Chapter Eight: A Home for the Wounded Heart
by Sara Perla
The eighth chapter of the catechesis for the WMOF focuses on the Church as a home for the wounded. How many times have you heard someone say, “The Church should do something about that!” or, “And what did the Church do to help her?” What I find interesting about this kind of phrasing is that often the person who asks the question is a Christian. He or she is part of the Church, and thus directly implicated by the question. “The Church should do something about that,” should really spark: “I should do something about that.”
Loneliness, for example, is a well-documented problem in American society (check out Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone), and the Church should “do something” about it. But that doesn’t mean (only) that the bishops should “do something”, or even that the priests should “do something”. It is the lay people who must be actively involved if loneliness is to be combatted.
As the WMOF catechesis notes, Catholic teaching regarding same-sex attraction is sometimes perceived as cruel, “dooming men and women to a life of loneliness” (no. 166). Some think that because of this attraction the Church ostracizes those who experience it. This is not true, and it should not be true in practice. “If our parishes really were places where ‘single’ did not mean ‘lonely,’ where extended networks of friends and families really did share one another’s joys and sorrows, then perhaps at least some of the world’s objections to Catholic teaching might be disarmed” (no. 167).
I think this is right on target. The reasons that people give for allowing same-sex persons to be “married” are often those born from compassion. We all know the pain of loneliness and we would never want someone to suffer it in a particularly harsh way, for an extended amount of time, or somehow unnecessarily. Thus, in a culture where “having an erotic partner is perceived to be a necessity” (no. 166), it would follow that every person must be allowed to have a sexual partner to assuage loneliness.
But sex is not the antidote to loneliness—love and friendship are. Life without a sexual partner is not by that one fact, lonely. This should be somehow clear in parish life. I used to be self-conscious sitting alone at Sunday Mass as families filed in and around me. Then I made a concerted effort to notice how many other people were sitting alone, and how many families had a single parent, and discovered that there were many. People of many different ages and, presumably, situations, are sitting alone in the pews of our churches. Does the Church see them? And by that I mean: will anyone sitting next to them recognize them, say hello, or learn their names? Well … I can.
I am a single woman, and I live in a house with four others. I know a few single moms. My next door neighbor is a widow with three children. If we all just wait around for someone else to welcome us at a parish, we may be waiting forever. Instead, we must be the Church who is welcoming to the lonely. If someone needs to show the world that friendship is real and can be found in the Church, that someone is me—and you.
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About the author
Sara Perla is the Program Specialist for the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. She attended the Catholic University of America and received her Master’s degree in Theological Studies at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute in Washington, D.C. She is also a baker, a ballet dancer, and an avid listener of NPR podcasts.