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.