What did he want? What could I give him? Actually, we both knew what he wanted, what he needed. He needed some way to live with himself as a person with same-sex attraction; he needed some way to integrate that “intrinsically disordered desire” with his Catholicism. In short, he was trying to live “The Third Way.” Sound familiar? Maybe you have also had this experience with a childhood or college friend. If you haven’t yet, you can be sure it will. When someone confesses to same-sex attraction, it can be hard to know what to do and how to react. More than ever, it seems like we need to have some answers.
The phrase “The Third Way” comes from the video “The Third Way: Homosexuality and the Catholic Church.” This video is made by Blackstone Films. Its purpose is to propose a “Third Way’ for Catholics to live who are struggling with same-sex attraction.
Surprisingly, the Catechism more or less describes the “The Third Way.” I say surprisingly because I sensed and still sense a lot of confusion around this topic among Catholics. The Catechism states: “Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection” (CCC 2359).
After re-watching the video “The Third Way: Homosexuality and the Catholic Church” and pondering the Catechism, I’ve come up with some reflections for what this “The Third Way” might look like to our brothers and sisters suffering from the same-sex attraction.
Being Unafraid to be Who You Are
One thing that emerges from the video is why people struggling with same-sex attraction would be afraid of rejection and, therefore, the importance of creating a climate in which a person with this struggle would not need to fear rejection. In the “The Third Way” video, Joseph says “A large part of the alienation I felt was just what homosexuality was in sort of like widespread [Catholicism]. You know kind of like mean jokes got said about it or not mean because, ‘Well, nobody we know is actually like that so we wouldn’t talk like that if any of us were like that,’ but of course I’m standing right there.” The person with this struggle needs to feel that he or she can safely share the struggle of same-sex attraction without feeling shunned or isolated, and this is, of course not the experience of many people struggling with this attraction as Joseph makes clear.
The Church should always welcome sinners with open arms. In the end, this means loving the sinner and hating the sin. We are not trying to normalize the homosexual act or condone homosexual relationships, but we are trying to make it so that is not a taboo subject or the subject of insensitive jokes. We do need to create an environment where people can share their struggles and find support in community and confession.
The Catechism (as quoted above) says that “at times by disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, [people with same-sex attraction] can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.” Thus, it seems imperative that someone with these attractions seeks healthy friendships. This point is made in the video, but I think with the implicit qualification that disinterested, healthy friendships probably are only possible when other healing has started. As one man says in the video, “I focused on building a strong foundation on God and amazing things happened. I stopped sex. I stopped alcohol. I stopped drugs, and I verbally forgave my dad. I made some really good Catholic male friends. They taught me how to throw, how to hit, and how to catch and I began to like who I was.” Another man says, “I realized that I could have all the attention, all the acceptance, and all the affirmation from straight men and that’s been my healing process.”
Again, this aspect of “The Third Way” seems dangerous. A lot hinges on the word “disinterested”. A person must develop the ability to control temptation, thereby remaining disinterested. The ability to have proper friendships in itself implies a kind of healing and a habit of “self-mastery” in the word of the Catechism. This isn’t to say someone with same-sex attractions couldn’t have male-friendships, but it is to say, as I already have, that it requires a degree of maturity.
Finding solace in the Sacraments and Prayer
The importance of prayer cannot be overstated. Jesus, of course, says that “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17). He meets sinners where they are and offers healing. Of course, this requires that a person with same-sex attraction acknowledge that acting on these desires is sinful.
It’s not surprising that confession comes up in the video. Joseph says “The first time I actually told anybody about this, all of this, was in confession and instead of just kind of brushing past it, he said ‘oh, well do you want to talk about that?’ and I was like ‘yeah, please I do.’ You know I was not in the habit of talking about anything that was important to me. He made himself available to me in a way that nobody else ever has. He was very truly a father to me.” Jesus, like the priest described by Joseph, starts a conversation with the woman at the well and through this dialogue healing seems to take place naturally.
Finding Community in the Church
The video more than hints at the dire need for more Church community and outreach towards people with this struggle. Melinda from the video states “We also need to understand that for people who choose to live chastity, one of the biggest obstacles is isolation and loneliness. The Church has to function as family and as community, and it has to do so in a way that is more powerful and more real than the family and community that people find in the gay scene. At the moment, we’re not anywhere near that.” There are many ways that this Church community could be achieved. It might mean starting a program or support group. Courage is one program that exists and could grow.
We can reach out to people who struggle with same-sex attraction and we should. I’m resolved to do what I can. Helping those who struggle will also require Church leaders who are committed to the teachings of the Church and to the needs of the community. We need to help these people like the friend I mentioned at the beginning because otherwise we will lose them.