By Deacon Jason Johnston
The Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges draws Christians into a conflict. Our faith tells us that Marriage has a definition that is unchangeable, instituted in the beginning by God and confirmed and made new as one of the seven sacraments of the Church by Jesus Christ Himself.
However, many of us know someone in our life who has same-sex attraction or is living the gay lifestyle and we want them to be happy. This issue is very close to home and can be very emotional.
It is important for us to see this decision and its consequences in the context of religious freedom. The fear is that the conflict is between our religious liberty and what the Supreme Court has now defined as basic human rights. However, the Church has been in the midst of conflict before and we will be here again.
We Christians should not react, we should respond. But how do we respond? I propose that we respond in three ways.
1) We should listen.
2) We should love.
3) We should uphold our beliefs and help guide others toward the truth.
First, we must listen. This is most essential. We should listen to what the Church has to say to us. She wants what is good for us, and for each of us to find the love of Christ, and ultimately our salvation.
Listen to the stories of the struggles and the suffering. Hear an opinion different from our own. Allow those around us to be heard. Because, if we do not listen, no one will listen to us.
It has been pointed out that there is a real difference in an empty sentimentality of emotion and true compassion. Compassion is from the Latin, cum passio, which means to suffer with. We should allow ourselves to be affected by the struggles of our brothers and sisters. This is exactly what Jesus did when He took on flesh and sin and became one of us and died for us on the cross. How many of us suffer in so many ways? How many of us have darknesses and struggles and anxieties and sufferings in our life?
Ultimately, the Church understands the human person, and that many of us struggle. Paul struggled with a thorn in his flesh and it was in his weakness that he realized his own need and his own dependence on God and it was there that he found strength. “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul is like so many of us who struggle, who have something bearing on our hearts, or our minds, or in our physical bodies, but these struggles bring us closer to God, if we allow God in.
Pope Francis said recently, “We must lend our ears…so as to be permeated by the joys and hopes (of the people of today), by their sadness and distress, at which time we will know how to propose the good news of the family with credibility.” We must listen.
Secondly, we should respond with love. Thomas Aquinas said to love is to will the good of the other. As Christians, we are to love everybody, regardless. And that love will be a sign of who we are and who we have chosen to be: true followers of Christ, unwaveringly committed to the dignity of every human person and the respect that he or she deserves. We must never be unwelcoming, or alienating, and we especially may never hate or give in to hate-mongering.
It might be good for you to invite your friends with same-sex attractions, or any of your friends who are open to God’s grace. We want everyone who is seeking true happiness to be introduced to the heart of Christ in His Church.
Finally, we uphold what is true and we gently guide those who seek the truth back to it. St. John Paul II said, “The Church never imposes what it believes, but rather, freely proposes it ceaselessly.” We have to do it in a gentle and attractive way, infused with the Love of Christ. We will be rejected, just like Jesus was rejected in His own hometown of Nazareth. But we must get back up and proclaim Christ, and Him crucified.
Many of us in this country are divided on this issue and many of us in the Church are divided on this issue. There is a weakness here, but these weaknesses are giving us opportunities to discuss, to learn, to evangelize, and to love. “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
(Deacon Jason Johnston serves in the Catholic Community of Meridian, St. Joseph and St. Patrick. This column first appeared in the Meridian Star as a guest column August 2.)