Ethics in action
“If I’m invited to the wedding of a homosexual couple or a couple who has been previously married to other people, what do I do?”
— A. L.
By Msgr. Michael Magee
This question seems to have been asked by a Catholic, but similar questions do arise in the experience of members of other faiths. Beliefs about marriage have become a point on which one sadly finds much division today.
In any event, this question seems to arise only when there is a serious difference of belief between the inviters and the invitee. Let’s consider first of all the fact that sometimes differences such as these can become a sort of dark background against which love can shine all the more brightly.
As a basis for making any concrete decision about how to respond in this situation, it seems important to first consider how to form one’s heart after the example of Jesus. When he met people who were making choices that clashed with the religious teachings of Israel or the commandments of his Father, his own clear teaching and challenging commands never obscured the fact that he loved those persons, even to the point of giving his own life for them.
He sometimes had harsh words for those who condemned others or led others astray, but not for those who were striving to do their best — nor even for those who were struggling with serious sin. Without condemning them, he did sometimes challenge them lovingly to change their choices and live lives of greater integrity. He was known for visiting and dining with sinners instead of staying away from them.
In his conduct, then, we can find the first principle to guide us in responding. Put simply, we imitate Jesus by first of all maintaining the bond of love rather than writing people off. This does not mean forgetting or hiding our own beliefs; in fact, being ready to talk about those beliefs helps to show that love is not prevented by differences between people, even when those differences are serious.
Rather, love builds a bridge across those differences. This will be true regardless of how we respond concretely to this one invitation, and this principle remains important for our ongoing relationship as well.
We see that Jesus was also ready to die for us who are sinners. This raises a thought-provoking question: How am I ready to “die” for those who have a different set of moral standards than me? What am I ready to lose for their sakes?
Rather than waving the banner of what I believe to be my own correctness, I can try to make it clear that my own opinion means nothing here, even if faith in God remains all-important. One way to live out this ordering of values is to make this decision with the help of others, especially clergy or spiritual advisers of my own faith, as well as friends in whose spiritual maturity and integrity I trust. In this way, even the very making of the decision can be a way of “dying” to self.
It would be too simplistic to say that a truly loving decision here would always mean either a “yes” or a “no” to this invitation itself. Many churches, including the Catholic Church, do not have one simple rule to govern all such situations. The answer may depend on many factors.
For example, what is the nature of my relationship with those involved? What are my obligations within my own faith? Are there some things to which I could say yes, such as attending, and others to which I might need to say no, such as having a part in the ceremony? How will my decision affect my ability to maintain a loving relationship with them in the future? How likely or unlikely is my answer to confuse or mislead this couple or others about the faith that I am trying to live out? What other possibilities are open to me for showing that alongside my faith, my love for them and my hope for their good are also supremely important to me? And the list could go on and on.
In the end, though, what is most important will be to respond in a way that helps the recipients of our answer to recognize the love of Jesus that is within us and flows among us: a love that does not hide divisions or pretend that they don’t exist, but that seeks to bridge those divisions and to heal them.
Msgr. Michael Magee is a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia
and teaches at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
In our new column on moral choices, Monsignor Michael Magee offers guidelines to decide whether or not to attend a wedding that goes contrary to your religious belief
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