What can you say when a Catholic in your life talks about same-sex blessings?
‘It’s all OK now dear’. Those were the words of my fiercely Catholic mother when the Pope proclaimed that it was now acceptable for Catholic priests to bless same-sex intimate relationships.
The issue of same-sex relationships has been heartfelt in our family for a generation, as my sister has had several same-sex partners since she came out as gay in the 1990s. This has caused division between her and Mum, who always held the Catholic line. For Mum it was a salvation issue and so she was fighting for my sister’s place in heaven. She was also fighting for her own place in heaven as she had promised before God on her wedding day to do everything in her power to raise her kids Catholic.
But now in her old age, it’s officially sanctioned by the Catholic Church: she can reconcile with her daughter, bless her same-sex relationship, and finally have peace. For my sister, she can look forward to a closer relationship with Mum and fewer judgmental digs when she goes to visit.
As we talk with Catholics in our lives about this issue, we will no doubt be aware that we are often treading on some pretty sensitive ground.
What did I say to my family members when asked about it?
Like many will have experienced on these occasions, it came at me without having had time to think about it beforehand. I said, ‘The Pope might bless these relationships, but I don’t think Jesus would.’ To which Mum replied, ‘That doesn’t matter, darling, the Pope has special powers. If the Pope says it’s OK then it’s OK.’
I hope you can feel the weight of trust many committed Roman Catholics place in the church. It often has a similar intensity to the emotional attachment they feel to ‘The Blessed Virgin Mary’. These feelings are nurtured in Roman Catholicism from infancy as Mary is called ‘the Mother of the Church’: most homilies, and even whole papacies, are dedicated to Mary.
Evangelism to Roman Catholics, at its heart, is a battle of loves! Augustine got it right when he said that the heart of sin is that we love the wrong things too much.
So I then responded, ‘Jesus I trust; the Pope not so much’.
How can we, in our life, our words, our actions, our commitments, demonstrate a love of Jesus that draws people to him more compellingly than a love of Mary and the Church – that’s the starting place for us, isn’t it? Love Jesus, love our neighbours.
Love is costly: we need to commit to Jesus, listen to him, trust him and obey him… but how could we respond in any other way when we come to understand his sacrificial death for us, and his glorious ascension to rule the world with power and justice? Jesus loves us first in a way that is far more deeply satisfying than any other love we will ever experience. That is the real starting place: knowing Jesus’ love for us, and for our Catholic friends, family and neighbours as God uses us to hold out that love to them as well.
It is also the starting point, by the way, for our same-sex attracted friends, family, and neighbours.
The words will usually come; the heart is the place to start.
For more on sharing Jesus with your Catholic friends and family, see the newly available course Talking With Catholics About Jesus (YouTube video trailer here)