There are many misunderstandings about what Catholics believe. Ranging from our devotion to Mary, obedience to the Pope, the priesthood, intercessory prayer from the saints, now the greatest misunderstanding has to do with the Church teaching on sexuality.
When it comes to Church teaching on chastity, openness to life and marriage, Catholics are portrayed as old school, controlling and homophobic.
I don’t usually like to hit these controversial topics head on in my blog. Today I feel compelled to make an effort to clarify.
Two thousand years of Church teaching can’t be covered in one blog post. There are countless resources to learn more about Church teaching. I’ll provide some here. We need to make sure we are referring to correct and truthful sources.
I will start by defining a few terms.
Phobia is a persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it.
Controlling means to exercise restraint or direction over; to dominate or command.
Being “old school” is synonymous with the word Conservative which refers to someone who is disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.
As Catholic’s, we are not relativist. We believe in universal right and wrong, and we acknowledge that some acts are sinful. We are all sinners. Only one man was without sin and that was Jesus Christ. We also believe that Jesus’ mother was without sin, however explaining that is a whole other post.
Since we all have sin, we cannot judge people or condemn them. However, we do need to judge actions as ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ We need to do this in our personal effort to do what is right, and to teach our children the difference between ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ We accept that people can be drawn to certain sins over others. The sin that one person struggles with does not define who they are as persons. We don’t try to make them feel better by justifying their sin.
For example while one person may struggle with laziness, another person may struggle with addiction. We would not buy alcohol for the person who is an alcoholic. We might offer help to that person. Ultimately the person has to choose to be helped. Until he reaches the point of wanting help, we continue to love that person without enabling the addiction. I think we can all recognize the logic in this, whether we are Catholic or not.
We do not fear people who live the homosexual lifestyle. We believe that the homosexual act is a sin. Therefore, defining a person by this act is not only incorrect it is unfair. The homosexual act is a sin against chastity. There are other sins against chastity, as well.
We believe that God is the author of sex and marriage. When he created man and woman, his first commandment was “be fruitful and multiply.” There is only one way for a man and woman to be fruitful and multiply. Marriage is sacred and the marital act is a renewal of the marriage vows. On their wedding day the couple promises to be total gifts to each other by being fruitful and faithful forever. A same-sex couple cannot naturally be fruitful. God did not design humans to be created between same-sex couples. Only a man and a woman can be fruitful.
We could get into more in-depth reasoning here as well. If we explore what it means to be a total gift to each other, and what it means to be faithful.
We need to have rules. The rules of the Church are actually God’s rules. We believe our Church leaders are inspired by the Holy Spirit to guide us in these moral issues. This doesn’t mean that they are impervious to sin. We all have a conscience. Without a moral compass, and someone to teach us the difference between right and wrong, we’d have to learn by trial and error. Indeed many of us do choose to live our lives this way. Ignoring the rules and dealing with the natural consequences.
Why do we need rules? God assigned rules to things that bring us pleasure food, sleep and sex. We work to find a balance between pleasure derived from eating and over indulging. If we sleep too much or too little it will affect our ability to be productive in our work and in our life. So we are not saying don’t ever enjoy sleeping or eating. We are bombarded with variations of how to keep up a healthy lifestyle while still enjoying our favourite foods and enjoying our times of rest.
In the same way we need to find a balance when it comes to enjoying sex. God gave us some guidance to follow so that we could keep up a healthy lifestyle in this area of our lives as well.
What are consequences to overindulging in sex? We view people as objects for pleasure, teenage pregnancies, and addiction to pornography, sexually transmitted diseases, and increased divorce rates resulting in children being raised in broken homes, abortion – which is the killing of human life in the womb. These are only a few of the physical consequences.
How does God enforce the rules? He doesn’t take away our choice, He doesn’t control us and neither do the Church leaders. The consequences themselves should be enough for us to be deterred from overindulging in food, sleep and sex. This problem is many of us don’t recognize the consequences or care about the consequences. We make a choice based on the information we have and our emotions. Where are we getting our information from? Making decisions based on emotions is irresponsible, since our emotions change constantly.
We also believe that sin separates us from God. We believe that as human beings we are physical and spiritual beings. We believe that what we do with our bodies, affects our souls. Our goal is to live a life in union God so that when our physical bodies can no longer survive in this world, our spiritual soul can live in union with God forever. However, a soul that is stained with sin must be purified before entering heaven. Depending on the severity of the stains we may not be given the opportunity to be purified.
Some say, ‘if we all have sin and no one’s perfect why bother trying?’ God knows our hearts. He knows if we are sincerely trying to avoid sin. Even if we often fail in our effort, it’s the choice we make at that time that matters. Do I just give up and continue to sin? Do I persevere and try again?
This is why we cannot judge others. Only God knows your heart. He knows if you have chosen to give up trying to do the right thing. Or if you are struggling to do what is right and good, even though it’s hard and sometimes you fail. It’s not that we fail that matters, so much as the effort we put into trying to succeed.
The third and final point is that Catholic’s are ‘old school.’ As I get older, and learn more about my Catholic faith I realized that being called old school, traditional or conservative is not a bad thing.
In my family we have many traditions. These traditions provide security, stability and confidence. At times, we have had to change our traditions to do what is best for everyone. These changes don’t effect who we are as a family. As an example, my family used to celebrate Christmas on the eve of December 24th. When my sisters and I were married our husband’s families also celebrated on Christmas Eve. So we changed our tradition to getting together on Christmas day. We didn’t stop celebrating Christmas.
The Church operates in much the same way. There have been some changes and adapting within the Church over the years. The changes have to be good for everyone and not change the fundamentals of what makes us Catholic.
Even if you don’t agree with the Catholic teachings and traditions, there has to be respect. Those of you who choose not to live or follow the Catholic faith don’t want us Catholics indoctrinating your children with our beliefs. In the same way, we as Catholics do not want others to indoctrinate our children in matters that are contrary to our faith. We are not teaching our children to hate, bully or judge.
If you are interested in further reading, here are a few resources:
http://www.catholic.net/index.php?option=channel&canal=Bible School&id=1&grupo=Church Teaching Q%26A