“We are the way we are, and usually for very good reasons.” I used these words during the Requiem Mass for my beloved wife, Margaret. I was reflecting on how Maggie was with people. She never was negative with others, always positive. I had come to realise, in those few days between her sudden death and her funeral, that Maggie had in fact taught me by her own example how life is to be lived.
I tried to assemble the lesson of life, the wisdom of Maggie into a short four -line statement, which said that, “Margaret always accepted people and was kind to them; Margaret always accepted people and supported them; Margaret always accepted people and was honest with them; Margaret always accepted people and challenged them when she needed to.”
Acceptance of one another is always the starting point. Without it nothing can flourish. Nothing can go well. I need to know that you consider me to be a person of worth, and that dealing with me is something worth your while. When that is established, then the four gifts of life that come into play to characterise our relationship will be kindness, practical and moral support, honesty and facing the truth, even when it is difficult, and being challenged when a wrong or unwise path is being pursued.
There is nothing negative in this way of being, in this way of interacting with one another. It promotes human flourishing and it grapples with human issues and problems.
I want to use this wisdom to try and say something good and helpful on the issue of homosexuality and the church, but before I do, I want to reflect on that great parable of Jesus, the story of the ‘Prodigal Son’.
Jesus tells a story of how two sons try to live their lives. Very differently, as it turns out. One is all obedience and duty, seriousness and repressed life. The other is wilful and wild and party loving and foolish, a lover of fun and good times, who discovers painfully that he has, perhaps, loved too well. Both sons want life. They want to be happy and to find love and fulfilment. That is our human nature. They take different paths, and one is clearly dicing with danger, and an easy target for finger-pointing. The other staid young gentleman is a model of seeming virtue, which he quickly betrays when his vicious tongue is unleashed against his foolish sibling.
An old moral theology would have stepped in by this time and logged and detailed every wrong step that the wild one takes and given it its appropriate value in the mortal sin categories. The older brother of course would have been let off, praised even for his quiet life with scarcely a venial peccadillo to tarnish his unblemished reputation.
God watches all this with an aching and a loving heart for his two boys, so Jesus depicts in his story. Let them grow together, as he says in another tale. Let them find their way. At the end of this story the wild one does indeed find his way home to his father, and we are left wondering whether the older boy can find his way our of his muddled and resentful face and savour for the first time the glorious taste of freedom.
The church behaves very much like the elder son when it looks at the lives of gay people. It does not approve. It gives out negative vibes. And yet it begins well, by being able to say that a homosexual orientation is not in itself a sin. People are the way they are, even when we do not understand all the reasons why this is so. But if it is so, then we better learn how to respect that and to accept that.
If we were then to follow the ‘Maggie’ way, we would be kind, be supportive, be honest and challenge as appropriate. One issue of honesty is to say that we do not fully understand this phenomenon, which in our lifetime has changed from being a criminal offence to being a freely chosen life style. It would be very helpful to say honestly, “I do not fully understand but I respect you and your search for love in life.”
And if we started from the basis of human dignity of each person, we would not then write or speak in any way that insulted or offended others, even as we may disagree in our views or our limited understandings of human life.
The natural law starting point is contentious anyway. The laws of nature are not the same as the natural law. Natural Law is our human reading of our nature from the evidence we see, and that includes the evidence of homosexual orientation. We read and interpret differently. We see life differently. We can try and show one another our visions and our readings, but we cannot persuade if people are not persuaded.
Let the starting point of human dignity be our starting point. If we treat one another with due honour and respect, there is every chance that we will discuss and argue well. We may live in different ways, and we all struggle to find our way through life, and we are the way we are for good reasons usually.
Let us help one another to find our way to the father who loves us all.
Brian Fahy, an English man of Irish parentage, was a religious and priest who married, but has been recently widowed.