It is interesting to observe that in the Catholic New Agency (CNA) report of June 20, 2019 on Archbishop Charles Thompson rescinding recognition of Brebeuf Jesuit as a Catholic institution of secondary education, the words “witness” and “conscience” each appears twice, while the word “law” appears six times, referring to Canon Law five times and to God’s law regarding marriage once. The word “love” is entirely absent, except for the phrase “loved sinners” in a statement of the Jesuit provincial, Fr. Brian Paulson. The word “communion” does not appear at all.
It would be an unjustifiable leap of logic to generalize from these statistical observations on a short article that love and communion are underrepresented in discussions about same-sex unions and what many are willing to call “same-sex marriages”. Nevertheless, my students and those who have attended my talks over the past years can attest that I have lamented the failure on the part of too many who represent the Church’s teaching on marriage in the context of the push for the recognition of “same-sex marriage” to do so by speaking of love.
Too often, talk of love has been only on the side of those who promote the legitimacy of same-sex unions and “same-sex marriages.” To love people in a same-sex relationship means either to approve of and to support their union, or at least to support the persons while ignoring their behavior. Either way, the Church’s teaching is condemned as contrary to love, and those who defend this teaching labeled homophobes, hateful, and exclusive.
The fact is that the Church’s teaching on marriage, and for that matter all Catholic moral teaching, is truth about love. The Church’s fidelity to what Christ has revealed about marriage is not a blind, unprincipled fidelity. Rather, it is fidelity in the name of love. The Church believes that there is no promise of fulfillment and happiness in same-sex unions, and she teaches this because she is committed to the fulfillment and happiness of all—precisely because she loves everyone.
As indicated, Canon Law figures prominently in the CNA report. Yet, this is only apparently a dominance of juridical and legal realities. It is worth recalling that when St. John Paul II promulgated the Code of Canon Law in 1983, he said that the Church’s laws should be understood as an effort to translate into legal language the mystery of the Church as a communion. The rights and duties of the Church’s members are ordered to the highest of all laws, the law of charity, which is the interior, spiritual bond of communion. All institutional and juridical expressions of communion flow from and are ordered to promoting and safeguarding this communion in charity. This is why Pope Benedict XVI once reminded a group of bishops that all of the Church’s institutions “are intended to be expressions of the love of God for humanity through the charity and example of the clergy, religious and lay faithful who staff them.”
The Church’s teaching on God’s plan for human sexuality, marriage, and human fulfillment has implications for the Church’s life of communion and for her mission. Regarding communion, the Church’s unity—the unity for which Jesus prayed, “Father, may they be one as you and I are one”—is fundamentally a unity of faith, a unity in the truth revealed by God. In the case at hand, it is unity in believing and living in accord with God’s plan for human sexuality and marriage. Regarding mission, the Church is called to be a light to the world. The Church is the sacrament-sign of “the mystery of God’s love for men.” The Church bears witness to the power of God’s love to transform the human condition, in the case at hand, concerning God’s plan for human sexuality and marriage.
So, readers of news reports about Archbishop Thompson and Brebeuf Jesuit should not be fooled into thinking that the issue is merely a contest between love and truth, or between love and law. What is ultimately at stake in the action taken by Archbishop Thompson is the truth about love. His juridical action is at the service of the Church’s unambiguous witness to love. Since love is grounded in truth—in this case at hand, the truth about marriage—the witness to truth is essential to the witness of love. This is what Pope Paul VI meant when he said in an 1965 address to the United Nations that the Church is an expert in humanity. She knows the full truth about the human person and about human happiness because it has been revealed in Jesus Christ, Who confirms the acquired wisdom of reason that the human person is called to and finds fulfillment in relationships of mutual self-giving love, while at the same He reveals that God Himself is love and that everyone is called to participate in this divine love. The vision for the fulfillment of the capacity for mutual self-giving advanced by those promoting “same-sex marriage” rests neither on reason nor on revelation.
With the privilege of having been entrusted with the full truth about human happiness comes the responsibility unambiguously to proclaim it. It is this responsibility that Canon Law aims to promote by spelling out the bishop’s duty to assure the Catholic identity of ecclesiastical institutions, and this is ultimately at the service of the Church’s unity in faith and the missionary mandate to bear witness to Christ.
Fr. Paulson’s statement that complying with Archbishop Thompson’s direction would violate the “informed conscience” of the Brebeuf Jesuit community confirms that the real issue is the truth about love. For, conscience is a judgment about the moral quality of an action. It is a judgment about whether an act is good or evil, and this means that it is a judgment about what love requires one to do or to refrain from doing. Ultimately, the appeal to conscience as justification for not complying with the Archbishop’s directive indicates that the Brebeuf Jesuit community defines love differently than the Church does. And this indicates that even within the Church, among self-identifying Catholics, there is confusion regarding the nature of Christian love.
This should not be a surprise to anyone familiar with history. More than a millennium and a half ago, St. Augustine described mankind’s confusion about love in The City of God, his great meditation on history. Then, as now, the fundamental option placed before all men is to choose between being a citizen of the city of man or a citizen of the city of God. It is a choice is between two loves: the love of God to the point of rejecting every other pseudo love, or the embrace of a pseudo love to the point of rejecting God.
Augustine’s insight is seen in the Old Testament, when Israel comes to a decision point regarding these two loves when they seek to have a king. Despite the prophet Samuel’s reminder that God was their king and that to choose a man as king was to reject God as king, the people exclaimed, “We want to be like the other nations that have kings.” The support of “same-sex marriage” is a contemporary version of the same drama: to be faithful to God and to embrace the uniqueness of being His people, or to be like the other nations and to submit to the sovereignty of a worldly definition of love and marriage.
In our own time, Pope Francis’ denunciation of “false compassion” is apropos. It is false compassion to cave to “the predominant school of thought” when that thought is contrary to human dignity, and to support a person in his or her pursuit of an illusory happiness. False compassion shrinks from confronting a person with the fact that he or she is seeking a pseudo happiness. As examples of false compassion, Francis mentions supporting people in their choice of abortion, euthanasia, in vitro fertilization, and experimentation on humans. He could have added “same-sex marriage,” with regard to which he has said that the Church’s teaching has no need for further clarification. The Church’s love forbids that she remain silent in denouncing these as contrary to human dignity, as realities that enslave rather than liberate.
It is not difficult to imagine that there would have been no need for episcopal intervention at Brebeuf Jesuit were it a matter of a faculty member who demonstrated pedophilia, racism, or antisemitism. These are not only contrary to the Church’s requirement that teachers in Catholic schools be outstanding in virtue. They are also contrary to predominant school of thought in our culture. But when there is clash of values between the Church and the culture at large, the Church rightly expects her faithful and her institutions to bear witness to their Catholic identity and to the Church’s unity regarding the definition of love.
The choice between two loves must be reconfirmed each time a person or institution has to choose between authentic compassion or false compassion, the city of God or the city of man, God’s definition of love or the definition of the predominant school of thought.
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