality, quotes, psychology, etc. OR I could be quiet and listen. Truly listen. Not the kind where you wince as you see them spiraling into some immoral wasteland you believe they are heading toward, but the kind of listening where you look them in they eye, contemplate their personhood, and treat them as teacher.
This is so scary because we seem to have little confidence in our own faith and think that if we truly listen it will somehow sway us or pollute our minds. We think that listening is supporting something we don't believe, rather than what it truly is which is listening to someone we love.
If we are honest with ourselves we are not very good at listening and learning anymore, especially as Catholics. We know what we believe gosh darn it, and if you have a challenging belief, not pure and scrupulously correct, then you are a challenge, rather a threat, to my faith, my children, and my society.
I get that we have good reasons to protect ourselves from past leniency gone wrong, and love turned harmful. I understand why some have a "hunker down and defend" mentality especially when it comes to SSA topics. We, as Catholics, fight against all sorts of agendas and for good reason. But, as an afterthought we realize we aren't just fighting the cause anymore; we are fighting against and harming our own members of our church, which the Catechism tells us are themselves carrying a heavy cross (CCC 2358).
So, all I'm proposing here is to try to listen and learn. Hand your convictions and beliefs over to Jesus. He will guard them as you enter into beautiful people's heartbreaking, heartwarming, astounding, and different stories. Allow yourself to even feel angry with our difficult teachings, as you struggle through what all of this means. Just because you allow yourself to learn from and feel for people with different views does not mean your views or beliefs have been deleted. Instead they will have been enriched. You'll find your beliefs and convictions to be stronger, more compassionate, and better communicated than before. People will want to listen to someone who has listened to them first because then you are in dialogue. Rather than talking at people different from you you will be speaking with them.
When I was in a graduate class we watched a movie on the experience of teens coming out to their parents from various cultures and religions. It was a difficult film to watch as it was filled with a lot of pain and struggle for both the parents and the teens. Before the film started, I spoke with Jesus and He encouraged me to really enter into the film. I was going to feel the feelings, burn with anger at the injustice, be sad over the loss. I knew my mind would not change on the Church's teachings on homosexuality, but I also knew my understanding of the teachings and the courage it takes to live them out would be challenged and strengthened. After watching the film I had burning questions I knew I needed answered. I wasn't scared of the questions. I just knew the answers would be important to find. The questions were, "How dare I have an opinion on any of this stuff that I know so little about?" and "How dare the Church deny these people romantic relationships?" My heart hurt from imagining the challenges that people face with SSA. It was tearing me apart that our teachings seemed so against their happiness.
I'm a theology teacher who always preaches that the Church only has hard rules because it fights for our happiness and, in that moment, that image wasn't coming through for me. I knew God would provide an answer but I had to be daring enough, trusting enough, to ask the question. How often do we shy away from asking these questions because we somehow think they are wrong, or we are afraid we will abandon our faith?
A year before this I had already had important conversations with various people who's views and lives differed from mine. I had talked with a women who identifies as bisexual, a man who had transitioned to a woman and had important stories to tell about his childhood and his religious education (which made me think about how I phrase things in the classroom), and a man who was in a serious relationship with another man. I learned so much about their unique experiences and they always gave me a chance to share my thoughts as well. We wholeheartedly listened to each other and discussed all there was to discuss about my views vs. theirs. In my grad class, after a presentation on LGBTQ topics by individuals living out those orientations, I asked whether or not they would still consider me loving and accepting even though I hold firm to Catholic teaching which disagrees with much of what they presented. They asked me to explain why I held those, and after honest but sensitive dialogue I received lots of compliments, and even some tears from those who admitted they had never experienced a strong Catholic who listened to and loved them so much.
So now, to get my answer, I went where most people wouldn't suggest going. I went to my grad classmate who was in a lesbian relationship and who had different beliefs than me. I asked her my questions. When I asked her how I could even have an opinion, or how she feels about the Church objecting to her romantic relationship, her answer was exactly what I needed. She said, "In my experience this honest rejection of gay marriage and homosexual actions by people who love me, particularly certain people in the Church, has only made me feel more loved because they truly believe it matters. They believe it is not good for me, and my happiness is at stake. I disagree with them, but I feel loved that they, that you, care that much." I was amazed and humbled to receive such a magnanimous answer from someone most Catholics would assume would respond with bitterness. I already knew all of the reasons the Church says "no" but I needed to know how that makes sense to someone other than me.
I feel more firm in my relationship with Mother Church than I ever could have had I not been willing to listen. For if I would have continued proclaiming what I knew with no reciprocation I would have never learned what others know and experience. I would have protected my faith and my students' faith from them. Banishing them and their stories out of the Church when we should be inviting them in and learning how to be a we. Homosexuality, gender topics, etc. would have continued to be something I condemned with little understanding of it rather than a lived experience of many members of our Church. The Church's teachings are unchanging and we are meant to bring them out into the world. But, does anyone think we are being effective when we know nothing of the experiences of the people we are trying to reach? Or when we are afraid to listen because we think that listening and compassion equals agreement? We want people to listen to us; it's pretty simple what we have to do then—LISTEN to others.
Disclaimer: In case there is any doubt, in case anyone is suspicious reading a blog about homosexual and gender topics, or in case I have any readers worried that I have tweaked Mother Church's teachings based on my listening to others, let me reiterate that I have not. I still proclaim all that the Catechism teaches to be true, and right, good, and beautiful. I still believe it is of extreme importance to build and teach a strong foundation and understanding of natural law, Catholic morality, objective truth etc. But instead of only understanding parts of the following paragraphs, I now understand all of them in a holistic way, especially paragraph 2358, and I more deeply understand the courage it takes to live out these teachings from all members of the Church, not just those with these tendencies.
2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered."142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
2358 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 (heavy cross). 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.
2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.