Patrick Anthony Bergquist, 35, director of children, youth and family ministries at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan, and Dr. J. Patrick Hornbeck II, 33, chairman of the theology department and associate professor of medieval and reformation history at Catholic, Fordham University in the Bronx, got married last week.
I don’t doubt the two men love each other. I do doubt that Fordham will preserve its Catholic identity as forthrightly as Mr. Bergquist and Dr. Hornbeck publicly identify as “gay” marrieds. They are proud of their identity. Many Catholic leaders are conflicted. So, how do Catholic institutions retain their Catholic identity if those who represent them and are employed by them publicly defy the clear teaching of the Church? But that is for later.
Right now, we see Mr. Bergquist and Dr. Hornbeck trying to fulfill their human needs for intimacy, love and stability. In his coming-out memoir, gay journalist Jonathan Rauch describes growing up scared. He found no safe place, no home for him in the world because of his unwanted, illicit desires. He imagined no place where he could express the love he felt or feel that love reciprocated. When he was finally named “husband,” he felt relieved, as though he had just received notice of a negative biopsy: “You’re not sick or twisted or crazy; you’re just hindered from giving and receiving love, and now the hindrance is removed.”
Wesley Hill, favoring homosexual marriage, writes in First Things that America and Jonathan “have found, at last, a name for his soul. It is not ‘monster’ or ‘eunuch’ or ‘pervert’ or the anemic moniker ‘friend’ or ‘partner’ or the clinical ‘disordered’ or ‘homosexual.’ He has found a name for his soul. It is: ‘husband.’”
Such testimony rightly enkindles in us sympathy for the years of pain and confusion Jonathan endured. Nevertheless, the Michigan bishops in their vast pastoral experience have encountered lovers like Jonathan. Yet they still clearly reject the notion that gender is insignificant for marriage. Love may have no gender, but marriage does.
Let’s set aside “gay” marriage and look at the soul Jonathan opened to us. In “husband” he found his identity, his soul. I’m not “gay.” And I’ve spent too much time pastorally counseling homosexuals to think “gay” and “straight” sexuality are necessarily the same thing with just differently gendered objects of desire. So I don’t even claim to know how he loves his partner. But, I too, am “husband” and find security in being so. On this point, I feel kinship with Jonathan.
Unlike Jonathan, however, I have never staked my soul on that designation. My soul and identity precede my marriage to Sally. I love her, and my life has been enriched incalculably by her. Without her, though, I was not and am not a deficient soul. If she predeceases me, I will have lost a lover who interpenetrates my thoughts and feelings in ways that no mere friendship ever could. The loss would be staggering. But I will not be soulless or without a robust self or identity. Her unique contribution to my life has strengthened, not created, the soul that existed before.
I fear Jonathan will not find in marriage the redemption of his soul. He will not fill that God-shaped vacuum in his heart through human marriage. Only one key fits that lock, and it is held by no mere man. Veteran husbands know the danger of thinking our wives are the solutions to our spiritual problems. Too frequently, we have burdened our wives by clinging to them as God-surrogates. When Sally sits in place of the Divine Helper of Psalm 41, absurdity results.
Sally “is my refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore, I will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea…
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; She lifts her voice, the earth melts.
The Wife Almighty is with us; the Woman of Kresta is our fortress.
She says, “Be still, and know that I am Sally;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth….
”Hush…The Wife Almighty is with us;
the Woman of Kresta is our fortress.
Sally can’t do for me what God needs to do. Our focus on the family can become an idolatry of the family. If we falsely prioritize our family to become “the One in whom we live, move and have our being,” this is not good.
Only in the encounter with Jesus do we meet the divine spouse: Jesus, the lover of our souls. Knowing him relativizes all human relationships. Love father, mother, sister, brother, husband, wife more than him and lose both him and our souls. For Jonathan, as for all of us, Christ stands ready to give us something infinitely superior than the name of “husband” or “wife.” He invites us to become partakers of the divine nature. Then, Christ becomes our ultimate “husband” and to him, we all play “bride.”
For Jonathan and others to make the radical break with sin that true discipleship demands, they must find a safe place rich in fraternal support and where words mean something. They rightly resist voices that obfuscate and temporize about things that count for eternity. Those leaders, who by neglect, cowardice or unbelief, obscure the clarity and authority of Christ’s call to repent and believe the Gospel, do damage to the faith prospects of all seekers.
When teachers sound an uncertain trumpet, they undermine the plausibility of the faith. Many priests and bishops failed to champion or even teach Humanae Vitae when Pope Paul VI promulgated it in 1968. They lapsed into an easy, “let your conscience be your guide” and failed to help adult Catholics form their consciences. At the present moment, I fear some leaders will say, “let your ‘love’ be your guide,” and fail to define love as Jesus explains and incarnates in the New Testament. Truth is never opposed to love. If we love Jonathan or anyone who seeks love, we owe them the truth. If we don’t believe that the Church’s teaching is true, we have no business leading.