In today’s Gospel  reading for Mass the Lord says the following: Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven. In speaking this way the Lord was leading up to say that there is a noble place for celibacy, freely chosen in the Church, in the Kingdom of God. These are those who have freely renounced marriage for the sake of the Kingdom.

Looking at the Translation: However, the Lord also speaks of those incapable of marriage either by being born so, or by having been made so by others. The translation we are using in the lectionary is somewhat more interpretive than literal. What the Lectionary text (NAB translation) renders as “incapable of marriage” is in Greek more literally: εὐνοῦχοi (eunouchoi) – a eunuch, a castrated male. In the ancient world monarchs would often keep castrated males around to watch over their harem and sometimes over children since they were thought to be less of a threat for obvious reasons. There were other reasons that men were castrated as well, sometimes due to crime, torture, etc. Jesus also refers to those who are eunuchs because they were born that way.

Now one might expect Jesus to rail against the practice of castration here but, strangely he does not. His main purpose is to teach that some are incapable of marriage and that others, though capable,  live like eunuchs in order to witness to the Kingdom and serve it exclusively (cf also 1 Cor 7).

Who are “those incapable of marriage?”  The first and most obvious interpretation is that some sort of birth defect or later physical mutilation has rendered them anatomically incapable of the marriage act (sexual intercourse). One need not conclude they are wholly lacking in every anatomical detail but just enough that somehow they are incapable of the marriage act. To be incapable of the marriage act is to be incapable of marriage since, the marital act is integral to marriage. This is still in marriage law today in the Church and part of the pre-nuptial inquiry that takes place is to ask the engaged person if they are capable of sexual intercourse. Such a question must be answered affirmatively for the marriage to proceed.

There are wider causes of being incapable marraige – Now thus far we have  considered “eunuch” as referring only a physical matter. But Jesus uses the term not only to refer to physical defect but also in a wider way as referring to being a kind of “spiritual eunuch.” The primary form of this is those who freely renounce marriage to witness to a serve the Kingdom. They have the physical capacity for intercourse,  to be sure, but they freely renounce its use. Hence we are invited to broaden our view of being a eunuch beyond mere physical defect.

It is a true fact that some are incapable of marriage due not to physical deformity of the sexual organs but due to other factors. Some may be mentally ill, or developmentally disabled or have significant physical illnesses. Some are very shy and lack self-esteem, or struggle to form close relationships.  Others have financial limits that may be temporary but for now make marriage unreasonable. Some simply have never met the right person. This may just be bad luck or it may be due to having unreasonable standards.  And so on. But it is a true fact that some, an increasing number in our culture it would seem, are temporarily or permanently incapable of marriage. In all these cases one who is truly or temporarily incapable of marriage is called to live chastely, as a kind of spiritual eunuch witnessing to the Kingdom 

The Question of Homosexuality  As we have already seen, it is possible to see that the wider context  the Lord uses here of the word eunuch seems also to permit a wider interpretation. Namely that the incapacity is about more than physical defect and may also be seen to refer to a wider notion of incapacity such as a lack of affection for the opposite sex.

Many today claim they were born with a homosexual orientation. While this may be a debatable point (is it nature or nurture), it is the teaching of the Church that such individuals are “incapable” of marriage in that they are not permitted to enter into unions with members of the same sex as many demand today. Rather they are called to live heroically by embracing a celibate life. If their orientation renders them averse to the traditional marriage act, they are thus incapable of marriage either because they “were born so” or because they were “made that way by others.” But either way they are incapable of marriage. They are called to be eunuchs for the Kingdom.

Now notice that the Lord did not express disdain or aversions for those born or made eunuchs but he does state that they are incapable of marriage. As such they are invited to  freely accept that they are incapable of marriage and to live like the eunuchs who freely embrace the chaste and celibate state. If they do this freely they too have a high calling in the Kingdom, a calling which the Lord commends. The same can be said for homosexuals who, by that fact are incapable of marriage. They too can imitate those who have freely renounced marriage for the sake of the Kingdom by freely and wholeheartedly accepting the Church teaching that they remain chaste and embrace a celibate state. In so doing they too advance the Kingdom and witness to it.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

The Homosexual inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most [homosexuals] a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition. Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. (CCC 2358-2359).

What the Church must do – The demands that the Church accept and bless Homosexual Unions is increasingly common today. But the Church cannot depart from Scripture and cannot give everyone what they want. In the end the best we can say is that some are incapable of marriage because they were born so, others because they were made so by others. We cannot do more than what Scripture teaches and must commend chastity and celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom. It is a high calling if freely embraced.

45 Responses

  1. Nick says:

    IMO, virginity for God is spiritual marriage to God.

  2. Ron says:

    Sadly, another reason for being incapable of marriage would be when an innocent spouse undergoes an involuntarily divorce. LK 16:18 [Jesus said] “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and the one who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery”. Consequently, the innocent spouse may not remarry (or “date” romantically) without committing adultery. Truly, a heavy cross I bear.

    • Sue says:

      Ron, God bless you for bearing that heavy cross. May He strengthen your every step.

    • Joe says:

      I’m in the same boat as you Ron.
      Let’s pray for each other and others like us
      A.M.D.G.

    • I am sorry for your loss and pray God will grant you strength.

    • Eduardo says:

      Ron,

      Hang in there! And don’t forget to offer everything, joys sorrows, everything, for the salvation of souls. We are all in this together, and the graces you receive that help you carry your cross may have been obtained for you by somebody you never heard of. God willing, we will have a very interesting time in heaven as we find out how much we owe to one another’s sacrifices.

      • WillH says:

        Ron,

        I have two friends with a unique relationship. One is a widower, one is a widow, both have large familes with grandchildren. He is a member of the Church, she is a Southern Baptist. They will never marry each other, and they will not become “romantically” involved. However, they do spend a great deal of time in each others company, going to dinners, attending parties with friends, and watching movies, etc. All in an attempt to not be alone. I would like to hear what Msgr. Pope thinks on this. I’ve always wondered.

  3. Christine says:

    An excellent article and explanation of Catholic teaching on marriage and homosexual inclination which prohibits one from entering into the Sacrament of Marriage. Today, the problem is that this type of clear explanation is not reaching the average American Catholic. Thus, confusion and false sympathy for the agenda to push for so-called “same-sex marriage” is gaining ground. Our modern culture is too identified with erotic love as exressive of love itself. There is a loss of a sense of self-mastery in general. That is why the whole concept of chastity is fought against as archaic and even “cruel” in terms of a life-style choice. Our culture needs a fresh encounter with the living Jesus Christ who informs and enlightens the mind and hearts of his followers. We pray for the safe-guarding of this important teaching on the sanctity of marriage.

  4. Tom says:

    When faced with trials I have found the prayer of St. Ignatius helpful.

    Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess You have given me: I surrender it
    all to You to be disposed of according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more.
    St. Ignatius

  5. Daniel says:

    Msgr.,
    I was under the impression that the Church does in fact accept that some are born with a homosexual orientation–that it is not debatable (at least for some people)–is this not so? As for what the Church can do, when you say “the best we can say is that some are incapable of marriage because they were born so”, people might feel that the Catholic Church in this regard tends towards an overly legalistic approach in an area of human relations which deals with the deepest core of a person’s physical, spiritual, and emotional identity. It almosts sounds like being written off– “Sorry you were born ‘objectively disordered’ but the rules say you can never experience intimate love with another person or you’ll go to hell. Nothing we can do for you here. Good luck with celibacy.” The same feelings are common among divorced persons, as Ron powerfully attests above. Likewise, people with “deep-seated” homosexual tendencies (as distinguished from a passing fancy?) are not to be admitted to seminaries, presumably because of their objective disorder, and neither can they be married. A great deal of pastoral sensitivity is needed for a great deal of people in these difficult situations. Thoughts or suggestions?

    • I am unaware of any definitive recognition by the Church as to the source of the homosexual inclination. Thus I think we are free to conclude as to various possible sources or a combination of sources. Now I don’t think your assessment is eactly fair as to what the Church is saying. I reiterate: sometimes the best we can do is just to say what the Lord said. Suppose a doctor is speaking with a chain smoker. Suppose further the smoker is addicted, has tried to quit but failed. Further his parents and all his siblings are smokers. What is the doctor to say? If he is a good doctor he has to say what is true and maybe that’s the best he can do. Smoking cigarettes is objectively disordered, unnatural and unhealthy and he has to say it and stand by it. What if a person has AIDS and is married. What if they want the doctor to say intercourse will be be fine, safe and no porblem? Sorry it just isn’t so. What if a diabetic wants to eat as freely as everyone else? Sorry it just can’t be so. Too many people want the Church to practice bad spiritual medicine. Life is not always fair. I am not as smart as either of my brrothers in math and science. But I have other gifts and I use those.

      Now sensitivity has to begin with the truth. That said, understanding the struggle, the hurt and the anger is essential. I thin the statement quoted by the catechism goes a long way to communicate love and concern for those with this orientation.

      • Daniel says:

        My question was more about the practical, pastoral side of things. There is no question the Church must speak Truth (of which she gains a deeper understanding through history), but the tone of speech is critical to effective communication. It seems there is a whole group of Catholics who try to come to grips with the Church which declares that they may well have been born “objectively disordered”. It is all too infrequent that the Church reaches out specifically to people of faith suffering in this way. The vague statements in the Catechism (“they must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”) hardly offer comfort, as they are vague and not even addressed to those who are actually suffering, and the Catechism itself is a teaching tool rather than a pastoral guide. Also, these pastoral words can be drowned out by an unsympathetic-sounding attitude of legalism which often acts as a first line of defense in all matters sexual (contraception, homosexuality, divorce and remarriage, etc.). I think when people are hurting, the Church would do well to begin with the attitude of Jesus the Healer and the Father of Mercy found in Scripture, rather than jumping right to a Thomistic analysis of Natural Law. This takes time and effort to listen and make people feel respected in the first place as children made in God’s own image rather than “disordered”. To be clear, I’m not saying this in an angry way but by way of suggestion based on my own observations. Pax.

  6. Theresa says:

    I need to ask questions.

    A hysterectomy then renders a woman incapable of entering into a Catholic marriage then too, under the “made so by others”? Is that correct? Would this be so, even if their interest and intent is to adopt children, especially handicapped children?

    Thank you for your straight and honest answers, as I’ve been reading your column for quite some time.

    My husband and I live in a civil sexless marriage, because I am Catholic and he isn’t.

    • AHard says:

      No. A hysterectomy does not render a woman incapable of marriage. Marriage requires the ability to perform the marriage act, which is normal sexual intercourse between a man and a woman. Sterility plays absolutely no part in determining the ability to marry.

    • John M says:

      @Theresa

      I believe that it’s a matter of ability to perform the marital/sexual act. It’s not a matter of having the capacity to conceive from the marital act. Of course, the Church’s teaching considers a hysterectomy a violation of the connection between that act and its fruit, conception, but if it was done in the past and is irreversible I think a Catholic marriage is still possible if there is repentenace for the violation.

      The marital act in a sacramental marriage is the act that seals and embodies the oath or covenant in the way that eating the Eucharist embodies our covenant with God. This need for an act to embody the covenant goes back to the Old Testament but is found in much richer forms in the Church. At least, this is a contemporary theological understanding that makes a lot of sense out of the Church’s requirements.

      I’m confident there’s no problem with living as “brother and sister” (no marital acts) with a second spouse if one decides to live according to Church teaching after re-marriage or with a non-Catholic spouse. In that situation, if there are already children from an “unlawful” union, continuing to raise them makes eminent sense. Adoption may make sense in that situation also.

      Wait for Msgr. Pope for a more definitive answer, but hope this helps.

    • Erica says:

      Theresa- that is not true. Being incapable of having children is not the same as being incapable of having intercourse. As long as there are no other factors preventing it, you should be able to marry him in the Catholic Church. Talk to your priest! But wanting to adopt children does not have anything to do with it.

    • All of the you have replied to Theresa have answerd rightly in this regard and I appreciate your prompt and accurate responses.

  7. James H. Dobbins, Ph.D. says:

    A hysterectomy renders a woman inapable of getting pregnant, not incapable of intercourse. She is therefore not “made so by others” and does not come under the purview of this scripture. A woman who has had a hysterectomy is capable of entering into a sacramental marriage. A marriage is consummated by having intercourse, not by getting pregnant. A marriage which is not consummated by having intercourse at least once can be annulled.

  8. Ruth Ann says:

    I don’t think a hysterectomy makes a woman incapable of sexual intercourse. Valid marriages don’t always result in children. One or the other spouse may be infertile.

  9. Reginald says:

    Msgr.,
    This is a great insight and a good teaching regarding the very important physical aspects of married life.
    It seems that today, many people overly-spiritualize marriage, so greatly downplaying the physical elements — such as intercourse and children. Obviously, the love of the couple is central to the sacrament, but this love must be expressed in physical ways.

    I have never read this passage from Matthew in light of homosexuality and the debate over homosexual union. I think you give a very good interpretation here! Especially, in regard to those who say that they were “born this way”.

    Blessings!

    • Yes, I too have only recently seen it in that light and admit that the NAB translation has a lot to do with that. As I pointed out, we must accept that “incapable of marriage” is a rather interpretive translation and the most literal is “Eunuch” However I think the NAB/lectionary does well in pointing to the heart of the matter which transcends the mere question of physical deformity.

      Thanks for your reflections on the jus in corporis dimension of marriage which is, asyou say, often understated today .

  10. The Reverend Doctor Victoria A. Howard, Anchoress says:

    A very good and thorough article! Since I am against abortion, I have taken a stand and as a spouse of Christ, decided not to marry and remain chaste as a sign that one can control one’s sexuality. Also, should I ever be raped, I have decided to bring any child resulting to birth and possibly raise it myself.

    Many of the people in my neighborhood are against my celibate status and want me to leave the neighborhood if I do not submit and marry the men they choose for me to marry. But I will remain firm in all I do as a chaste and celibate spouse of Christ anyway. I know exactly what I am doing.

    I have written several books on Roman Catholic spirituality:

    http://www.lulu.com/

    Put my name on the search bar, click go and scroll down to see them. I have spent countless hours writing them. I hope you enjoy them!

  11. Bro. Bob says:

    Very clear teaching, but the video is in error. At 2 min 17 sec it misquotes the current catechism, by saying that homosexuals “do not choose their homosexual condition.” In the second edition of the catechism it no longer states that.

  12. Mel says:

    Homosexual tendency is not sinful. Its when they take part in homosexual sex acts that is sinful.

  13. TAD says:

    Ron, and for all those hurting souls whose spouse has left them for an adulterous liaison, keep up your faith – hang in there – for even now Jesus knows your pain and is facilitating a new message for his Church. He wants no innocent soul to be in a permanent state of limbo. It saddens him when a man imposed restriction bars his children from using to the fullest all the chrisms which God has bestowed. Change is coming; be patient just a little longer.

  14. Robert says:

    The homosexual inclination is disordered. However we are what we do not what we feel tempted to do or even feel.
    I may feel anger but it does not make we abusive and violent. Also there are habits of sin and virtue which are established by habit created and forced by conduct. No one is born homosexual… however it is the result of trauma/ fixation in psycho/ sexual development. It is basically same sex fixation. Some teenagers experience this but pass through it. Early sexualisation can reinforce patterns that some never grow out of. Chastity is off course a fundamental part of Christian life. Sex is only to be within heterosexual marriage. In reality even within marriage an individual has to shape desires and even let them go of the desire to have sexual intercourse. Self control is for all and is a fruit and gift from God. Even non Christians should live Christian morality for it is the truth for all and is nothing short of human morality outside of which is chaos and frustration.

    • Daniel says:

      “No one is born homosexual”–Robert, you speak as if with authority. Could you cite the source of your certainty? Further, it refers not merely to a “temptation” but a fundamental sexual “orientation”.

  15. Jack says:

    Perhaps off-topic, but I’m time-pressed to find a more suitable forum.
    I became engaged to a woman when I was in a lapsed state, let’s say. Engaged for one year; known her for two. The problem is, she has no beliefs to speak of, and those she has, I cannot but disagree with (New Age all-is-everything stuff) while I have, thanks be to God, returned to the Church. I dearly love her, but now that I stress marriage by a priest, in a church, I get a lot of resistance. Childhood memories in some strict chapel, cultural attitudes of scorn and skepticism. She’s almost ready to hand the ring back. I can imagine what it is like for her, all of a sudden, but I can’t lose her. After some patient talk, I find all is not lost! I asked God to change her heart; she’s asked me to show her some biblical passages. She’s willing! Only, Lord help me, what do I show her?

    • Lil' Sis says:

      Oh, Jack, I, too, was in a lapsed state when I was engaged and my husband and I married in the courthouse. I was 19. When I told my parents they asked “why not in the Church?” Long story short, a few months after we married we began “pre-cana” type classes and had our marriage “regularized” in the Church. He went because he loved me, I went because I loved them. This was back in the ’80’s and I am not sure we would have had such a smooth ride if it happened today.

      I remained lapsed for a few years until, by God’s Grace, I felt the inner pull to return. I began to “sneak” to weekday Mass’ during my lunch hour. My husband (completely irreligious) had no idea until I told him months later. He encouraged me to attend Sunday Mass. I did, happily. After our children came along, they attended with me. Soon he, too, would attend on occasion. Ultimately, 13 years after our first “i do” he was Confirmed in the Church.

      Two lessons here: One, I believe it was the graces we received at our “2nd” wedding (the blessing) that gave me the strength to follow the faith, even alone before my husband knew what I was up to. Two, I believe my quiet practice of the faith, steady and true but not preachy or pushy allowed him to see how God’s Grace works in his faithful and that gave my husband the freedom to say “yes” to God — against everything he was brought up to believe about the Church and continuing family hostility towards it. We celebrated our 25th Anniversary earlier this month and today, Aug 16th is the 24th Anniversary of our Blessing :)

      I will pray that you have the strength to continue on your spiritual journey with the faith and that your intended will see, through your example of love for her, how beautiful the Truth can be. And, don’t forget the Song of Songs!

    • How about the woman at the well story as a scripture to share? I usually start there in my rcia classes.

  16. Howard Kainz says:

    There seems to be a presumption here that homosexuality is something one is born with, but this has never been proven. For example, studies about a “gay gene,” homosexual inclinations in identical twins, hormonal connections, etc. have ended up inconclusive, or criticized because of defective methodology or bias. Dr. Spitzer, the psychiatrist who led the movement during the 70s to remove homosexuality from the category of pathology, has since reversed his earlier position, and claimed that he has been successful in treatment of homosexuals. So the comment of Our Lord about “eunuchs by birth” does not seem to be clearly related to homosexuality.

    • I don’t know if you’re referring to my article but i make no such presumption. I don’t think we really know where the orientation comes from. I suspect it may be a little different in many cases. However, in the article I cite the full text that one may be incapable because they were born that way or made that way by others. Hence I leave the question of source open.

  17. Tanya says:

    I have heard many devout Catholic men use derogatory names towards those with homosexual tendencies. Their anger seems to erupt when they discuss homosexual marriage being imposed on our culture and the homosexual agenda. It offends me when I hear this name calling. Doesn’t the teaching of the catechism require Catholics to condemn the sin but treat the sinner with love? Do you have any advice when I witness this behavior?

  18. Dante says:

    Just found this blog and its pretty good! Haven;t had time to read each comment throughly but a couple of things popped into my head.

    1. Hysterectomy would be an obstacle to marriage, wouldn;t it? It is my understanding that if one is sterile one cannot marry because one of the 2 ends of marriage is a dead-end. Everything i have ever heard about Catholc marriage so fiercely uniteds the procreative and untitive ends that I cannot imagine the Church saying that a couple who knows they are sterile can therfore enter into a 1-marriage-end relationship.

    2. Has anyone else noticed how homosexuality get such a reaction from otherwise “good” Catholics? My interaction with Catholics (here on the West Coast and in other parts of the USA where I have lived) would lead me to believe that homosexuality and not “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” is the unforgiveable sin. Interesting that among the saints, blesseds and candidates for sainthood we can find REFORMED thieves, murderers, whores, satanic priests, alcoholics, drug addicts, etc etc etc…but no post-conversion gays. I canot believe there were none…maybe they get rooted out early in the process.

    3. With threats to traditional marriage in today’s politics don’t you think attacking same-sex marriage is simply a convenient way for Catholic bishops and faithful to feel like they are doing something for the cause while ignoring the bigger threats? I am NOT for same-sex marriage but I think attacking it is the easy way out for most pastors and bishops. The HARD way is to go to the BIGGER threat: cohabitating Catholics and contracepting Catholics. I have lived in several major diocese in the USA and have never heard of a cohabitating couple being required to separate during marriage-prep to show they have proper disposition to the sacrament. I HAVE heard a lot of “if we only marry those who don’t live together, we’d have hardly any marriages.” I have NEVER heard a clear consistent teaching from the pulpit on contraception. But then I guess it would be very difficult to give that homily when (statistically) 85% of your congregation is “guilty as charged”. And what would THAT do to the collection basket? Yet aren’t THESE areas more important in the battle to defend marriage? Doesn’t it make more sense to focus on the 95% or so of heterosexuals rather than the 5% or so of homosexuals? I mean really…WHO is the bigger threat?

    Glad I found this blog. Will check in from time to time.

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