Same Sex Marriage – the Revival of a 12th Century Heresy

Preached at St. Joseph Church, Woonsocket, Rhode Island, on May 16, 2004, the day before civil “marriage” between two men or two women became legal in Massachusetts, a mile up the road from my parish.

Homily — 6th Sunday Easter May 16, 2004

St Dominic Receives the Rosary from the Virgin Mary (Carlow Cathedral)

St Dominic Receives the Rosary from the Virgin Mary (Carlow Cathedral)

When I go up to Somerville near Boston to visit my sister, I sometimes take a walk up to McIntire and Moore Booksellers in Davis Square to look around. This book store is kind of a unique place, much like the rest of Somerville and nearby Cambridge. McIntire and Moore sells “new used” books — almost every book in the place has been in print for twenty or more years, but they all look like they’ve never been touched. I’ve bought two of them if you don’t believe me.

But besides this, the bookstore has a punk rock record store/nightclub feel to it. It’s kind of a hip place to be. It has that atmosphere Borders Bookstore spends ten of thousands of dollars trying to get but doesn’t achieve. All the signs are hand painted, the Talking Heads are playing on the stereo system, and you know you’re within a five mile radius of Harvard University.

So there I was, taking this all in and waiting for some new used book to interest me, when I hear a young man near me say something very strange to the woman with the purple hair behind the cash register: “Do you have any books on the Albigensian Heresy?”

As David Byrne and company kept the funky beat going in the background, the girl with the purple hair said “the what?”

“The Albigensian Heresy. I think it was in the 12th century.”

“Do you know the name of the author?”

I swung around with my clerics on and asked if I could be of assistance. The young man asking was a lot less radical looking than the cashier, your typical Bostonian urban college student. I told him I knew a little about that heresy, that it began in the 12th century from southern France and as a result St. Dominic formed the Dominican Order to defeat it.

We couldn’t find any books on it. Since it didn’t look like the guy was a religion major, I asked him why on earth did he want to learn about Albigensianism. He told me “the New Yorker Magazine had a neat article on it a few weeks ago.”

“The New Yorker Magazine — you sure?”

“Yup. It was pretty interesting.”

When I got back to my sister’s house, I told her about what happened and she said, “oh yes, I remember seeing that article but I didn’t read it. Here it is” — my sister is a subscriber to the New Yorker.

I must admit I knew very little myself about the heresy until I read the article. The main error the Albigensians fell into was that they saw the material world to be evil. Everything done by the body was sinful. Eating was a mortal sin. Walking was a mortal sin. Relations with a spouse were as sinful as relations with any other person. Wanting nice possessions was a mortal sin.

Everything you did with your body was equally sinful, except for one sin — to have children was the worst thing you could do, because it created more evil matter. And killing a person was a little less sinful, since you are freeing a person from their evil body. Actually, to kill yourself was considered a good thing, comparable to martyrdom, and hundreds of Albigensians did that to be freed of their bodies.

Thousands of people bought into this heresy, and it’s not too difficult to see why not, because if everything is forbidden than everything becomes doable.

Strangely enough, the New Yorker Magazine article which described these things was actually sympathetic to the heretics, kind of winking at their transgressions. Albigensianism was made to look “cool,” which is why this college student was asking a purple haired girl if she knew of any good books on this religion.

After praying and thinking more about this, I have come to the conclusion that after 700 years, the Albigensian Heresy is back and stronger than ever. The only difference is that the neo-Albigensians say matter isn’t evil or good, matter is just meaningless.

Tomorrow, on May 17, we will see another logical conclusion to this philosophy in the state just north of us. Massachusetts tomorrow will become the first state in our country to change the definition of the word marriage, a word that since the beginning of recorded history has meant the civil union of a man and a woman.

How has this happened? Is it like the movie and comic book X-Men, is humankind now evolving into a radical new thing? Or is it like the book A Wrinkle in Time, just made into a TV movie last week, have humans on planet earth expanded their cosmic consciousness due to scientific advancements? Or is it just further down the slippery slope, a further decay in the apple that on the outside looks shiny and fresh, but on the inside is full of creeping rot, an undermining of the foundations a civil society is based upon?
What would Jesus think of same-sex marriages? What would the apostles think of them?

In the first reading, there’s some problems occurring in the early Church in Antioch, and so they send men to Jerusalem to ask for answers from the Apostles. The Apostles say to them it is the decision of the Holy Spirit and us that such-and-such is to be done. The voice of God and the voice of the Church are now one, because Jesus is one flesh with His Bride the Church.

And the Magisterium, the apostolic teaching authority of the Church now based in Rome, has spoken regarding this current problem, as everyone knows: it is the decision of the Holy Spirit and us says the Catholic Church, that there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.

But how did we get to May 17, 2004? Why can’t we see the obvious? Because we have made the material world something meaningless in our modern world.

The Albigensian Heresy came rushing back to us in the 1960s with the Pill. The Pill made it possible to separate the unitive and procreative dimensions of our sexuality. People were able to be sexually active without the troublesome risks and responsibilities of children being born.

Everyone in the 1960’s accepted this separation of babies from the sexual act. Everyone that is but the big bad Roman Catholic Church. It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and us says Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae that it is gravely sinful to separate the unitive and procreative dimensions of the sexual act, based on the nature of the human person and the human body.

But we didn’t want to hear it, it would spoil the fun. So in order to justify the Pill, we became neo-Albigensians. The human body was meaningless, it was the spirit of love that mattered. So we went on not heeding the successors of the Apostles, and the 1970s brought in the next two phases, the sexual revolution followed by the gay rights movement.

Our culture was powerless to condemn extra-marital or homosexual actions, since one of the main reasons they are wrong is that they aren’t open to life, and neither are most heterosexual actions within marriage at this point. So we ultimately had to accept the gay lifestyle in our culture. But that was OK now, because the body was meaningless anyway. It was love that mattered.

Finally the last piece of the puzzle came with the advent of test tube babies. Now one can go to Lincoln RI and make a baby in a Petri dish. Two women can have a baby without a man getting too involved. What does it matter that a child doesn’t has two fathers and no mother or visa versa? The body doesn’t matter at all.

That’s wrong. From both a natural and a supernatural basis, the body has profound meaning which affects our moral life.

On the natural level, the family unit of a man and a woman is the best place psychologically to raise a child. Traditional marriage needs to be given privileged status in our society because of this. Homosexual persons should have the same rights as others, but not the special rights given to married people.

On a supernatural level, we believe that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The invisible God became a human, giving profound meaning to the body. And even if the Son of God hadn’t become Incarnate, our bodies still have spiritual significance.

What do we do now? Well, how was Albigensianism defeated the first time? The main weapon which defeated this heresy was the Holy Rosary. It was there in France at this time that the Rosary became a popular devotion of the people. There is even a pious tradition that the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Dominic and gave him the Rosary, saying “with this you will defeat the Albigensians.” Whether that apparition actually happened or not, St. Dominic did bring people back to the faith by the Rosary, and for 700 years that heresy was defeated.

And I am certain that this new outbreak of the same heresy can be conquered in the same way. Take up your Rosary, grab the beads in your hands, and realize you are praying to a woman now body and soul in Heaven. Meditate each day on the mysteries of our Faith: How the invisible God took Flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary and was born into a family of one man and one woman; how in order to free us from our sins Jesus’ Human body was pierced and His blood was shed, and how Jesus rose from the dead in His human body. Pray that our culture comes to realize how God made us body and spirit.

Pray also for me and all priests and bishops. Soon it may be illegal to preach a homily like this. That might sound incredible to some of you, but it is already illegal in some countries.

For example, the April 19, 2004 issue of US News and World Report, on page 14 states that “In Sweden, sermons are explicitly covered by an anti-hate-speech law passed to protect homosexuals. The Swedish chancellor of justice said any reference to the Bible’s stating that homosexuality is sinful might be a criminal offense, and a Pentecostal minister is already facing charges. . . .In Ireland last August, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties warned that clergy who circulated a Vatican statement opposing gay marriages could face prosecution for incitement- to- hatred-legislation.”

The Church will continue to preach the truth in love, be it legal or illegal to do so. God forbid that I as a priest of Jesus Christ stop proclaiming His Gospel in its fullness. But perhaps the next time I give a homily like this, I will get a transfer back to living in my last parish — at the State Correctional Institutions in Cranston, half a mile up the road from St. Mark Church! If so, I’ll send you letters.

Until then, next time you see a Boston college student talking to a girl with purple hair about medieval heresies, hand them both a Rosary, OK?

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