Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson

If you saw the grand jury decision on the Michael Brown shooting, and immediately shook your head over its racism, you are part of the problem.

I'll say it again: if you found out about the grand jury's decision not to indict Officer Wilson, and immediately declared that it was a racist decision, you are part of the problem.

Why? Well, let's begin at the beginning.

The beginning, for us, is not the event. The beginning is the event hitting the news. For those of us who weren't there, which is nearly everybody talking about it, that is how we first encountered this tragedy, and that is the only kind of encounter we have had with it: a media distillation. That doesn't invalidate our thoughts by itself; nor, if we make a point of listening to both CNN and Fox, does it necessarily mean our facts will be slanted beyond power of recovery. It does mean that there are limits to how much we can know what we're talking about, and if we value due process, we would do well to recollect those limits. And if you're inclined to say that the cop should have been tried, just because racism is a problem or because it's likely that he was a racist -- as opposed to, because of actual evidence that he did something criminal -- that is shabby scapegoating.


The grand jury decided that, given what the officer knew at the time -- which is not at all the same thing as what we know now, in hindsight -- his action was a reasonable act of self-defense. More precisely, they determined that there was so little concrete evidence of wrongdoing that there was, legally, no case to be brought into court. I can't be sure whether that's a fair evaluation, because I wasn't there. I wasn't even on the grand jury, listening to witness testimonies. And I'd be willing to bet cash money that you weren't either.

Some people seem prepared to declare that the grand jury came to this conclusion based on a racist bias. This light has been withheld from me. If they have a window into other men's consciences, may they make a good use of it; I have none.

Here's the thing, though: even if the grand jury (or, for that matter, the cop in question) was right, that doesn't make racism not an issue. Systemic bias against racial minorities, especially those of African descent, is a serious problem in American culture. Part of the reason it's a problem is simply that we're used to a society that is largely segregated de facto, and so we don't think to question it -- at least, not if we're white. And when somebody does, well, we're not actively keeping anyone down, so the complaints must just be caterwauling over imaginary slights. The possibility that complacency and neglect could be as racist as active hatred does not easily occur to us.


I personally don't think Ferguson raised important questions about race, because I think the questions were already there. The fact that it took a hundred and fifty years after the demise of slavery for a black president, not to be elected, but even to be chosen as a serious presidential candidate, does not reflect well upon our nation. Neither does the fact that, in more than two hundred years, we've had only one Catholic president (despite Catholics making up nearly a quarter of the population), no female president (despite women making up something more than a quarter of the population), no Latino president (despite the fact that about a third of the US was once part of Mexico). But, of all those groups, African-Americans have had incomparably the worst deal. Plenty of groups in the US have been oppressed, shut out of office, publicly jeered, deprived of work and a just wage; only one, I think, has been subject to the slaver and the lynch mob.*

I've had to unlearn some instinctive racism, and I very much hope I've done so. Being gay certainly helped. When you're subjected to assumptions about you that are horribly unfair, or even merely bizarre, and you then take the time to think about it, you can begin to sympathize with people who are treated badly for other reasons. But even as a gay dude, I am a dude, and white, and educated -- which means I have most of the other advantages our culture offers, to say nothing of the fact that it's far easier to be gay today than it was twenty or even ten years ago. I can begin to sympathize, but I can't pretend to go further. My personal afflictions are nothing set beside the way our culture has been treating black people for centuries.


Why then did I open by saying that shaking your head over the affairs at Ferguson makes you part of the problem? Well, if you look back, you'll see that I didn't quite say that. I said that if that's your immediate reaction, you are part of the problem -- because you know what the problem is? Reacting based on assumptions instead of thinking. That's the problem that underlies racism; that's the problem that may well have motivated Officer Wilson to shoot Michael Brown, whether he was a racist or genuinely endangered or both or neither; and that is one of the chief obstacles to solving the problem of systemic racial prejudice in this country.

Why? Because racism is stupid, and so is reacting without thinking about it. And declaring on the merits of a case without having all the evidence, which we don't, is by definition not giving the matter adequate thought. And you can't fight stupid with stupid.

The question we have to ask ourselves is, do we want to actually do something about racism, or do we want to feel like we have? Do we want to do the costly, often boring work of finding out what racial prejudice is, and what its effects are, and how to fix it? Or do we want to tweet some piece of mental sewage we found on HuffPost so we can feel like a better person and then open Netflix because, fuck it, we've done our part?


Because if we do want to actually fix the problem like we say we do, "smh" Facebook statuses and riots are each as useless and counterproductive as the other. Each one produces the illusion of accomplishment; and each contributes to the eventual backlash by its stupidity. And make no mistake, there will be a backlash, because sooner or later there's a backlash against everything. If you want to make it through that, argue and act intelligently now; if you want instant moral gratification, it will be through a moral and mental shortcut that will make not only you personally, but the fight against racism, look foolish and not worth salvaging.

So what do we do? Despite the fact that I'm kind of an asshat and don't have many black friends,** the following two things spring to mind:

1. Pray. If God is omnipotent and all-knowing, He presumably has some general idea of what might be helpful, and could perhaps do something to put it into effect. You can always ask, just in case. And prayers for the repose of Michael Brown's soul, the consolation of his family, the repentance (if necessary) of Officer Wilson, and repentance on the part of anyone who has rushed to judgment through racism or anything else, will not go amiss.

And for ourselves, it helps us to remember that we can't solve the problem alone. We can and should do our part, but there will always be more work to be done, and remembering that can help us resist the seduction of false and simplistic solutions that satisfy our egos but don't really change things.

2. If possible, actually get to know some people who are different from you. I don't mean people whose skin tone is different. I mean people who are different. If you're a devout Christian, see if you can get to know an atheist, a Buddhist, a Wiccan. If you're middle-class, see if you can get to know a homeless dude. If you're a country girl, see if you can get to know someone who's spent their whole life in the city. And, yes, if you're white, see if you can get to know someone who isn't. The point is to broaden the horizons of your experience -- to engage with someone whose mental universe differs from your own, so that you can start to empathize with others whom you find alien.

This doesn't mean using people -- building up social cred by having a heterogeneous collection of friends. That defeats the whole purpose, and anyway, it's so white. What it means is, when you encounter a person who's profoundly different from you, stopping and seeing if you can connect with them. If you can't, that's okay; they don't need you, after all, or if they do, it's probably not because you're different. But as long as you try, and keep on trying, you're molding your heart to be open to human beings, not because they're like you, but just because they're human.

That is what will bring racism to an end.



*Native Americans, of course, were killed or hounded from their lands because we wanted their stuff. But that's perfectly all right, because they're only Native Americans.

**Does that make me more racist or less?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Review: "Company of Ghosts" by Haint Blue

Haint Blue, an indie-bluegrass band whom I've had the pleasure of seeing live twice here in Baltimore, released their first EP, Company of Ghosts, this past April. (I am quick on the uptake with reviews.) Company of Ghosts can be found on their Bandcamp site, and the band is also on Facebook.

If you happen read this within a couple hours of its posting, you might be able to see them at Normal's Books and Records at 8 tonight -- I won't be there, due to a head cold, but seriously, it's five bucks and it's a good concert. If not, they're slated to play at 123 Pleasant Street in Morgantown, West Virginia on the 19th of next month, and they'll be back at the Ottobar here in Baltimore the day after New Year's.


The Strong Points

Indie folk, or whatever you want to call it, has had a real flowering over the last several years -- Mumford and Sons are probably the most mainstream example, but there's quite a variety to choose from: the brightness and energy of Beirut, the genre-defying experimentalism of Sufjan Stevens, the haunting softness of Bon Iver, or the simple, raw sound of Youngest Son, whom I reviewed earlier this year.

In this spectrum, Company of Ghosts has a sound of its own. Its debt to traditional folk music is plain, but Haint Blue can't quite be classified simply as a folk band, not least because, lyrically, they have truly struck out into new territory. The chronicling of the lyricist's loss of faith is a remarkable work of poetry -- unvarnished in its apostasy, yet with a sensitivity and a beautiful melancholy over the intra-familial costs that makes it plain this is no mere adolescent revolt. The weaving of Scriptural language into the songs, particularly the first two tracks (the latter of which, "Father Abraham," makes a magnificent use of the story of the sacrifice of Isaac, reminiscent of Wilfred Owen's poem The Parable of the Old Man and the Young), gives them a peculiar power, reminiscent of the gloomier spirituals like "O Death," and of XTC's "Dear God." The simple sound of the lyrics belies their force -- such as that displayed in this verse from the untitled opening song:

In my city, on a bench, a madman makes his sad bed
He speaks to you, Lord, but he don't see
The empty cold on your wings as you bring him to his reckoning

The album ranges over other themes as well: anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalist, or at the least anti-corporate, themes emerge, suggesting the ideas of some of the early anarchists like Emma Goldman. Relationships under damaging strain, particularly the strain caused by coming-of-age and by departure from the home's Christianity, are depicted in several songs, with phrases and images whose simplicity and directness really bring them home to the listener.

Over it all, bringing it all together, are the earthy voice of Mike Cohn and the elegant, homey violin stylings of ... I think it's Abby Becker, but I don't know for sure which name goes to which face because I am very bad at that kind of thing. The point is, it sounds amazing and you should buy their stuff and love them.

The Weak Points

I can say delightedly that I'm not sure there are any.

Is It Worth Buying?

Is it worth not buying? Seriously, it's a great album and it's only seven bucks. Listen and enjoy.


Haint Blue are: Dave Sheir (upper right), Mike Wolfe, Abby Becker, Nellie Sorenson, 
Mike Cohn (dead center), Ian Finch, and Alex White. Dave and Mike Cohn are the 
only ones I know personally, so I'm not sure how the other names and faces match up.
(I am sorry if I wasn't supposed to use your photos guys please do not murder me in the face)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Why I Am a Catholic, Part VI: The Witness of Wickedness

The beginning of Christendom is, strictly, at a point out of time. A metaphysical trigonometry finds it among the spiritual Secrets, at the meeting of two heavenward lines, one drawn from Bethany along the Ascent of Messias, the other from Jerusalem against the Descent of the Paraclete. That measurement, the measurement of eternity in operation, of the bright cloud and the rushing wind, is, in effect, theology.


The history of Christendom is the history of an operation. It is an operation of the Holy Ghost towards Christ, under the conditions of our humanity; and it was our humanity which gave the signal, as it were, for that operation. The visible beginning of the Church is at Pentecost, but that is only a result of its actual beginning -- and ending -- in heaven.


-- Charles Williams, The Descent of the Dove, p. 1


It's all quite straightforward.

+     +     +

I'm sometimes asked why, as a gay man, I would join the Catholic Church, which is regarded -- not altogether groundlessly -- as so notoriously homophobic. More often, I've come across more general (and, in my opinion, better supported) objections to Catholicism on the basis of her history. When we consider how late the Church banned slavery, how long she accepted (in practice if not in theory) the use of torture, the variegated corruption of her prelates in much of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance -- it's easy to see how the idea that the Catholic Church is the ark of salvation and the infallible teacher of mankind is, well, a hard one to swallow.

I can say that, from the beginning, the general character of the Church never once formed a motive for my conversion. The character of individual saints did; the heroism, the unswerving devotion to principle, the mystical wisdom, and the incredible compassion of saints like Thomas More, Joan of Arc, John of the Cross, Dante, Mother Teresa, Thomas a Kempis, and Francis of Assisi made a deep impression upon me. Nor did it escape me that, even in those Protestant figures whose examples and writings I found the most profit from, like C. S. Lewis, Hannah Hurnard, and Dorothy Sayers, those elements were often at the very least wholly compatible with Catholicism -- if not far more characteristic and consistent of Catholic than of Protestant theologies.

But I also knew enough about the history of the Catholic Church to know that her children, and sometimes her shepherds, had connived in some of the greatest evils of western history. Perhaps it displays to what extent I am a child of my age, but I have always regarded the Crusade, the witch-hunt, and above all the Inquisition with the utmost loathing; and have known since childhood that all were dripping with holy water and wafted the scent of incense, though where they obtained their consecrations and their glowing coals is a little harder to know.


And it isn't right to simply dismiss that as a result of churchmen being sinners like the rest of us, nor pin it solely on people who were living inconsistently with Catholic principles. Doubtless these people were living inconsistently with Catholic principles, but that is not the point. Nor, to be blunt, is the fact of that inconsistency at all obvious to anyone who is not well-versed in both theology and history, and to be well-versed in either one is the study of decades: if the Church is infallible, and her pastors admit or even actively counsel certain things, surely those things are Catholicism?* And if those certain things are evil ... The mystery of iniquity in the Church is a great stumbling block to many who might otherwise consider her claims, and I believe that that mystery must, in justice, be recognized and mourned by Catholics. I think that repentance -- that is, apologizing to the victims of Catholics' sins, asking for forgiveness, and making what reparation we can through prayer and good works -- is the appropriate response to much of Catholic history (something of which St John Paul II set us a great example**), and an admirable expression of the coinherence of believers in the Church. We rejoice with those who rejoice, we mourn with those who mourn; and if necessary, we mourn for those who will not mourn and rejoice for those who cannot rejoice, sharing in one another's sins and merits together, as one body.

But why accept her claims in the first place?

For me, that's a difficult question to answer, not because I have so little reason to do so that I can't express it without sounding lame, but because I feel I have so much reason to do so that I can never decide where to start. So here are a few lines of thought that moved me personally to accept that the Catholic Church is what she says she is, as I accepted that Jesus is what He said He is.

One tack, commonly used by apologists, is a sort of historical-philosophical one. Beginning with the Gospels, not as inspired documents but as simple records left by people who at any rate claimed to be there, we may arrive at the conclusion that, guided by the Holy Ghost or not, they are reliable in essentials. This would then establish some basic facts about the Person and work of "Jesus who is called Christ". Among these would be the fact that He established a Church, commissioning Apostles (from the Greek for emissary or ambassador, i.e., personal representatives) to propagate and govern it. He never wrote a word, and never ordered them to, that we know of -- and you may be sure the infant Church would have preserved that like the Shroud of Turin; the only thing we know from the original sources is that He passed His own authority on to the men He appointed: He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me. And at the head of these men, He set the shuffling, impetuous, snobbish, and apostate saint: and told him that he was His own personal steward, the man on whom He would build the whole Church, holding the same authority to bind and loose as Heaven itself.


Now, in making Peter His steward (the language of Matthew 16 directly echoes the language of Isaiah 22.15-25, where God appoints a new steward on behalf of the house of David over the kingdom of Judah), Christ was not in my opinion saying that Peter, personally, was the rock of the Church. The character of St Peter, dearly as I love him, would make that too much of a howler. It seems reasonably clear to me, based on the Scriptural allusion made and the specifications of powers (some of which were applied to the Apostles more generally later on), that what He was doing was instituting an office which would serve as that basis: a function, admittedly to be filled by a man, as the Presidency of the U.S. is filled by a man, but not a personal virtue or inherent power any more than the Presidency. In other words, the function of the Rock is to be an ongoing part of the Church -- perhaps explaining why St Paul calls the Church the pillar and ground of the truth -- prevailing against the gates of Hell and binding and loosing in earth and Heaven being perpetual powers of the Body of Christ, expressed in this office because that is what Christ designated it to do.

And, conveniently, it isn't even a matter of sorting out the claims of various successors to the Apostles: not even such great prelates as the Patriarchs of Constantinople or the Archbishops of Canterbury have professed to be the Rock on which all the Church is built; nor have even the Bishops of Jerusalem or Antioch, places where St Peter was also a bishop for a time, have set forth rival claims. The only continuing office that has claimed or does claim to be one and the same with the stewards -- or, to use the Latin title, the vicars -- of Christ, is the Bishopric of Rome. One may accept or reject the claim, especially on the grounds of the immorality of many of St Peter's successors; personally I find it oddly appropriate that so many of them should be shufflers, impetuous, snobs, and apostates.

And if it is precisely the discharge of the office, not the character of the man, that receives the graces promised by Jesus, then we may -- in my opinion, should -- expect everything not covered by those graces to go wrong, even with the Popes, sooner or later. Following Peter's career, I'd say that most of them went wrong sooner, and generally later as well. I think, too, that that applies to the Church as a whole. Romano Guardini, a theologian of the last century who influenced many important figures in the Church (such as Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis), once said, "The Church is the Cross upon which Christ is crucified; and who can separate Christ from His Cross?" I think that is exactly the right way of looking at it. I might say, as a sort of supplement, that, in the Church, everything that can go wrong, will go wrong, but that there is a scarlet cord of truth that will not break, and from that scarlet cord the whole house hangs as the city crashes down around it.

And that is why I am not greatly perturbed by the real wickedness of the Church. Not because it has been misprised and exaggerated (though that's also true much of the time); not because the glories of her many saints cancel out the black marks of Raymond of Toulouse, Bernard Gui, or Torquemada. But because, trusting Jesus to be who He said He was, I trust Him to do what He said He would do: to be with you alway, even unto the end of the world.


It's all quite straightforward.

A healthy awareness of my own sinfulness doesn't hurt, either. Dorothy Sayers, with her usual biting clarity, points out in her essay The Triumph of Easter:
"Why doesn't God smite this dictator dead?" is a question a little remote from us. Why, madam, did He not strike you dumb and imbecile before you uttered that baseless and unkind slander the day before yesterday? Or me, before I behaved with such cruel lack of consideration to that well-meaning friend? And why, sir, did He not cause your hand to rot off at the wrist before you signed your name to that dirty little bit of financial trickery? You did not quite mean that? But why not? Your misdeeds and mine are nonetheless repellent because our opportunities for doing damage are less spectacular than those of some other people.***
It isn't, and isn't meant to be, a complete answer to the problem of evil. But I think it puts the problem into, shall we say, a more practical perspective.

A painter of the Umbrian school
Designed upon a gesso ground
The nimbus of the Baptized God.
The wilderness is cracked and browned

But through the water pale and thin
Still shine the unoffending feet
And there above the painter set
The Father and the Paraclete.

-- T. S. Eliot, Mr. Eliot's Sunday Morning Service, ll. 9-16


+     +     +

According to their own evidence, the manifestation came. At a particular moment, and by no means secretly, the heavenly Secrets opened upon them, and there was communicated to that group of Jews, in a rush of wind and a dazzle of tongued flames, the secret of the Paraclete in the Church. Our Lord Messias had vanished in his flesh; our Lord the Spirit expressed himself towards the flesh and spirit of the disciples. The Church, itself one of the Secrets, began to be.

-- The Descent of the Dove, p. 3



*The reason that Catholic theology does not teach this is rather technical, but worth noting, in a woefully abbreviated form. The doctrine of the infallibility of the Church means that, when the Church invokes her full authority to preach and teach her message, the Holy Ghost protects her from any admixture of falsehood. This is true in the strictest sense of the words; note the corollaries. Those things which aren't her message -- such as nearly all scientific, most historical, and many philosophical questions -- are questions on which she has no supernatural insight; if her clergy do say anything about them, it can only be the fruit of expertise (or the lack of it), not of inspiration. And even those things which are her message, the doctrine and moral code of Christianity, are not necessarily wholly protected from error if she does not invoke her full authority, which in fact she rarely does, either in the person of the Pope or by means of an ecumenical Council. And finally, the Church is not prevented from pursuing wrong policies as ways of trying to implement the truth. Having the truth will get you somewhere, but it does not produce perfection by itself: faith, wisdom, patience, and love must greatly leaven mere correctness, or it is apt to do a great deal more harm than good.

**Having been the victim of abuse myself (though not at the hands of a priest), I am not insensitive to the criticisms of St John Paul's pontificate on this score. It was, in my opinion, a great and serious flaw. But I do not believe that any great man is free of flaws; and I think that his personal expressions of grief and apology for the many sins of the Church throughout history should not be accounted any less sincere, or any less worthy of imitation, on the grounds that His Holiness was not perfect either.

***From the collection Creed or Chaos?, p. 19. The essay goes on to grapple with the problem of evil in much greater detail from a Christian viewpoint, in the context of the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Propers for All Souls

Today being All Souls Day (in the Ordinariate, at least -- I think the Roman Rite transferred it to tomorrow, since requiem Masses are not normally held on Sundays), I thought I'd post some of the beautiful prayers and readings employed for the day by the Anglican Use, of which I'm a member. I attend Mount Calvary Church in Baltimore, and our choir and schola sang some particularly enchanting pieces today, including Antonio Lotti's Miserere Mei as the Communion motet.

Introit: Requiem Aeternam
Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord: and let light perpetual shine upon them. Thou, O God, art praised in Syon, and unto thee shall the vow be performed in Jerusalem. Thou that hearest the prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come. Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord: and let light perpetual shine upon them.

Collect for All Souls
Everlasting God, our maker and redeemer, grant us, with all the faithful departed, the sure benefits of thy Son's saving passion and glorious resurrection: that, in the last day, when thou dost gather up all things in Christ, we may with them enjoy the fullness of thy promises; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Lesson: Wisdom 3.1-9
The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seem to have died, and their departure was thought to be an affliction, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace. For though in the sight of men they were punished, their hope is full of immortality. Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself; like gold in the furnace he tried them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them. In the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and will run like sparks through the stubble. They will govern nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord will reign over them for ever. Those who trust in him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his elect, and he watches over his holy ones.

Gradual: Requiem Aeternam
Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord: and let light perpetual shine upon them. The righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance: he will not be afraid of any evil tidings.

Epistle: Romans 5.5-11
Brethren: hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. While we were still weak, Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man -- though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have received our reconciliation.

Tract: Absolve Domine
Absolve, O Lord, the souls of all the faithful departed from every bond of sin. And by the help of thy grace may they be worthy to escape the avenging judgment. And enjoy the bliss of everlasting light.

Gospel: John 6.37-40
At that time: Jesus said to the crowds: "All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me; and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day."

Offertory: Domine Jesu Christe
O Lord Jesu Christ, King of majesty, deliver the souls of all the faithful departed from the hand of hell, and from the pit of destruction: deliver them from the lion's mouth, that the grave devour them not, that they go not down into the realms of darkness: but let Michael, the holy standard-bearer, make speed to restore them to the brightness of glory: which thou promisedst of old to Abraham and his seed. Sacrifice and prayer do we offer to thee, O Lord: do thou accept them for the souls departed, in whose memory we make this oblation: and grant them, Lord, to pass from death unto life. Which thou promisedst of old to Abraham and his seed.

Preface of the Dead
It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto thee, O Lord, Holy Father, Almighty, Everlasting God: through Jesus Christ our Lord, in whom hath shone forth unto us the hope of a blessed resurrection: that they who bewail the certain condition of their mortality may be comforted by thy promise of immortality to come. For the life of thy faithful people, O Lord, is changed, not taken away, and at the dissolution of the tabernacle of this earthly sojourning, a dwelling place is made ready in the heavens.

And this piece ("Funeral Ikos" by John Tavener) was our closing motet:


Thursday, October 23, 2014

An Open Letter to Fr. Dwight Longenecker

We don't know each other, of course, Father, but -- as a homosexual Catholic -- I wanted to reply to your recent post on the Synod's language about welcoming us. I have a good deal to say, so rather than hogging your combox, I decided to post it here. (Naturally, if anything I've written shows that I have misunderstood what you had to say there, I earnestly solicit correction.)

I think I can agree with you that welcome is sort of a hard word to define. It can be in the "I know it when I see it" category. But I think a decent working definition could be something like: making it plain to people that they are loved and valued in church, and, in fact, welcome to show up and be a part of the community.

Note that I have said nothing about participation in the sacraments. That, for theological reasons, isn't a question of welcome. Whereas every human person is, or ought to be, welcome in church.

Starting from there, I begin by taking issue with your assertion that welcoming a gay activist can only follow on their repudiation of gay activism. It is not necessary for a person to agree with you to show them love; nor, if they do disagree, can the only love shown to them be trying to get them to abandon their present convictions. If only for the sake of evangelical effectiveness, you have to earn the right to persuade people to change from one set of beliefs to another. Martin Luther King said with great wisdom that "Whom you would change you must first love, and they must know that you love them" (emphasis mine). That means putting a premium on showing love in a way that makes sense to them; otherwise the rest of your love, however sincere, won't reach them.

After all, why should it? Because you're right? I never heard of anyone realizing that someone loved them because he troubled to explain how wrong they were.

That doesn't mean you never do so; and as a priest, that duty impinges upon you specially. But it does mean that the explanation won't do anything until you are personally credible to the person you are talking to -- especially when you are asking that person to surrender, not just a political stance, but (from their perspective) the whole prospect of happiness with a partner, something that you aren't risking. The point is not that your teaching is somehow hypocritical because of that; of course that isn't true; but that, as I've said elsewhere, a truth that costs us nothing will always feel like a counterfeit to the people who have to pay for it. And it will continue looking like a counterfeit until and unless they can see that it costs you something to show love to them.

But the problem is a more extensive one than that. Not only will people not credit your truth unless they see your love first, they won't give you a chance to show your love if you sound like you're hostile or ignorant or both.

As to hostility, Father, I don't believe for one moment that you mean to be hostile to people like me. But I would point out that, at the end of your post, you state flat-out that these calls for welcome are a duplicitous cover for heresy. Speaking as someone who fully accepts Catholic teaching on sexuality, yet does often feel cold-shouldered by the Church and uncertain of her attitude toward me, that's pretty hard to take. Nor, in my opinion, is it fair. Assuming the worst even about intellectual opponents seems to me to be a violation of charity, which hopes all things; to say nothing of assuming the worst about people who, at the very least, profess to be fellow Catholic Christians.

I'd point out, too, that the definitions you make of the terms homosexual and gay come across as polemical. Again, I don't believe this was intentional, and it can't be denied that the definitions you give are things that we need words for. But the brute fact is that the definition you give for homosexual -- i.e., someone who is interested erotically in their own sex, irrespective of actual behavior -- is what most people mean by the word gay, including most self-identified LGBT people. The only people that I see use gay in the sense you use it are Catholics who are speaking against the LGBT movement. This isn't so important in itself, of course; but I don't think it's going too far to say that insisting on defining a term that applies to other people in a substantially different sense than they do is rude.

Turning to the difficulty of ignorance, I hope I'm not being rude, but I couldn't help but stare with incredulity at your confident assertions that people like me receive a full range of pastoral care. You say that you "can't imagine homosexuals experience such exclusion." Imagine it. Or if you can't, reflect on how I felt when the sexton at my parish made a sneering reference to faggots, or when two friends of mine were slandered in their presence to their priest, or when I was warned by a friend not to talk to our pastor about a fully chaste relationship I was in. Or consider Cardinal Burke's advice that people in sexually active gay relationships should be shunned by their families, to set a good example for the children -- the good example being, I suppose, that some sins are too bad for your family to go on loving you.

I'm happy to say that I have lived a life comparatively free of homophobic harassment (with the notable exception of my own comments section here), though the same cannot be said of many of my friends, whether Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox. Prejudice and even frank savagery are not unknown among us -- if you're skeptical, try reading the combox of this article I wrote for Crisis back in January.

But even aside from that, the available ministries to people like us are, in point of fact, extremely limited. The only apostolate with the Church's full endorsement is Courage, which is bitterly hostile to the LGBT movement (understandably perhaps, but good luck evangelizing them on that basis) and has no paradigm for dealing with homosexual attractions except that of addiction -- to say nothing of its ties to the often-abusive and discredited ex-gay world. Even as an orthodox Catholic, I'm not specially eager to touch Courage with a ten-foot pole, because I don't think I would be welcomed there; and even if I would, it's so secretive -- thanks, in part, to its opposition to coming out of the closet -- that it's hard even to find a chapter. When I was in college at the University of Maryland, and willing to try just about anything, the closest chapter I ever heard of was in Virginia.

If Courage is not what you meant by "a range of caring, open-ended and intelligent approaches to welcome and help homosexual people," then I genuinely don't know what you mean. Frankly, after six years as a Catholic, the most I've come to hope for from the Church is to be left alone, and, without her help, simply to confide in and rely on those trustworthy and supportive friends whom I have been able to find on my own. Of whom, among Catholics, there are few.

And that is a great anguish to me, for two reasons. One is the more selfish reason that, when so much of my support comes from people outside the Catholic Church, it confronts me continually with the fact of Christian disunity, which I find hard to bear at the best of times, and severely limits what we can share spiritually. But the more important reason is that most people will not enter the Catholic Church, nor remain in her, if they don't feel support from fellow Catholics. And I think that, in the LGBT world, where so many of us have been deeply wounded by Christians of every stripe, this is doubly true.

I don't mean to be rude or insolent, Father, and I hope I haven't been. But I'm bitterly tired. I'm tired of the assumptions that I'm a liar and a secret heretic. I'm tired of Catholics treating LGBT people as the enemy, and then being indignant when LGBT people respond in kind. I'm tired of people assuming that I'm a slut and a pedophile simply because I happen to be attracted to men rather than women. I'm tired of being told that if I feel hurt, it's because I'm in sin, or even that I don't really feel hurt and am just making things up. I'm tired of being treated like a mascot. I'm tired of being told I shouldn't be honest about my attractions because it scandalizes people -- never mind the LGBT people who are scandalized (i.e., driven further away from God) by that. I'm tired of being lonely in my second-rate attempts at celibacy, and not being able to understand why.

I think that is all I have to say. Of your charity, pray for me.