When did we start identifying ourselves with how we have sex? And why is it so hard to talk about in a straight-on way?
I’ve read most of the latest Catholic books about same-sex attraction, and I’ve come away from most of them with a sort of wailing feeling of despair. They weren’t terrible. But they also were geared toward audiences directly experiencing these things.
But “Made for Love: Same-Sex Attractions and the Catholic Church” by Father Michael Schmitz (Ignatius Press/Augustine Institute, $16.95) offers an approach that might help the rest of us — those of us who want to help without being demeaning or discriminatory or hateful.
The body matters
Father Schmitz has a way of explaining things — I can’t count the number of times I’ve shared his YouTube videos with classes of students or groups of adults. But this was my first time reading anything of his.
He begins “Made for Love” with this hopeful paragraph: “I wrote this book for anyone who has been touched by the reality of same-sex attractions. If you have gone through life and have always felt different, if you are a parent of a child who has same-sex attractions, or if you love someone who experiences same-sex attractions, I wrote this book for you.”
That’s each of us! And he delivers a book that is both helpful and motivating in the next 171 pages. He tackles philosophy and theology and then brings current culture into the conversation. He lays a foundation and builds his discussion in the very best catechetical way.
Father Schmitz begins with a discussion of why the body is important and why it matters. He doesn’t assume a Christian reader; instead, he explains different approaches.
“Christianity makes the claim that your body is an essential part of who you are,” he writes, and continues a few paragraphs later: “If your body is not an essential part of who you are, then you can use it however you want, like a tool. But if your body is a vital aspect of who you are, then what you do with your body matters.”
|About the Author
Father Michael Schmitz is director of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth and director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth. Ordained in 2003, he is known nationally for his homilies, presentations, talks to university students and sense of humor.
This may seem elementary, but it begs serious consideration. Think about what you see all around you all day long. Do you really appreciate how vital your body is? And, even more, how important that other person’s body is? At some level, we all take this for granted, and yet we also undermine it in a thousand small ways. Father Schmitz is taking us back to the beginning.
And then he throws in philosophy, which sounds scarier than the common sense he posits as he explains “what-it-is-for-ness.” The purpose of a thing guides us in understanding its nature. What is it for? There you go: That’s your answer.
“While we are made for a purpose,” Father Schmitz writes, “we can choose to live ‘on purpose’ or ‘off purpose.’ If we live in accordance with our human nature, our lives have integrity, and things tend to go well. If we live in violation of our nature, we tend to become disintegrated, and we fail to live fully.”
And with that, he dives into the topic of ... sex. Because, ultimately, this is a discussion of sex, isn’t it? Actually, no. It’s a discussion of much more. But without discussing sex, we can’t dive into those other things.
Sex has an intention, and Father Schmitz explains this very clearly. As someone who’s been in college ministry for many years, he’s heard all the objections. He shares them, and his responses are straightforward and even loving.
Naturally, we have to discuss if God exists. You might wonder what this has to do with sex, but as we dive into our purpose as human beings and how sex is different for us than for the other living things in our world, God comes in to play.
Father Schmitz neither shies away nor sugarcoats: “[T]here are three consequences of God’s not existing: there is no free will, there is no right or wrong, and there is no meaning to anything at all. And yet most of us would say that this does not describe our experience.”
When Father Schmitz dives into the topic of sin, he does it brilliantly. He doesn’t just talk about sex, and in fact, he points out that the argument/defense that “God made me this way” — whether about a cocky attitude or same-sex attraction — leads to the conclusion that, in fact, God made us as nothing more than pre-programmed robots (which we know is not the case).
“When we experience an attraction to sin, the last thing we should do is believe that ‘God made me this way,’” he writes. “Jesus Christ came to this earth to suffer, die, and rise from the dead. Why? For our redemption. That’s why he sent the Holy Spirit. That’s why he gave us the Church. God’s plan is to save and redeem us from the wounded desires that can so often dominate our lives and to do so by ‘remaking’ us according to his will.”
This is the ultimate love, but how does that translate to the rest of us?
“There is a difference between my wanting someone else’s good and my actually willing someone else’s good,” Father Schmitz posits, explaining that love is not just a feeling and identifying shades of love that we all know exist but so rarely unpack and identify.
We all have a story. We all have suffered. And yet, that’s not who we are.
“The inclination to define ourselves by our story, our experience, is very tempting for those who experience same-sex attractions,” Father Schmitz writes. “But while our experiences are part of our story, no experience is powerful enough to give us our identity.”
I needed to read this and internalize it, not because of any attractions I do or do not have, but because he’s speaking here of what I believe is a common struggle among most of us. We want to identify ourselves based on how we grew up or how we live or how we struggle.
“If we allow ourselves to be defined by our sexual attractions, we are reducing ourselves and defining ourselves by something far too small,” he writes. And with that, Father Schmitz points to something we all need to internalize.
All called to sainthood
The Catholic Church, ultimately, is the perfect place for those who struggle with this issue. It’s also the perfect place for those who struggle with lust or hatred or pride or envy or 1,000 other things.
“The lost son is welcomed home as a family member. That means he belongs. He belongs in the family, in his Father’s house.”
This is true for all of us. But Father Schmitz continues, very powerfully, “And if you have same-sex attractions, I have to make this absolutely clear: You are not merely welcomed in the Church; you belong in the Church. You are not merely welcomed back to the Father’s house; you belong in the Father’s house. You are not merely tolerated; you are loved.”
In the hope I read in that, I also read the challenge. Father Schmitz doesn’t shy from that. We need to experience that personal encounter with Christ, the God who loves us individually and personally, and we need to share that. Even as we reject actions, we need to be sure that we don’t reject the people.
Father Schmitz outlines Bible passages and highlights how chastity is a virtue to which all of us are called. He reminds us that God wants us to be saints.
Overall, this book is the kind of thing you read and realize that it’s for you. Yes, you. We all need authentic love, and the place we find that is in the Eucharist, in Christ himself. And that’s the help I found within the pages of Father Schmitz’s book. I was reminded, starkly, of how I am called to sainthood.
There’s no middle ground. There’s no halfway. There’s no option of failure.The path to sainthood involves a cross and a community, and I find that my brothers and sisters in the pew aren’t so different from me. They have the same calling, after all. May that guide us all in our charity and efforts.
Sarah Reinhard is content network manager for OSV and curator of the Triple Take weekday newsletter: http://bit.ly/TripleTakeOSV.