Monday, July 7, 2014

The great challenge in accepting hard Church teachings

Much has been said and misunderstood about the Church’s teachings about her stand and wisdom behind the LGBT issue.  Here in Singapore, the Church had been cautious through the years to weigh in on the issue at hand, but as of late, because of the strong views held by those who have SSA (same sex attraction) and who have been advocating the acceptance of such active lifestyles, our Bishop spoke up in an official capacity as head of the local church, making it clear what the Church teachings are, but at the same time making it very clear that the Church also does try her best to balance her teachings with an abundance of charity and compassion towards those who suffer. 

The reaction from the public, especially those who choose to live out their SSA in an active way, has been strident to say the least.  Why is this so?  There are many different reasons for this, but perhaps the one reason which makes the most sense is that of faith, or lack of it.  Without doubt, Church teachings can seem hard, inflexible and unyielding.  Even more so if one is only looking at such teachings as an external observer, with a keen eye to notice only selective teachings without being able to comprehend the larger whole.  To be sure, one of the things that enables one to accept ‘hard’ teachings is faith – faith in God, deep belief that this God is loving, and faith in the Church being the visible sign of God’s presence in a sinful and broken world.  Teachings about chastity are not the only hard teachings.  Acceptance of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist can be an equally hard teaching but we don’t see the Church getting soft on that at all.  Of course, we do not put the Eucharist and the call to chastity on the same level of theological dogmatic importance, but I did it to make a point.  There are strong reasons why the Church seems to be unbending in her teachings.  It takes faith to hold on to them and accept them.  It is often when this faith is weak and wavering that one makes the initial movement to live outside of what the Church calls ‘grace’.

Whenever I come across vitriolic spewed at the Church from livid SSA advocates, excoriating the Church's seeming rigid stand on such issues, one of the first things that I ask myself is whether there are signs that show that the writer or speaker is an unbaptized person, or if the person has left the Church.  In almost all cases, this is found to be true.  Yes, in some very painful cases, it could have well been a reaction that found its sad origins in one having been abused by members of the clergy.  The Church has paid (and is still paying) dearly for such sins.  But that cannot be the reason for the majority.  For many, it has been the unwillingness to accept the fact that the call to discipleship and eventual sainthood will always entail the carrying of the cross, and this cross comes in so many different forms.  The virtue of longsuffering is often furthest from the minds of such advocates.  For the disciple of Christ with SSA inclinations, the cross necessarily includes a physical denial of the self.  The call to chastity and chaste living is a call to every disciple of Christ, whether one is married or single, lay or cleric.  The deeper one’s faith is, the clearer will this call to holiness be. 

But when one only chooses to follow the physical demands of the flesh with no regard for borders or controls of any kind, one starts then to put aside the call or vocation of godliness to make the self and one’s needs the centre of everything.  To still want to be a faithful disciple of Christ and live out in an active SSA lifestyle would be tantamount to living a life of disequilibrium, which will end up tearing the person apart from within. 

But this dilemma does not only apply to these brothers and sisters alone.  Anyone who is living a lifestyle that is contrary to church teachings and considers themselves disciples of Christ and his Church does this to himself – examples abound – people being unfaithful in marriage, people who regularly lie and cheat and steal, people who have no qualms in using others for their own benefit, employers who do not treat their employees or domestic helpers with justice or respect, etc.  And when one’s conscience is numbed, one will have no qualms about receiving the Eucharist whilst living a double life.  The only difference is that these sins are often hidden and acted out clandestinely, whilst those advocating an open SSA lifestyle are bold and public about this, which makes it slightly more of a challenge for the Church to treat with charity and compassion.

When a disciple of Christ abandons any thoughts or acceptance of living a sacrificial life, something else happens rather unnoticed - one will automatically shift one’s locus of life from the soul or spirit to the body.  Listening to the body and giving in to its multifarious demands for gratification and physical needs will become easier and easier as one abandons the Cross.  To be able to see this movement and still love the person with sincere love and charity is one of the great challenges of any LGBT Christian support group.  Where this love, charity and compassion is lacking, an opening will be made for intolerance, finger-pointing and acrimony.

Perhaps what is sorely needed now is a real Saint who has lived the life of chastity and faithfulness as a result of deep faith even though he or she had been given the cross of being same sex attracted.  This person would then be the solid example that listening to the soul and following its challenging path is not a feeble choice, but a stalwart one.  And if there are real-life stories about how he or she when faced with temptations of the flesh chose the harder route of denying the self (and suffered even further as a result of the choice for God) that led to a greater peace and silent joy, they would be great sources of encouragement to those who choose to live out their faith with courage and devotion.  These saints would then be patrons of those who want to carry the Cross bravely, but also acknowledge that one needs spiritual help to do this well.

Perhaps this may not be materialized in our generation.  I do hope that one day, this will happen for the benefit of many of our SSA brothers and sisters in the faith who are living in very challenging times.  I too, join my bishop and pray for your faith and courage to be strengthened each day and offer up my physical sufferings in my convalescence for your call to holiness.


  1. Hmmm frLuke, God's anointed, the priests and religious, are testimony that living a life of chastity and faithfulness is possible. As what C.S. Lewis said "When i have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, i shall love my earthly dearest better than i do now. In so far as i learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, i shall be moving toward the state in which i shall not love my earthly dearest at all. When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed, but increased.


  2. There are already saints in the church... those with a small "s".... who have chosen not to be political nor public....


  3. Perhaps what is sorely needed now is a real Saint who has lived the life of chastity and faithfulness as a result of deep faith even though he or she had been given the cross of being same sex attracted.......”

    The other day after the brouhaha over our Archbishop’s letter re LGBT issue, I was introduced to a video clip at You Tube entitled “The Third Way- Homosexuality and the Catholic Church”. Here, some of our SSA brothers and sisters of the faith shared openly and honestly.......about their life’s journey touching with much poignancy on individual anecdotes that finally brought them to the Compassionate One. What came through was the deep sense of loneliness, the isolation and confusion of some of them, their need to find and define their identity in a world that seems to have no place for “deviants” like them...........that somehow it was all their fault!

    This came to mind when I read your blog and I felt that we do have such beautiful people or saints ( though not canonized) who took to heart the Church’s call to every baptized - to make saintliness and holiness our goal in life - (even though they have a much heavier cross to bear.) For some of them, their search for Truth or Love will ultimately bring them to the foot of the Cross because Love feeds on Sacrifice.........the crushing of the ego...........willing that at each crisis of life some active self-denial has to be made so that Love can truely deepen or progressively grow. Somehow, this was what I felt when I listened to them
    An awareness has been created with the airing of this issue openly in Singapore and thank you Fr for this sharing in your blog. It is a good thing for it is a starting point for dialogue that can lead to better understanding and compassionate love- for often enough it is ignorance that fosters fear and dread, that can lead to emotive violence. One needs to pray for the divine gift of compassion, following St Paul’s exhortation to Timothy in his communication to the Colossians – (3:12)

    God bless you, Fr.


  4. Thank you for another timely and relevant post, Fr. Luke; so many good points of note.

    While I truly empathise with the struggles of those who struggle with SSA, all of us (if you come to think of it), struggle with some sort of fundamental weakness (or predilection). It could be, for example, an obsession with being honoured; surely quite a common temptation.

    It’s just that the LGBT has become such a political/human rights issue of late. And the (modern) world-view on this issue can seem to be so convincing, so compassionate. The Catholic position, on the other hand, might be construed as cold and judgemental.

    Yes, church teaching can at times seem ‘hard’ and unyielding – baffling even. In John chapter 6: I am struck by the fact that, many, if not most of the people, having actually seen Jesus work miracles, nevertheless walked away muttering to themselves that, “This is hard teaching; who can accept it?” when Jesus talked about His flesh being real food. But do we really need to rationalise and make sense of everything before we believe? Or are we to trust Jesus’s words simply because of who He is?

    It’s difficult, no doubt about it, for those who experience SSA. It’s a particularly heavy cross to bear. Let’s continue to pray for those affected.
    God bless.

  5. Thank you for your sharing Fr Luke. May God continue to watch over you and bless you. Nic Lim

  6. When I read Archbishop’s open letter, I am actually very relieved at his courage and compassion in daring to tackle a controversial issue, in showing the church’s stand of compassion and inclusion of LGBTs. Personally, I felt it was overdue and I thankfully applaud his courage in exposing himself for expectable attacks.

    I am in my mid-thirties, and I know of many LBGTs from schooldays (sec- uni), my old workplace and even now, with the teens I worked with. I am seriously still undecided if SSA is a personal choice, or it’s a genetic or a physiological cause .

    I have had 3 good friends with SSA, out of which 2 had “came out”; now with long term partners and both were Catholics. We grew up together and I saw their struggle with their SSA, but the temptation proved too great when they both went overseas for study, where the lure and acceptance of the gay community seems like the perfect cure for the loneliness of nonacceptance by their families and being alone overseas.

    I too, on my orientation day in my university was bombarded with banners from the queer club, slogans shouting – “Love is about the person, not the gender”, “Are you straight, gay, or simply just undecided? Come find out.” At the age of self-discovery and sedated faith, it was indeed tempting to go “find out.”

    Been serious in my faith these past years, I got categorized into the “anti-group” and I had lost touch with both of them as they turn back on their faith only cause them “pain and confusion.” Our friendship became collateral damage.

    It just brings to my mind as to – what can we, as church do to make them feel loved instead? Yes, there are some LBGTs who are sex-addicts and uncaringly indulging in promiscuous lifestyles but what can we do as church for those who are sincerely struggling at the periphery? Those struggling to love God yet can’t find support in who they are in church. It will be too easy to fall back into the gay community to find the love lacking everywhere else.

    Indeed, it takes a village to raise a child, how about someone or even a child with SSA tendency?

    I have no answer but I do believe in the power of united prayer – to pray and intercede for God’s graces for them to continue in their struggle to be saints, and also in us, as church to truly open our hearts to embrace them, to love them as Jesus does.

    Thank You Fr Luke, in taking also a step emulating Our courageous Archi.

  7. Dear Fr Luke,

    The world thinks that LBGT is a lifestyle choice. Those who advocate such a lifestyle will use whatever means to validate their choices - science, philosophy, psychology. Its hard not to make this an 'us' vs 'them' issue, eg 'the Church' vs 'the world'. In my own conversations, I had stated that SSA is a choice. But my statement has offended my own circle (!), so I removed myself from that conversation. Its hard to speak up for my Faith, because I feel that it is 'me' against 'the world'. For the LBGT community who are Faithful to their journey to Sainthood, that is also a choice. A brave choice indeed.

    Take care