Responding to Fr. James Martin Without Responding to Fr. James Martin
The LGBTQ+ topic is touching the hearts and lives of more and more Catholic families every day. As such, we must more than ever strive to equip ourselves with the necessary tools to respond appropriately to the Catholic faith. While there may not be a complete set of instructions that will tell a person how to precisely respond in every circumstance, there are some overarching principles of our faith that we can look towards for guidance. While some of those principles are non-negotiable, or perhaps are even doctrinal, we must still remember that how we present them will make a world of difference.
Additionally, these guiding principles will not only help us counter the messages from the culture, but will also help equip us for when we are responding to dissenting Catholics. These people, often emboldened by well-known Catholic personalities such as Fr. James Martin (and others), have become the “the Catholic voice” in the public square. If, however, we do not gain the tools to respond to this topic more effectively, especially amidst this increasingly hostile climate, then this will likely only continue.
Lastly, though there are many angles to explore in navigating the dynamic between the faith and dissenting Catholics specifically, we must remember our ultimate objective which is to not win arguments but rather to have Christ radiate from our lives such that people will be more likely to open to their hearts to ongoing conversion. This, of course, must be motivated first and foremost by our desire to love and serve Christ more profoundly. That, as you will see, is what this article is ultimately about.
With that, I offer this for your consideration.
For years, I’ve heard people talk about how LGBTQ+ people are “called” to celibacy and/or abstinence. For years, I’ve seen people become alienated on account of their interpretation of those “calls,” for those “calls” are often (mis)understood to imply a foregoing of any opportunity to ever be with the person one loves. Further, those “calls” are often received as unsolicited directives and or orders imposed by the Catholic Church for the purposes of meddling with or controlling people’s private lives. Truthfully, I can understand where this way of thinking might come from, for indeed, the desire to impose celibacy and or abstinence is a desire to impose restrictions on people’s behaviors and how they might live out their lives overall.
However, that is a huge problem.
The problem isn’t whether or not one properly judges the moral nature of their actions, but rather that behavior itself often becomes the focal point. It is the heart from which flows any desired behavior, and thus the heart must be the focal point of any considerations. Another problem is that if people are merely being “called” to celibacy and/or abstinence, they are not being led to understand that the Church does not impose but rather proposes her teachings overall. This is of significant importance, given the prevalence of “conversion therapy” laws (like Bill C-4 in Canada) which have made it illegal for one to “impose” things that might be counter to another person’s desired/actual behavior and or mindset. That alone should be reason enough to conscientiously strive to correct how our faith is presented. Revealing the nature of the Church’s proposal to us could, in fact, help mitigate the possibility of legal action being brought against individual Catholics and or Catholic institutions themselves when they propose the richness of Catholic teaching in the public sphere.
Shifting the focus from behavior to striving to grow in the fullness of virtue will mitigate the fallout that might otherwise attend Catholic “behavior”-based language, manifest most commonly in the reductive analysis of “who can do what.” Such a shift could prevent many problems that might otherwise arise from those who are resentful toward the (false) idea that the Church is trying to suppress “who they really are.” Truly, the Church wants all people to discover who they fully are. Contrary to popular secular belief, this includes acknowledging one’s experience of particular romantic/sexual attractions/inclinations. However, it also includes factors more profound than these, such as how we fit into the entire scheme of creation as beloved [adopted] children of God. That is, it is not the world but the Catholic Church who proposes that we explore the deepest meaning of personhood. In doing so, the Church reveals her desire to rescue people from a falsely limited sense of who they are today and who they could ever be tomorrow. The latter, of course, often provides a window of hope for many who no longer wish to be trapped within reductive identity labels.
If postmodernism shows anything, it shows that language, for good or ill, in a certain sense makes reality in the minds of those who are untethered from first principles. This, for Catholics, means we must take a renewed interest in reclaiming language as a buoy anchored to truth. Elevating the conversation about identity (and self-concept) to being about striving to grow in the fullness of virtue and holiness is essential, as it can help people become aware of how their choices impact the state of their soul. This is also fundamentally important because the state of our soul influences our conscience and thus what we perceive to be true, right, just, and fulfilling (CCC 1865, sentence 2). Further, since it is not the state of the body but the state of the soul that God will judge when our time in this earthly realm is up, we must remember that the spiritual health of the soul ought to be prioritized above the physical health of the body. Striving to keep both body and soul healthy are ways to reflect our desire to glorify God; however, if we don’t elevate the conversation to be about striving to grow in the fullness of virtue and holiness, then other concepts that depend on an understanding of virtue and holiness will be more likely to be lost on people, possibly to their own peril. That is, in a general sense, language needs to be understood before concepts built upon that language can be understood.
As striving to grow in the fullness of virtue and holiness is prioritized as a focal point, we can become more aware of how particular behavioral desires strengthen or diminish as after-effects of our own commitment to that pursuit. This is because authentically striving to grow in the fullness of virtue and holiness begets the desire to continually grow in the fullness of virtue and holiness. This trajectory will lead to the positive transformation of any soul, beyond what the mere pursuit of “conformance to a particular behavioral standard” could ever achieve. As such, it is this type of pursuit that will more fruitfully beget a witness of Christ’s love to the world. Thus, if we want to live out our Catholic faith in a more profound, radiant, attractive, and impactful way, striving to grow in the fullness of virtue and holiness should be our primary focus. Such a focus naturally opens our hearts to God’s refashioning over time, aided by our cooperation with His graces.
A Matter of Attachments
Having said this, we must ask an important question: To what degree are we willing to cooperate with God’s grace by surrendering our own attachments to things that impede our journey towards growth in the fullness of virtue and holiness?
Likewise, a second important question that we should be asking is this: To what degree are we willing to humble ourselves to the moral authority of the Catholic Church, as the Spotless Bride of Christ (CCC 789 and 796), in defining virtue, holiness, and sin, despite the vast and tragic shortcomings of so many of her members and even of Church governance and institutions?
That is, the questions we should be asking have to do with in whom or what we place our ultimate authority. Everyone operates within some authority structure – it’s just a matter of who or what is atop it – and that is a question worth bringing up, for it is relevant in examining perspectives held by Catholics who dissent from the moral teachings of the Church.
We Play A Part
We must be aware that if we affirm any paradigms as having greater moral authority than the moral authority of the Church, we might be ushering them closer to choosing the path to Hell. However, we may also be paving our own road to Hell – especially if part of our long-term “plan” is to merely plead ignorance at the moment of our own judgment. The fact is that we live in a time when it has never been easier to learn about our faith properly and recognize error when we encounter it. Not only can we access countless resources that reveal the truths of the Catholic faith, but dissenting Catholics are also revealing their dissent in increasingly obvious ways. This should not shock anyone, for 1 Cor 11:19 states clearly, “there have to be factions among you in order that (also) those who are approved among you may become known.” In other words, it has been known from the beginning of the Church that many would act against the Church (even from within). However, the truly faithful will understand that God can use even that for the building of His Kingdom.
The Spiraling Effect
There is no neutral ground when it comes to morality: every moral decision we make is impactful to some degree. Thus, our resolve to make virtuous choices in the future is impacted by our commitment to striving to grow in the fullness of virtue today. As such, our pathway to greater virtue is upwardly spiraling, with each future virtuous choice being made atop of the strength of character gained on account of prior virtuous decisions. Likewise, however, the same spiraling effect, albeit downwards, is our trajectory when we choose to reject the proposal to strive to grow in the fullness of virtue and holiness. This may occur consciously or subconsciously, for people reject this journey without actually knowing that they are doing so. Granted, one’s culpability may vary, and can only be determined by God, but we must remember that “no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man” (CCC 1860, sentence 2).
The more we strive to grow in the fullness of virtue and holiness, the more we become fortified in that pursuit, and the greater the degree of joy we will experience. However, the converse is true: the more we reject the path of striving to grow in the fullness of virtue and holiness, the greater the despair (or fortification in Godlessness) we will encounter.
Ways of Being
When someone is authentically striving to grow in the fullness of virtue and holiness, they manifest an increasing degree of beauty that can become palpably known to others, merely through one’s way of being. This beauty can be recognized by those whose spiritual eyes are awakening even before their virtue/holiness is evident in word or action. Experiencing this type of beauty is more awe-inspiring than the experience of observing someone behaving merely according to a particular standard of behavior. Likewise, this type of beauty and inspired awe sets the stage for a far more riveting and impactful faith experience by those entering into the orbit of persons who are striving to grow in these ways. One can only imagine how impactful it would be if entire Catholic communities became engaged in striving to grow in these ways as well. Those are the types of communities that I hope everyone desires to build!
Can you imagine knowing the impact of striving to grow in the fullness of virtue and holiness and yet turning your back on the proposal to grow in these ways? Can you imagine what would have to be going through a person’s mind to intentionally prevent people from coming to know the faith through this lens? Sadly, there are many Catholics and Catholic groups/institutions who seem to be invested in preventing others from coming to understand the beauty and richness of the Church’s teachings on these topics and many others. However, if culturally-educated Catholics are not invested in helping people understand the beauty and richness of the Catholic Church, then we should be able to ask: What are they invested in? Whose mission are they invested in?
Author’s Note: I acknowledge that many people have horribly suffered at the hands of members of the Church, and or even the Church as an earthly institution. There are not enough words to express my sorrow for that, and I desire to hold space for those who have suffered. As such, I wish to clarify that what is written above is aimed toward those who purport to be devout Catholics who, yet, serve to distract people from entering into an understanding of the faith that would be adequate enough to enable one to respond effectively to important topics such as these.
For most in this post-Christian world, suffering presents itself as an insuperable problem. However, the focus on striving to grow in the fullness of virtue and holiness can “crack open” the mystery of suffering, among many other truths of human life, to already-practicing (yet often under-catechized) Catholics who are still open to growth. They might not yet have been introduced to the vocabulary needed to navigate the virtues or to gain a solid-enough grasp on what striving to grow in the fullness of virtue and holiness really means. However, if their hearts are open, there is no telling what God could do with them! He will, no doubt, bring people to an understanding that it is indeed a virtuous pursuit to strive to interiorly process suffering in a way that can help us become more charitable to others. This, in turn, is good for our own spiritual maturation as well as for the Kingdom of God here on earth.
By elevating the conversation to be about striving to grow in the fullness of virtue and holiness, we “soften the ground” for people to understand that the suffering we experience need not be “wasted.” Such people will be more likely to eventually see suffering as an opportunity to make a penitential offering for the conversion/salvation of souls. This, in turn, can yield a greater gift for the whole of humanity than what could be offered if, all else constant, one did not know that they could choose to offer that type of interior sacrifice. Through intentional choices to make penitential offerings to God, however, a person can enter even more deeply into their journey towards greater virtue and holiness (and with increasing self-regulation), which can make them even more efficacious here on earth in their service to God and to others as they strive to live with Eternity in mind.
Note: Though we can give our sufferings as a penitential offering to God, as a gift to Him, this is not to say that sufferings are, in and of themselves, gifts. Rather, they become transformed into gifts (to God) the very moment that we surrender ourselves to the Lord amidst our suffering, trusting in His mercy and goodness.
As indicated earlier, the focus on striving to grow in the fullness of virtue and holiness can help reveal those who are resentful toward the moral authority of the Church. This is important because where resentment towards the moral authority of the Church exists, there too is typically a rejection of the Church’s definition of virtue and holiness. Likewise, it can reveal a rejection of what God has written into visible/invisible Creation (which the Church merely upholds), and so too it can reveal the rejection of the Church’s authority to define sin. These are important considerations, for those who harbor resentment towards the moral authority of the Church, by definition, are unable to transmit the Catholic faith without also (eventually) transmitting their resentment. What they do transmit is something else; their version of the faith, which they often wish to impart upon others in as much as they are able to do (with some striving to “fly below the radar” for as long as they can). Some resentful Catholics see it as their life’s mission to draw others to reject the moral authority of the Church. Of these, some cloak this intention with the idea that they are merely trying to inspire people to ask questions, which is an insidious false front that fools many people. As such, this needs to be taken very seriously.
We must also never forget that resentment precedes the desire for resentful vengeance. Our reaction to those who are resentful must be led by prayer and fasting, and we must persist, even with these, to elevate the conversation to be about striving to grow in the fullness of virtue and holiness. If we strive for this, even if resentful Catholics do not have a change of heart, onlookers may give things a second thought. This is a very important consideration, for society on the whole moves according to the attachments of the critical mass. As such, we must be mindful of impacting the critical mass in ways that build the Kingdom of God. Regardless of the degree to which we are successful, our hearts may be filled with joy amidst increasing trust that God has everyone in His hands, even those who actively strive to draw people towards rejecting the moral authority of the Church. The devil does not want us to enter that joy and trust, for these bring about greater interior peace, which is a marker of one who is with the Holy Spirit.
The Ripple Effect
The advantages of elevating the conversation to striving to grow in the fullness of virtue and holiness are many. Beyond those already noted, one of the most profound advantages is that the ripple effect of this effort does not end when one departs from this earthly life. Rather, once a person makes it to Heaven, the positive fruits of their pursuit can impact all of humanity until the end of all time. While this should give hope to anyone striving for Heaven, it should terrify any unrepentant sinner, for the fruit bestowed upon such a person will be proportional to their rejection of growing in the fullness of virtue and holiness (as a Just Judge would determine, notwithstanding any amount of Mercy shown). In other words, though the virtue and holiness we strive for today will contribute to the joy we experience in Heaven if we make it there, the virtue and holiness we reject today will contribute to our torments in Hell if we go there instead. Forever. Furthermore, the degree of joy we experience in Heaven will far surpass anything we could have ever prepared to experience while on earth amidst the pursuit of the fullness of virtue and holiness, and in Hell, the torments infinitely worse than what we could have ever prepared to experience while on earth amidst the pursuit of vice.
For those who are authentically striving to grow in the fullness of virtue and holiness, here is the most exciting part: the ultimate mission still awaits us; it has been crafted by God from the beginning for us to step into. We do exactly that in the moment we cross the threshold between the highest Purgatory and the lowest Heaven. In that “space,” now in a spiritual realm, and now with our glorified body made clean and radiant as we present to God in our primest of prime, we will not only be completely enraptured by the Love of God in an ecstatic bliss that no human or angelic language could ever fully describe, but we will also become activated upon God’s commissioning to engage in Spiritual Warfare of the most efficacious kind, with us as Saints, interceding in the fight against Satan and possibly the whole of the demonic realm (as God sees fit), for the good of humanity until the end of all ages.
That is the type of truth, meaning, and purpose that can become known if we shift the focus of our faith to striving to grow in the fullness of virtue. This is the trajectory that creates Saints in Heaven and heroes on earth. It restores proper order and creates an environment where men and women can grow in the ways of holiness as God has authored for them, as males and females. It restores the pursuit of the truly masculine and fatherly, and the truly feminine and motherly – which can be and should be striven for by men and women at any state/stage of life, and regardless of the sexual/romantic attractions/inclinations that a person might experience. It also provides the foundation for the most stable state of being, rooted in one’s increasing knowledge of Christ and His love for them, and as a result, the most stable foundation for holy, chaste relationships, and thus also the most stable foundation for holy, chaste families.
All of these beautiful truths about the human person and how we fit into God’s amazing plan can be known by striving to grow in the fullness of virtue and holiness. Thus, we must pray and fast with the hope and intention that people might respond favorably to the Church’s proposal to strive to grow in these ways. We have a role to play in that, for we have the opportunity to be the face of Christ to many people.
In becoming actively engaged in striving to grow in the fullness of virtue, and striving to bring an awareness of that joyful pursuit to the whole world, we will be able to experience a prefigurement of Heaven here on earth. This will be transformative in our own lives if we are truly striving to surrender to God. Through striving to practice that total surrender, we can bring greater peace, joy, hope, and freedom into this world.
The best part is that this potential trajectory, which is available for anyone, can be entered upon our sincere desire to simply take our first baby steps to that ultimate role of future Sainthood.
And remember – anyone could become the next greatest Saint if they truly strive to surrender completely to God. No one is excluded from that potential reality: no one – not even those who today self-identify and or define themselves according to LGBTQ+ ideology. Being willing to surrender to the heart of Jesus Christ and being willing to cooperate with His grace will carry us from who we are today, to the greatness of who we could become.
Hopefully, we will be open to that.
Thank you, God bless, and may God be praised with every breath.
This is the first installment of a two-part series. The second will be available tomorrow, here.