Hope: one of the three theological virtues. As Christians we have hope in many things, our primary hope being the promise of Christ that through the perseverance of our faith and cooperation with God’s grace, heaven will be our eternal inheritance. Unfolding under this hope, is the hope that God, in his goodness, will place within our lives the graces necessary to reach that end. Of those graces, one that we might not consider very much, is the grace of being admonished by our fellow Christians. To be admonished when we lose our way so that we are brought back onto the path of God’s divine wisdom, is a grace for which we should pray. Over the past few weeks, this is a grace I have been reflecting on in my life, pondering whether those in my life would take up the responsibility to admonish me were my soul to find itself in grave, obstinate danger.
There is an ongoing situation in my family which has weighed heavily on me for quite some time. To summarize as discretely as possible (only a handful of my closest confidants and family are even aware of the more specific details): I have a very close non-Catholic, but Christian, family member who has chosen to become romantically involved with a Catholic. The Catholic is divorced, but has chosen not to go through the annulment process, and is therefore presumed to be validly married to their still-living spouse. For this individual to enter into a new relationship without the Church investigating to determine whether a marital bond actually exists between them and their spouse, is to violate the vows of that marriage. On this topic the Church is unambiguously clear. The goal of this relationship appears to ultimately be marriage between my family member and the Catholic. As you can see, this poses a moral dilemma since one party is currently married.
Because of the love I have for this close family member of mine, and quite frankly, for my fellow Catholic, I have done everything I can lovingly do to persuade my family member to encourage their significant other to initiate the annulment process or to break off the relationship, so as to not to take part in the violation of another’s marriage bond. I have done this because I take the words of St. James seriously:
My brothers, if anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back, he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
Through personal conversations, Scripture, and Catholic media I have appealed to the sacredness of marriage and our duty as Christians to respect that sacredness. When that appeared to have no effect, I utilized social media to share benign information that is of general interest to the public, but also pertinent to this situation in the great hope that should they see these things their heart might be softened.One thing I shared, for example, was paragraph 1649 from the Catechism which outlines the duties of married couples who have not had their marriage bond annulled to remain single or be reconciled per 1 Corinthians 7:10-11. Anyone can plainly see that this particular passage from the Catechism is quite non-judgmental, sensitive, and altogether merciful and hopeful. This is my position on this situation. My words and intentions have never come from a place of judgment, hate, or ill-will.
And yet, my family, particularly Catholics within my family, have not been happy that I have expressed my concerns. I have been met with accusations of “casting stones,” of “trying to take the speck out of my brother’s eye while ignoring the plank in mine,” of “setting up stumbling blocks,” of “judging” and “personally interpreting Church teaching incorrectly.” I have been quite tactlessly told to accept this situation and get over it. I can understand these things coming from those unfamiliar with Catholicism, but to hear these things from Catholics has been a huge blow to me. To hear trite secular slogans like “so-and-so deserves to be happy,” and “how could you condemn so-and-so to be alone for the rest of their life” used to shame me for the Faith we share has been a stunning shock to me. This response seems so foreign to the Gospels, the New Testament, and the life of the Church, that has been difficult to make sense of it over the last few weeks. But more than my difficulty in making sense of the anger that I have received, this response is striking a deep chord in my own ongoing battle to live for Christ.
For long time readers, you know that I struggle with same-sex attraction. When I came out to the world a little more than three years ago, I was humbled and blessed at the immense support I received, from friends, family, and strangers who knew me not. I simply could not believe how much support I had. But one question I never asked myself was: in what way do all these people support me? Do they actually believe I am doing the right thing by attempting to live the Church’s teachings? Or do they simply support me for choosing one of many different paths, perhaps selecting the one that seemed right for me at that particular time in my life? More importantly, if I were to ever find myself going down the wrong path, maybe choosing to marry a man and live a semi-domesticated life with him, would they support that choice or admonish me and try to convince me to return to God? I guess I had always hoped and assumed that at the very least, the Christians around me would do what they could to bring a lost brother home.
But now I am unsure whether they would admonish me. They may, according to the example they have shown, consider my earthly happiness a higher virtue than holiness. They may encourage me deeper into sin, possibly even celebrating the journey. The people I have believed that I could count on to lead me back if I went astray, may not actually help me. The family I had hoped would help me carry my cross when it was at its heaviest just might be the first ones to let it crush me to death. And what’s even scarier for me is that their example has shown me that they are unafraid to bully, harass, or shame someone who wants to bring me back to the right path.
This realization has left a heavy burden on my heart. This situation has helped me see that in my moments of weakness I cannot blindly assume I can rely on family. This startling epiphany has brought me to tears. But I cannot lose hope. My opponent the devil is stalking me like a lion, waiting to devour me (1 Peter 5:8-9/Genesis 4:7) , and I do not have time to focus on what is not. I must pray more fervently than ever for God to place people in my life who will support and admonish me in my times of need, who will encourage me to strive for the greatness I was made for, and the holiness for which I am destined. This is one of the reasons that I have decided to get involved with Courage, something I should have done years ago. When God closes one door, he opens another.
But I am still a part of my family, and I pray for a peaceful resolution to all of these problems: the anger, the frustration, and doing the right thing. I do not desire that we should be separated now or in eternity, and that is why I will continue to not be ashamed of the Gospel that saves (Romans 1:16), and will not fear to encourage my family to strive for holiness. The situation is tense right now, and perhaps by expressing my newly discovered fears here, the situation is going to be more tense. But love covers a multitude of sins, and the prayer of a righteous man is effective, which is why I ask all you readers to pray for me and my family. I’ve included a prayer for you offer alongside me:
Prayer to St. Joseph in a difficult problem
O glorious St. Joseph, thou who hast power to render possible even things which are considered impossible, come to our aid in our present trouble and distress. Take this important and difficult affair under thy particular protection, that it may end happily. (Name your request here)
O dear St. Joseph, all our confidence is in thee. Let it not be said that we would invoke thee in vain; and since thou art so powerful with Jesus and Mary, show that thy goodness equals thy power. Amen.
St. Joseph, friend of the Sacred Heart, pray for us.