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Msgr. Ignacio Barreiro with Fr. Peter West

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Finding comfort in the sacred heart: Dealing with same-sex attraction

Msgr. Ignacio Barreiro with Fr. Peter West

June 5, 2015 (Human Life International) -- The heart of the Gospel message is God’s love for sinners. St. John writes in his Gospel “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”  (John 3, 16). Jesus Christ, the Incarnate God, is the manifestation of the love of God. Jesus reminds us that God loves us with a heart that is both human and divine. Pope Leo XIII said “There is in the Sacred Heart the symbol and express image of the infinite love of Jesus Christ which moves us to love in return.”

Persons who struggle with same-sex attraction (SSA) are often falsely told by society that the Church rejects them. Because of this confusion, many bear a great resentment against the Church, but Jesus and his Church never reject a repentant sinner. No one who calls on Christ for mercy and repents of his sin will be lost. The doors of the Church are always open to the repentant sinner.

The Heart of Jesus is especially moved by those who suffer in any way — be it mentally, physically or spiritually. Certainly, those who strive to lead chaste lives, but struggle with SSA bear a difficult cross and deserve our sympathy; however, this sympathy will be misguided if it leads to condoning immoral behavior.

In the past homosexuals were often the victims of ridicule and hid their proclivities for fear of being exposed. The Founder of Human Life International, Fr. Paul Marx, O.S.B. once wrote

For too long Christian communities of all stripes have responded inappropriately to the issue of homosexuality. Too many Christians have spoken in anger when gentle strength might have been more appropriate. Too many homosexually oriented people have left churches feeling rejected because of who they are, not merely admonished or instructed as how to live.

Fr. Marx knew the importance of speaking the truth with love. Love does not condone sin; it firmly but gently draws the sinner to repentance.

In our times, same-sex advocates with powerful voices consistently encourage and celebrate homosexual attraction as normal, acceptable, and even as a special gift. Further, some contemporaries insist that persons are born with different sexual inclinations, therefore, society must accept and celebrate those differences.

Such attitudes are not truly helpful to those who suffer from SSA because they deny certain facts of human nature and the Commandments of God, which are not given to us to stifle our pleasure, but that we might have life and have it to the full. (John 10, 10)

The truth is that SSA is not part of human nature as God intended it. Jesus referred to this plan when an argument with the Pharisees about the nature of marriage he said “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” (Matthew 19, 4-5)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. (CCC 2357)

Based on theories that come from radical gender ideology, many in contemporary society deny the biological origins of male and female sexual differentiation. Rather, they think that gender identities exist along a spectrum. Future generations will undoubtedly see this claim as a perversion of a decadent culture. Pope Francis has strongly criticized such theories arguing that they do not “recognize the order of creation.”

A truly pastoral approach helps homosexual persons to acknowledge their sexual identity as conforming to the body that God gave us – either male or female –  and which was determined by our DNA at the moment of our fertilization. The Church teaches in the Catechism:

 “Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out.” (CCC 2333)

So what is the origin of SSA if not from God? It remains the case that there is no scientific proof that homosexuality is biologically determined. Those who suffer from unwanted SSA bear a unique cross, but it is not entirely unlike many other sinful attractions by which our fallen human nature is tempted.

The Letter of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith to the Bishops on the Pastoral  Care of Homosexual Persons specifically asks Bishops “to support, with the means at their disposal, the development of appropriate forms of pastoral care for homosexual persons. These would include the assistance of the psychological, sociological and medical sciences, in full accord with the teaching of the Church.” (#17)

The Church should assist homosexual persons through both natural and supernatural means. We see this approach in the life of Saint Padre Pio.  The Lord granted him extraordinary healing powers, but he also built a modern hospital with state of the art medical equipment, as the Church has done for centuries.

The supernatural remedy to any sin will be found in prayer and the sacraments, especially the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. We could never resist sin through our own power alone, but with the grace of God we can live holy and grace-filled lives.

We should also encourage devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which reminds sinners of God’s never failing personal love for them. A person who truly falls in love with Jesus Christ will never want to hurt him by committing a serious sin. Mother Teresa said “Sins against chastity and charity are directly wounding the Heart of Jesus.”

A noteworthy support group for those with SSA is the Courage Apostolate founded in 1980 by Fr. John Harvey with the help of Fr. Benedict Groeschel and Terence Cardinal Cooke. Courage has 100 chapters throughout the world and helps thousands of men and women to live chastely and find peace through fellowship, prayer, and the sacraments.

St. Thomas Aquinas taught that grace perfects nature. Natural means of assisting homosexual persons to live chaste lives include encouraging them to take advantage of therapeutically valid approaches to heal or diminish SSA.

According to Dr. Joseph Nicolosi,

Traditional psychology and the Judeo-Christian worldview both envision humankind as part of a universal heterosexual natural order, where some people will always struggle with SSA, (same-sex attraction) but SSA is not intrinsic to who they are. In fact, many such men will heed the call to ‘come back home’ to their true nature–the nature made plain to them by their biological design.

For some, it is possible through reparative therapy (RT) to heal SSA and develop and actualize the heterosexual potential of persons that suffer this condition. A fundamental element in this technology is the resolution of past traumas that may have led to a person’s disordered orientation.

Dr Joseph Nicolosi makes a strong case: “Such trauma may be explicit, such as sexual or emotional abuse, or implicit in the form of negative parental messages regarding one’s self and gender. Exploring, isolating and resolving these childhood emotional wounds will often result in reducing unwanted SSAs.” Thus, “The focus of treatment is identifying and resolving those traumatic experiences.” We should also take into account that there is a “substantial body of evidence supporting the understanding of at least some forms of homosexual orientation as based upon disturbances in gender-identity formation. The fulfillment of those needs can reduce, and sometimes eliminate, SSA.”

It is not our intention to endorse a particular type of reparative therapy or to claim that these treatments “work” for everyone. The available evidence suggests rather that certain methods can be effective with some people who truly desire to reorient their sexual desires. Rather, we encourage those struggling with SSA to seek experts in the field who respect both the spiritual and bodily dimensions of the human person. It is a disturbing development that politicians such as Catholic Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, who publicly disagrees with the Church about homosexuality,  has limited freedom of speech and the choices available to those struggling with SSA by banning such therapy. President Barack Obama backs a ban on such therapy for youth. It is ironic that the majority of those who support a right to choose to kill an unborn child don’t think people should be free to choose certain psychological therapies. We must strongly oppose any efforts to ban such therapies. Let us also hope and pray that science will continue to progress and increase the possibilities of healing of the persons affected by this disorder.

While therapy should be available to try to heal or decrease the effects of SSA, we should also emphasize that regardless of whether such therapy is successful for any particular person, everyone is called to be chaste. For the single person this means having mastery over one’s desires, and living a celibate life.

This can be a difficult cross, but we believe that when we offer our suffering — in union with Christ’s suffering on the cross — our suffering, as members of the mystical body of Christ, can help to atone for our own sins and the sins of others. St. Paul writes “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church…” (Colossians 1, 24). Why some are burdened with heavier crosses than others is a mystery, but the great Carmelite St. Mary Magdalen de’Pazzi said: “You will be consoled according to the greatness of your sorrow and affliction; the greater the suffering, the greater will be the reward.” Christ promises consolation to those who bear difficult crosses when he says “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” (Mt. 11:28)

It is ultimately in the Sacred Heart of Jesus that we find comfort and the love we seek. The Heart of Jesus burns with love for each and every one of us.  Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus can take many forms such as displaying and honoring an image of the Sacred Heart in your home, reciting the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus or making an Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart. We particularly recommend the First Friday devotion. In 1674, Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and this extraordinary promise among others:

In the excess of the mercy of my Heart, I promise you that my all powerful love will grant to all those who will receive Communion on the First Fridays, for nine consecutive months, the grace of final repentance: they will not die in my displeasure, nor without receiving the sacraments; and my Heart will be their secure refuge in that last hour.”

Our Lord also promised to give priests the power to touch the most hardened hearts. Priests who work with those who suffer with SSA need to have strong devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This devotion will help us speak the truth with love to sinners who feel far from God, and his Church and will help us gently lead them back to the Good Shepherd, who is meek and humble of heart. (Matthew 11, 29)

Monsignor Ignacio Barreiro, the executive director of Human Life International’s Rome office, co-authored this article with Father Peter West, vice president of missions at HLI HQ in Front Royal, Virginia. 

Reprinted with permission from Human Life International.

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