The month of June has been consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for centuries. The solemnity of the Sacred Heart, which falls on June 24, is a reminder that God has chosen to love us not in a far-off, distant manner, but in an intimate way. We are loved by the human heart of Jesus. Being a human heart, it knows our hurts, fears, joys and hopes. But it is God’s heart, so it has an infinite capacity to love each of us infinitely. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a reminder that God is close to us at every moment and in every situation.
The secular calendar, on the other hand, has recently dedicated the month of June as a celebration of pride in one's sexuality. “Pride Month” is inescapable at every turn. Sports teams, cereal boxes, social media avatars, my Google calendar, and nearly every restaurant proudly wave the rainbow flag — or now the transgender-inclusive flag — demonstrating their solidarity with our culture’s acceptance, celebration and active support for members of the gay, lesbian, transgender and queer communities. Many corporations and businesses encourage, sometimes in subtle ways but often in more coercive ways, their employees to lend their own personal support to these LGBT causes.
For Catholics who have come to understand the Church’s Christ-centered teaching about sexuality, marriage, and human flourishing as truly good news, this month can seem to provide endless pitfalls. Many of us try to walk a careful tightrope these weeks. We know there is a cultural tsunami ready to crush anyone who dissents from this celebration as hateful or bigoted. But we also know that celebrating a friend’s identity as gay or trans can feel complicit in a masking of one’s deepest identity as a beloved son or daughter of the Father in heaven.
So how can we, joyful missionary disciples, navigate Pride Month?
Jesus warns his disciples in his Sermon on the Mount to remove the wooden beam from their own eyes before trying to extract the splinter in their brother’s eye (Mt 7:1-5). This teaching can be misinterpreted as needing to be perfect before one can be a help for another in his spiritual growth. Such an interpretation would necessarily be false and paralyze us from any good work Jesus has called us to do.
But we don’t want to neuter our Lord’s words to mean absolutely nothing just because they are sometimes taken to a false extreme. If I desire to be faithful to my calling, I have to begin with the understanding of my own radical need for God’s grace. Before I have been called to be a priest or a missionary disciple, I have been radically forgiven and set free from sin by the love of Jesus’s Sacred Heart. His heart has been pierced for my sake, and he died because of my sins. Therefore, the Gospel and all of its parts — not least of which is the call to chastity — is a free gift given to me. It is a gift of extraordinary grace, which I could never earn on my own. It is a gift without which I could never have a relationship with God. It is a gift without which I would be in hell.
Therefore, we must realize that the Gospel is life-saving good news … for me! Before I can share this reality and its demands with others, we need to ask ourselves: Do I really believe this? There are few things more convincing than someone who knows just how much she is in need of God’s grace. This is why converts have a zeal often greater than that of lifelong Catholics. We cannot be credible witnesses of the Gospel if our premise conveys a superiority to those we encounter. We need to first remove the beam of pride or anger in our own eyes so that any discussion in which we find ourselves is rooted in authentic humility.
We cannot be credible witnesses of the Gospel if our premise conveys a superiority to those we encounter. We need to first remove the beam of pride or anger in our own eyes so that any discussion in which we find ourselves is rooted in authentic humility.
We know this truth in so many other walks of life: Someone who is a know-it-all or a self-appointed expert turns us off immediately. Someone who has no firsthand experience with my struggles but wants to tell me exactly what I need to do is the least helpful person I could imagine. A person who wants me to change because they are annoyed, angry, or disgusted with me is almost certainly going to calcify me in my position. But someone who demonstrates real empathy stemming from a struggle to overcome her own weaknesses is exceedingly persuasive. If I want to earn a hearing to share the Gospel, I have to demonstrate that the Gospel is life-changing good news in my life.
Receiving this good news means that my actions are different. Many of us have seen our culture radically embrace all aspects of the LGBT community as unquestionably good. Less than 15 years ago, neither major political party would have nominated a candidate for public office who advocated for same-sex marriage. In 2003, Massachusetts became the first state to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, and this was not through a vote by the people, but by a ruling from their state Supreme Court. The next year, 13 states asked their residents to vote on the question. All of them voted to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. In 2006, nine additional states again put this question to a vote; eight states voted to enshrine the same definition (with the lone dissenting state enshrining this definition of marriage by a vote two years later). In 2008, Californians passed a constitutional amendment to uphold the traditional definition of marriage. By 2010, 41 of 50 states has resolved the legal question about marriage: stating that it is the union of one man and one woman.
But in 2013, in a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision, the National “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA), which passed both houses of the legislature overwhelmingly and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, was struck down as unconstitutional. Along with this, the decisions of these state constitutional amendments and referenda were deemed unconstitutional, declaring that everywhere in the country two men or two women had the right to be married. What just a few years ago was the overwhelming consensus of our understanding of marriage was — by the narrowest of margins — completely overturned. The breakneck speed of this cultural change has left many faithful Catholics with a sense of whiplash. Such a rapid change causes confusion, frustration, and not a little bit of anger. But as Jesus’s disciples, we cannot let these emotions dominate us.
The breakneck speed of this cultural change has left many faithful Catholics with a sense of whiplash. Such a rapid change causes confusion, frustration, and not a little bit of anger. But as Jesus’s disciples, we cannot let these emotions dominate us.
How should we respond to such a change? By a joyful demonstration of the change Christ has effected in us. The Sacred Heart of Jesus is the real, enfleshed heart of God. He did not love us in theory, but in the concrete acts of his teaching, preaching, and miracles. He loved us most profoundly in his Passion and suffering. He loved us in the moments of his scourging, with each step on the road to Calvary, with every breath he struggled to take in while he hung on the cross. He loved us in real moments in history by his deeds. And he continues to love us when we are the most unlovable; when we sin.
"I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you so you should also love one another" (John 13:34). Devotion to the Sacred Heart is not simply admiring Jesus’s love for us. Nor is it just about receiving this love. These are necessary and vital aspects of such a devotion. But the end, the telos, is our transformation by his love. This change demands that I live differently. It means I must love those whom I am tempted to identify as “the other” or even as my enemies (Mt. 5:43-48). Our love for others in this way is not of our own strength — if it were, of course we would fail. We love others with the very love with which we are loved; we participate in the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which he has given to us.
To love as Jesus loves is not to love in word alone, but in our actions! During this month we, as joyful missionary disciples, should look for opportunity to express self-sacrificial love for those in our lives who are members of LGBT communities. We can do this in a few simple ways: First, by our prayers. We can pray for these brothers and sisters of ours, asking God’s blessings upon them. We should be able to notice the difference in our own hearts between a self-righteous prayer and a humble petition for God’s blessing upon another (Luke 18:9-14).
Second, we can look for opportunities for simple words of kindness. I know that I have at times been so afraid of affirming someone’s lifestyle that I am paralyzed to interact with him. This is not how I am called to be a disciple. Look for opportunities to be kind in words; even a simple smile and “hello” or “have a great day” can be a good start. Finally, works of charity were the mark of the early Christians. They lived in a radically anti-Christian society but looked for opportunities to bear witness to Christ by their actions. There is no greater way to love as Christ has loved than by our deeds, especially toward those with whom we have significant foundational disagreements. Buying someone a coffee or going out of your way to help a neighbor, friend, or coworker will do far more than a dissertation about Christian anthropology. We need a vigorous defense of the Theology of the Body in the public square and in our backyard conversations. But in our personal interactions, this truth can only be built upon authentic love, which is shown by our deeds.
I know that I have at times been so afraid of affirming someone’s lifestyle that I am paralyzed to interact with him. This is not how I am called to be a disciple.
Christianity has radically impacted nearly every civilization throughout the world. The Gospel penetrated North Africa and the Middle East Roman world in the first few centuries, then began its missionary work farther out — into the deeper reaches of Europe and Asia throughout the first millennium. The Gospel spread into the Americas, the Far East, Sub-Saharan Africa, and most everywhere else throughout the second millennium. But the deep-rooted growth of the Gospel took centuries. Developing a Christian culture was long-term work then, and it is long-term work now. It would be foolish of us to expect that there is some silver bullet that can swing the culture in a short span of time. God can work miracles, but he most often works through the long and painstaking process of converting one soul at a time.
Our efforts to win our culture back to Gospel values surrounding sex and marriage will take a long time. I often want a quick solution. I want to change someone’s heart and life by one homily, one conversation, or one argument. But the truth is, that rarely happens. The work of evangelization is hard, long-term work. St. Paul knew this when he told the Corinthians: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6). It is a privileged place for us to see the change in someone’s heart, and we should give great thanks to God when we are able to witness this. It is when we do not see the change that our faith grows most strongly. If we are trapped by our desire for instant gratification in the work of evangelization, we will quickly become frustrated and burn out. But if we persevere, knowing that every conversation or kind word or deed is part of the path God is using to cause the growth, we will be ready for the struggle.
The Gospel truths about human sexuality are good news: that each of us is immutably made male or female, that marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman, that sexual love outside of this marital union is a counterfeit that does great spiritual damage to myself and my partner. This is all good news. These are truths revealed to us by a loving God and confirmed by the reality of our bodies and human biology. We do not have to look very hard to see the incredible social, psychological, physical, and spiritual damage that deviating from a natural law and Gospel-centered understanding of human sexuality does to us. Our world is rife with examples of the soul-saddening brokenness of those who have built their lives upon the sand of the sexual revolution. Most often, it is women, the poor, and children who are the victims while the strong, the rich, and the powerful can seemingly inoculate themselves from these harms. But God sees every broken heart wounded by our culture’s lies.
The Gospel truths about human sexuality are good news: that each of us is immutably made male or female, that marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman, that sexual love outside of this marital union is a counterfeit that does great spiritual damage to myself and my partner.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus is an icon of authentic human love. Because God took on a human heart in Jesus, it models for us how we are to love. To love like Jesus is to willingly suffer like Jesus. It would be its own kind of counterfeit to think we can share in his love without sharing in his suffering. That is not discipleship. His love for us cost him his life. It was a love that was generally unrequited and even caused the hearts of many to be hardened. Yet it was always ready to pour itself out for the other. Our love, too, must cost us something. It must be ready to endure the barbs, mockery, and wounds of those around us, since “no disciple can be greater than his master” (Luke 6:40). It must “bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things,” (1 Cor. 13:7) for the love of Jesus, the love of his Sacred Heart, never fails.
As Catholics during the month of June, the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the best counter-witness to celebrating Pride Month. Focus on receiving the love of Jesus into your own life and letting his love purify your heart more completely. This will enable you to see the Gospel and all of its teaching given through his Holy Catholic Church as truly good news. Readily and humbly look for opportunities to love our LGBT brothers and sisters concretely through prayer, words of kindness, and acts of charity. Others will only know us by our actions.
Finally, understand that although our culture seems to have shifted rapidly away from our Gospel values, we are engaged in a long-term battle for the salvation of our souls and those of our brothers and sisters.
Happy Month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto thine.
Fr. Stephen Pullis is director of graduate pastoral formation at Sacred Heart Major Seminary. He formerly served as director of the Archdiocese of Detroit's Department of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship.