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As Shakespeare Said, 'To Thine Own Self Be True'

Can I Witness a Gay Marriage?
How Many Books in the Bible?
Who Is the Patron Saint of Tailors?
Was It a True Baptism?
Who Was Blessed Imelda?

Can I Witness a Gay Marriage?

I have been good friends with a gay man for almost 20 years. He is planning to be "married" and wants me to act as "best woman." I am very happy that he and his partner want to have a committed relationship, but I was wondering if, as a practicing Catholic, I can take part in the marriage ceremony. Two of his sisters and their families refuse to speak to him because of their religious beliefs, and I don't want him to feel further betrayed by me, whom he considers his best friend, if I have to bow out because of my Catholic faith. While I understand the Church's teachings regarding homosexuality, I think I would be doing more to endear the Catholic faith to him (he was raised Catholic) by sharing in his happiness, rather than by spurning him. On the other hand, if I condone his life-style by being a part of the wedding, would that be a mortal sin?

Recent events have thrust the question of homosexual marriage into the newspapers and legal arena.

In 1993 the Hawaii State Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional to deny marriage licenses to homosexual couples unless the state could show a compelling reason for such a denial. Hawaii's legislators then passed a law in 1994 limiting marriage to unions of a man and a woman.

State courts are still, according to Catholic News Service, considering whether such compelling reasons exist. I think we can expect the question eventually to reach the United States Supreme Court.

In the meantime, the Boston City Council has voted to extend certain benefits to "domestic partners." Cardinal Bernard F. Law urged the mayor to veto the measure.

On the West Coast, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown presided over a March 25, 1996, ceremony giving 175 homosexual couples official recognition as "domestic partners."

City law in San Francisco allows gay couples a civil ceremony with "marriage-like" vows. Although city employees in such relationships receive limited benefits, these ceremonies have no legal weight because the state of California does not recognize same-sex marriages.

Because marriages contracted in one state are recognized in other states, more states are taking action. They are passing or considering legislation that would deny recognition to same-sex marriages contracted in other states.

San Francisco's Archbishop William J. Levada has stated, "A 'ceremony of recognition' of gay and lesbian relationships symbolized an attempt to redefine the basic human institution of marriage established by nature and creation."

In Boston, Cardinal Law said, "The last thing child-raising families need to hear from government is that marriage is just another 'life-style' of no more or less interest to the state than other ways in which adults organize their households."

Bills have recently been introduced in the U.S. Congress that would permit the states to decide whether legally to recognize (or not recognize) same-sex marriages performed in other states that might sanction such unions. The bills, called The Defense of Marriage Act, define marriage for the purposes of federal agencies and benefit programs as being limited to a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife. Spouse refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is husband or wife.

In L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, moral theologian Father Gino Concetti wrote that state approval of homosexual marriages would legitimate deviant behavior and dilute public morality.

Catholic theologians as a group teach that marriage can only be between one man and one woman, and Canon #1055 clearly indicates marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman ordered, not just to the well-being of the spouses, but also to the procreation and upbringing of children.

The Handbook on Critical Sexual Issues, edited by Donald G. McCarthy and Edward J. Bayer, and published by The Pope John Center, takes note of the problems homosexuals face in attempting to remain celibate. It observes that the stigma society attaches to homosexuality and alienation drives homosexual persons to seek security and dignity in relationships with other homosexuals. And, the Handbook says, "The theory that homosexual activity is morally neutral like left-handedness offers encouragement to adopt a life-style which features homosexual 'dating' and 'marriage.'"

The Handbook then states, "The response of the Church to these problems is that she cannot condone this life-style and cannot approve the activist organizations which seem to encourage it among young homosexuals.

"But," say the Handbook's editors, "the Church can reach out to offer homosexual persons respect, friendship and justice. She can love homosexual persons, as members of the Body of Christ, even as she calls them to sublimate the sexual energy which leads to homosexual activity." And the Handbook notes the deeper need of any human is for friendship, affection and acceptance.

Heterosexuals can offer homosexual persons these things, and those concerned about the spiritual welfare of homosexuals can encourage them to seek spiritual direction and observe a plan of life including prayer, the sacraments, works of charity and a stable friendship.

Your instincts to offer support and friendship are good. But your friend is apparently asking you to approve and support him in doing something both immoral and illegal. I do not see how I could possibly advise you it is morally permissible to act as a kind of quasi-official ceremonial witness to a same-sex marriage--whatever that means or implies.

To do that would seem to condone an immoral relationship and the sinful actions involved, where the conscience of your friend really needs changing. To participate in such a ceremony can hardly be less than scandalous. I would judge it objectively seriously evil.

However your friend has resolved his conscience, he should respect yours and hardly expect you to act against it.

I suggest your response should be that you want to be a friend, and that you care for your friend's happiness, but you cannot act against your own conscience and hope he will not expect you to.

Was It a True Baptism?

Recently I attended an Easter Vigil at a Newman Center. The baby of friends was to be baptized with others. He was sloshed in a real porcelain bathtub by the priest who wore no stole but did manage a long T-shirt. No words were said, no godparents, no nothing.

I say he was not baptized at all. We accept Protestant Baptism and rightly, but fail to baptize our own. What gives?

The General Introduction to the Rites of Christian Initiation states:

"1. The baptismal font, or the vessel in which on occasion the water is prepared for the celebration of the sacrament [baptism] should be very clean and attractive.

"2. The water used in baptism should be true water and it should be clean.

"3. Either the rite of immersion, which is more suitable as a symbol of participation in the death and resurrection of Christ, or the rite of infusion [pouring] may lawfully be used in the celebration of baptism.

"4. The words for baptism in the Latin Church are: 'I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.'

"5. It is a very ancient custom of the Church that an adult is not admitted to baptism without a godparent.

"6. In the baptism of children too the godparent should be present.

"7. In the case of baptism by immersion decency and decorum are to be kept present."

The Sacramentary indicates that for the Easter Vigil the priest wears white Mass vestments. Otherwise (outside the imminent danger of death) when Baptism is conferred, the ritual indicates the priest is to be vested in an alb or surplice and a stole. He may also wear the chasuble.

In the case of Baptism by immersion the person is immersed three times while the celebrant recites the Trinitarian formula.

According to sacramental theologians, in administering the sacraments there must be a union of matter and form--in the case of Baptism union of the act of immersion or pouring of water and the words of Baptism. Together they constitute the sacramental sign.

Obviously, I wasn't present at the Baptism you describe. I can conceive that the act of immersing the infant three times may have seemed to be "sloshing" him. I find it hard to imagine the priest was not wearing the vestments of the Easter Vigil if the Baptism was during the vigil celebration! In a stretch of the imagination a surplice might be described as a "long T-shirt." And possibly the words were spoken in a low voice--not audible in all parts of the church.

All that I can say is that, if no words were spoken, there was not a valid Baptism. And while liturgists greatly favor Baptism by immersion, they also expect celebrants to have respect for the sensibilities of people and the other symbols and ceremonies of Baptism, as well as to administer the sacrament validly.

What gives? I can't do long-distance psychology or even give an informed guess. It hardly seems that what you describe was believed by anyone to be good liturgy!

How Many Books in the Bible?

When I was in school the teacher told us there were 72 books in the Bible. How is it I count 73 in the table of contents in my copy of the Bible?

The difference, as the new Catechism of the Catholic Church points out, is in how the Books of Jeremiah and Lamentations are treated. Some Catholic versions list them together as a single book. Your Bible presents them as two separate books.

Who Was Blessed Imelda?

My Confirmation name is Imelda. Can you tell me anything about her?

Born in 1322, Blessed Imelda Lambertini was the daughter of the Count and Countess Lambertini of Bologna, now in Italy. She appears to have been a very pious child, making and decorating altars in the home. In the days of less frequent Communion when first Communion was at a late age, she longed to receive the Lord. She is quoted as saying, "How can anyone receive Jesus into his heart and not die?"

It is said that when she was 11 the eucharistic host flew from the tabernacle and hovered over her while she prayed. The priest then took the host and gave her Communion. She then died in ecstasy.

She is a patron of first communicants. Her feast is May 13.

Who Is the Patron Saint of Tailors?

Can you tell me the patron saint of tailors?

According to Patron Saints by Michael Freeze (Our Sunday Visitor), the 12th-century Homobonus is the patron saint of both sailors and tailors. Born in Cremona, Italy, he was known for his charity and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.

He was a married man with a reputation for honesty in business and saw his trade as a gift from God with responsibilities to people.

The Wise Man welcomes your questions. If you have a question, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Wise Man, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.
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