It’s a complicated world. A parent in your child’s school leaves her husband for a neighbor woman. The most involved parents in the Rosary Apostolate have a son who now identifies as female. Your cousin, niece, nephew, uncle, son’s best friend is out and proud and at your kitchen table. We’ve all encountered somebody in our homes, neighborhoods, churches, or workplaces who has shared their sexual orientation in a surprising, unpredictable, or perhaps entirely anticipated manner.
The moment might not be the easiest to receive and likely raises a whole host of new questions. Will your children be allowed to play at the new couple’s house? Will the Rosary Apostolate family be pitied, shunned, showered with advice, or listened to with compassion? Will you treat the person at your table differently than you did a scarce two minutes before? The Catechism offers key words of wisdom on how to receive this moment: “the number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible…they must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” (CCC 2358).
When someone shares their experience of same sex attraction – especially if they are in a relationship or plan on pursing one – it can be easy to feel tension in our response, to lean to one side or another. Perhaps our inclination is to jump to conclusions or ready a moral argument. Perhaps our response is a sentimental, carte blanche embrace. Neither of these approaches satisfy the dual callings we must hold in tension – truth and love.
For practical tools on responding to young people in particular, Truth and Love offers this great resource from the Canadian bishops and this blog from Daniel Mattson. For accompanying fellow adults peers, this blog from Life Teen offers some considerations. But before you seek out a practical checklist, I offer an additional spiritual consideration.
When a person first comes out – whatever their motivation – they are choosing to be vulnerable. Etymologically, “vulnerable” is rooted in the Latin word for “wound.” There is another truth at stake here, one which we might not consider immediately. In both Matthew and Luke’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of the reality of our own imperfections using the analogy of wood splinters and eyeballs. How easily we think of the item in the eye as “a fault.” How often do we consider it as “that which pierces?” Yes, the individual sharing about their same sex relationship does not see things the way the Church does, the way you do. But we know that’s not the end of Christ’s teaching here. There’s the not-so-small matter of our own beams, the ones we sometimes “do not even notice” (c.f. Lk 6:42-43).
What are your hidden beams? Are you being honest with your own aches, longings, unmet desires? Are there areas of unchastity in your own life, elements of your physical and spiritual house that need to be set in order?
Your suffering – your job loss, your sister’s cancer, your childhood with an alcoholic father, your inner battle with anxiety, the comparison, the shame, the “innocent” addiction – is intimately, uniquely particular. And yet somehow no person is without their difficulties. Every human person is desperate for love, for intimacy, for connection. In this fallen world, we don’t always receive it the way we wish we did.
In his book Community and Growth, L’Arche founder Jean Vanier wrote, “I am struck by how sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes.” His brother priest, Henri Nouwen wrote in Can You Drink This Cup, “So often we are inclined to keep our lives hidden. Shame and guilt prevent us from letting others know what we are living…the greatest healing often takes place when we no longer feel isolated.”
To receive someone’s vulnerability is not the same as approving or condoning their decisions. To say, “I don’t agree with everything you said, but I love you” can be a first step in a necessary ongoing conversation. To lay a foundation of shared striving for purpose and love – despite differences of opinion on how to get there – can foster dialogue for years to come.
We can’t control what or how others share with us. But we can control how we receive them, and how we walk together in charity, solidarity, and truth.
Anna Carter lives and works in Milwaukee, WI. Since graduating from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Anna has worked for NET Ministries and in local catechetical ministry with youth and young adults. Anna is the Co-Founder of Eden Invitation, an evangelistic outreach to millennial Catholics experiencing same sex attraction.