Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Easter

O Almighty God, who alone makest the minds of the faithful to be of one will: grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Out of the Whirlwind

I did warn you that I wouldn't whitewash things.

Not so long ago I posted an essay, drawing on some time praying and journaling, in which I talked about reconciling myself more deeply to celibacy. Like most of my posts about growth in virtue, it was ambitious, hasty, and overrated my ... well, most things.

It's been a year and a half since I had any serious belief that celibacy was a viable option for me. I believe as firmly as I ever have that celibacy is right; but that is a rather different matter. Perfection is always right, and always unattainable; save by the strange graces granted to those who, in some fashion, seem to compel the generosity of God in a way that I do not understand.

People will say that such graces are available to anybody who wants them. I shall say boldly that in my experience, that simply isn't true. To be blunt, I think it is wishful thinking, not sound theology. I challenge anyone to do as much as I did to bolster my chastity -- Mass, daily prayer, Confession, the Rosary, scapulars, icons, the Angelic Warfare Confraternity -- and lose as much ground, and as persistently, as I did at the same time I was doing these things. I was told that chastity would become easier as I formed good habits, and that prayer and the sacraments would foster these habits and transform my life. I was told I'd get stronger. I got weaker instead -- more and more exhausted, more and more unable to cope with the pressures of sex and loneliness and misunderstanding. And, because of that, increasingly confused and in pain that God was not helping me like I was told He would.

This is the part where I'm supposed to say something about an epiphany in the confessional, or discovering the saint whose intercessions finally changed everything, or the indispensable support of my friends, or joining Courage, or a light about God's mercy not depending on my efforts breaking on me. And after that everything was (apparently) easy. I have nothing of that kind to offer.

I try not to resent those who do have such things to offer; I am glad that their pains have been relieved. And, while I dare say some of them are being dishonest, I don't automatically assume that about anybody -- it is a very terrible thing to accuse someone of lying, especially about a matter of such grave importance as their relationship with God, and I don't do that lightly. But I would be lying if I set forth a pious conventionality instead of the naked truth, and the naked truth is that, in the thirteen years since I realized I'm gay, it has gotten gradually harder the whole time, no matter what I have done, and no matter what I have asked for from the Lord. And I do think that, whether it is intended or not, the message that those sorts of conventional Aesops send -- that if you just do this one thing, regardless of what this one thing is, you'll experience victory -- is a false and pernicious message.

Nevertheless I don't doubt His goodness. Nor do I seriously doubt the Church's teaching about homosexuality. Is it so very shocking that an infinite being should choose to do something I don't understand? He's done it before. When the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, it was with terrible irony and not with answers. Why, I don't know; but Job was strangely satisfied, and I don't find that answers are what I need to be satisfied as Job was. Not right now, anyway.

St. Teresa of Avila is one of my favorite saints, and one of my favorite quotes from her is also one of the quotes I hate the most in the whole world. She said -- I don't know when -- that You must learn to bear for God's sake the trial of being displeasing to yourself. I've been wrestling with that sentence for the last two years, with ferocity and anguish; it has dislocated my hip with a touch. I can't understand it, or am only just beginning to. I can never make up my mind whether it's pride or just a lack of wisdom that makes this saying so dark to me. Maybe it's both.

And where does that leave me, exactly? If what I'm really being taught through this agony of failure after failure is patience -- with God's timing, and with myself, since I suppose I haven't much call to be impatient with me if God isn't -- then, with respect to chastity, what should I be attempting? A celibacy I know already, from a decade of bitter experience, I cannot do? If I'm going out and sleeping with men regularly anyway, is it really better not to get into a relationship, that would at least have the merit of being a humanized experience of sexuality? Why is that a compromise, but years of fruitless attempts are somehow heroic, despite the damage it does to other people -- that damage being exactly what a relationship would avoid? Is it even psychologically possible to try to do the impossible? I don't try to fly by flapping my arms, nor could I, because I know I can't (no seriously, trust me, nobody wanted to fly more badly than I did when I was little).

I have no answers. Therefore I offer none.


  1. I've just spent a good deal of time thinking very hard about what words to use that might help or to put your mind at ease, but I just can't. I know the struggle so incredibly intimately that it breaks my heart to see you struggling with it. I have no answers either.

    I hope offering to pray for you wouldn't be a trite gesture. I wish you peace, my friend.

  2. I think this is a good post; it says something real. My experience with the struggle for chastity as a heterosexual - while different in many ways - nonetheless is not entirely dissimilar. I have also spent many years trying to overcome temptations that no amount or type of prayer seems to alleviate. I have no answer to offer either. Everything I've heard or been told seems like a pious cliche.

    While I had - and have taken - recourse to marriage - and while that helps - by no means does it make easy.

    I argue not that the grass is greener on the other side - it is - but I merely mention that even on this side it is not as green as grass ought to be.

  3. Hi, Gabriel...

    No answers here. But looking for "answers" may be part of the problem. Prayer should increase your "eros" not stifle it. Therefore what you are going through may be in some sense healthy.

    It may seem counterintuitive, but seek out loving (though low-intensity / low drama) male contact. That's the only "thing" that seems to "work" (though when you look at it that way, it turns friendship into a form of therapy, when in fact it's our actual goal, our beatitude, our life. It's not a means to anything; rather eros in the broader sense is the "means" to union).

    And be physical about it. That may also seem counterintuitive and bring up fears of temptation and "occasions of sin". However, fear and withdrawal will increase the compulsion, while love will calm it. This can mean anything from hugs to contact sports to registered massage therapy. These things are normal and good. I don't know who's in your life, but express gratitude and devotion.

    The saddest thing is that our culture makes little room for such devotion; everything is sexualized, and much of the time culture and circumstance prevent maintaining close bonds. Then sometimes there really is no answer, and we are left in suffering and silence.