Sacramental marriage beyond anatomy | National Catholic Reporter

If a sacrament is a sign of God’s grace, it follows that relationships that are signs of God’s love, mercy, forgiveness, and faithfulness are sacramental. These signs of grace are part of the new life that married couples are called to bring into the world, with or without children.

via Sacramental marriage beyond anatomy | National Catholic Reporter.

I support civil unions for gay couples. I believe it from a legal point of view, so the rights of couples in life-long relationships can be supported and upheld.

I have slowly learned to accept the unions from a relational and not only legal point of view. Why can’t we call it a legal marriage, if it is a loving commitment for life? As a Catholic, I rationalized this view by differentiating from a civil marriage and a sacramental marriage. A union of two women or two men will never be a sacramental marriage in the eyes of the Church, so why should we get our shorts in a knot over a marriage on purely legal terms? There. I satisfied my liberal heart and my Catholic conscience.

Until I read Jamie L. Manson’s NCR article Sacramental marriage beyond anatomy. Now I have to rethink my whole view of sacramental marriage.

Jamie shares her own family experience of marriage, which included hardships and divorce. It wasn’t until she was in grad school that she observed the marriages of friends as being truly sacramental.

What made my straight friends’ marriages sacramental wasn’t the fact that their anatomies matched up in a particular way or that they could procreate. As I learned from my childhood, complementing genders and an ability to reproduce in no way guarantees that a marriage will be graced or sacramental. Their marriage was good and holy because it helped both partners to grow in generosity, compassion, mercy, and faithfulness.

She now believes that

the sacramental nature of marriage should be judged by whether there is equality and mutuality between spouses, whether the relationship helps both spouses to flourish individually and as a couple, and whether their relationship brings the love, mercy, and faithfulness of God more fully into our world.

If this is the case, is it so inconceivable to dare to see a loving, committed union between two women or two men as a sacrament?

Of course, this is getting into dangerous territory for it would force us to rethink our entire sacramental theology. If we accept this logic, that the efficacy of a sacrament shouldn’t depend on anatomy, then the reasoning behind the male only priesthood would also have to be thrown out the window.

We have to be careful about opening the windows of our minds and hearts. For one wee breeze can quickly turn into a freely blowing wind of change.

6 thoughts on “Sacramental marriage beyond anatomy | National Catholic Reporter

  1. Thanks, Isabella, for calling our attention to Jamie’s thoughtfully argued piece and for sharing your thinking on this issue. If straight Americans are increasingly in favor of marriage equality, it’s partly because more and more of us know someone who is gay, out, and living in a committed, sacramental relationship like Jamie describes. Experience forces us to question how natural law has been interpreted in church doctrine and to wonder how well that interpretation serves the church and the world in the 21st century. In forming our conscience, we can’t ignore experience any more than we can we ignore the scientific studies that show the biological origins of sexual orientation. I wonder how our Creator feels about church doctrine calling homosexual orientation disordered?

    1. Stretching our understanding of a sacramental union is a new concept for me. Perhaps if we can learn to embrace a greater inclusivity in our doctrinal thinking, it can lead to a greater compassion and spirit of inclusivity for all. And, yes, our experience must be allowed to play a part in forming our conscience.

      Thanks so much for your wise and thoughtful response, Mary!

  2. There are also those of us who respectfully disagree, have extensive experience in and with the gay community, and are called “haters”. It is discouraging to be sure. I hold strongly to a view that civil unions are important and should be seen as such. I hold an equally strong view that marriage in all it’s fallibility and messiness, a union connecting two sinful people is a mystery and sacrament – and in that sacrament I believe, is a picture of Christ and the church. I am constantly told that “If I knew someone who was gay I would not feel this way”. I don’t feel I should have to go into history and my personal experience to substantiate my beliefs. May I also add that I believe human sexuality is a complex, broken mystery and the idea that both America and Canada have raised it to a level of idolatry where you are “nothing” if you don’t have that one to love is a load of BS.
    As I wrote to someone recently:
    “Some of this is about the idolizing of sex in our culture – that we have to have someone to be whole, whether gay or straight it’s about finding that relationship. I don’t buy that. I think it’s idolatry of a sort. Wholeness before God is so not about sexuality and so about who I am before Him, not who others tell me I am – but who God Himself tells me I am. I do know the intense personal hurt I feel by not having anyone to walk this path of healing. People are either fine with this and think there’s nothing wrong or think there’s a special place in Hell. Where are the people who can walk alongside someone who wants and seeks healing? And has found it. I also struggle with the Western American church thinking they are progressive on the subject and dismissing their African brothers and sisters who believe strongly that God given sexuality is a gift to be expressed within a marital relationship of a man and woman. Perhaps one of the problems is that Christians have traditionally made the goal of healing in the area of homosexuality to be heterosexuality when the goal is holiness.”
    I apologize that this is long and apologize as I don’t usually go this far into a subject when online – simply because there is so much room for misunderstanding.

  3. The only way to avoid misunderstanding is to allow for a respectful sharing of beliefs, thoughts, and opinions in an atmosphere of deep listening in order to better understand.

    Marilyn, your blog post today was spot on! To all, I encourage you to go over and read ‘Don’t Speak While I’m Interrupting’ at Marilyn has written a thoughtful reflection on the need for dialogue – especially with faith issues.

    I agree with you, Marilyn, that human sexuality is a complex mystery. And, yes, it is a broken one also. I wonder if the brokenness can be blamed on two extremes. One extreme follows the dualist philosophy of spirit equals good, body equals evil. Therefore, the sexual act between a man and woman is a necessary evil, with the sole purpose of procreation. Our own Catholic Church has done more than enough damage promoting this view over the centuries. (Thankfully, official teaching now acknowledges the unitive (relational) aspect of sexual love not just the procreative.)

    The other extreme is the over-liberalized mentality that has reduced the sexual act to the level of passion and pleasure with no emotional attachment. This view has no respect for the dignity of the human person, made up of mind, body and soul. The person becomes a mere object used for fulfill a purely physical need.

    The sacramentality of marriage goes beyond the sexual act between a man and a woman. It also goes beyond fecundity – for many marriages do not or cannot produce children. I think what Jamie L. Manson was trying to propose is that true sacramentality within a relationship occurs when there is a deep love and compassion between spouses. A love that yes, is a sign pointing to the love that Jesus has for the Church. A love that reflects the communion of the undivided Trinity. An overflowing love that when others see it and experience it, even with all its messiness, they can truly see the love of God.

    The question then becomes, can this kind of love exist between two women, or two men? Or is it to be found exclusively within a traditional, heterosexual union?

    Oh dear… I have written a much longer response than intended! Thank you, Marilyn, for nudging me to think further on this issue. Here’s to the dialogue continuing…. 🙂

    1. I’m actually so glad it was long Isabella! After I posted I thought “Oh no!! What have I done?” and then remembered it was you and that you would be more than willing to enter into dialogue. It is one of those times when more than anything I wish we could sit down with a cup of tea together. More later.

      1. I’m all for that cup of tea, Marilyn! I wish that more of the dialogue around this issue took place in the spirit of friendship. Imagine if all dialogue did….

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