Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity

O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal; grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of 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, July 29, 2013

Raw Tact, Part I: I'm a Real Boy

One of the things I've particularly wanted to do with Mudblood Catholic is communicate something of what it feels like to be a gay Christian to straight Christians. I want to do this for a number of reasons, one of which is, naturally, narcissism. But I think there are better reasons for bothering to write about this so often and in such detail:

1. This is quite possibly the hot-button issue for the churches in America in this generation. That doesn't mean it will be in the future, but we are not yet in the future. Christians should most certainly be wary of having our agendas dictated to us by the World, which can almost be forgiven for not having the best interests of the Church in mind; yet at the same time, if we do not meet this challenge competently, it may mean ruining our credibility with this particular generation.

2. Theologically, there's a lot at stake. I unhesitatingly espouse the doctrine of the Catholic Church on this subject. That being said, it doesn't take traddie fanaticism like mine to see that, whatever theology you hold on queer issues, it's important. Human relationships and happiness, the spiritual significance (if any) of gender and sex, the sacrament (or not) of marriage, the right methods of interpreting Scripture, and, in the last analysis, what role the historical beliefs of Christianity play in defining doctrine, all hang in the balance. Just not answering the relevant questions, or providing only tentative answers, will not serve.

3. People are getting hurt. This is such a commonplace that we are approaching desensitization. Segments about anti-gay bullying and teen suicides are a staple of the news; Christian magazines and blogs are spattered with pieces on homophobic theology and hypocritical pastoral decisions. The agony of being trapped in the closet and unable to admit whom you love, or, alternately, the intense suffering of an unexpected and lonely celibacy -- these things are bordering on becoming memes. (Give George Takei a few days, and he'll probably have a legitimately hilarious take on both of these archetypes.)

And now, to help deal with all three of these important social issues, I'd like to ignore them completely for a moment.

My name is Gabriel and I am twenty-five, living in Baltimore. I come from California originally -- I mean, to the extent that I come from anywhere: my dad was in the Navy, so we moved around a lot. We'd moved six times before I turned eighteen; I'd visited four continents and been in seven countries. I've always been extremely bookish, not that that's exceptional in my family -- I have a particular liking for fantasy, poetry, theology, and literary criticism (for all four at once, try almost anything by the brilliant and neglected Charles Williams, such as The Descent of the Dove; I'm rereading The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers at the moment, an excellent sic-fi/fantasy fusion novel, while waiting for another of his books, The Stress of Her Regard, to be delivered by all-knowing Amazon). I'd like to write for a living myself; I'm working on a Gothic novel at the moment, and a collection of poems. Most of my writing deals, directly or indirectly, with the conflict between my religion and my sexuality; I realized I was gay around age thirteen, and then converted from Calvinism to Catholicism about seven years later. Neither aspect of my life has resolved the other, and oddly enough, I'm not sure I want them too -- the tension causes suffering, obviously, but it can produce a lot of beauty, too. I thought for a long time about becoming a priest, and/or a monk, but those callings aren't really for me. I'm also a music fanatic -- I have a particular turn for electronica and indie, as well as their roots in prog rock and so forth; just recently I managed to vastly expand my collection of Pink Floyd, thanks to my dad; and I suddenly found myself getting into blues and soul and their descendent genres recently -- I've always loved Billie Holliday, to whom Nina Simone, Carly Simon, Aretha Franklin, Amy Winehouse, Fiona Apple, and Rachel D'Arcy have more recently been added. (Seriously, even if you ignored all the others, watch that Rachel D'Arcy video and then reflect on the fact that this is her singing without any of the protective layers of technology habitual to the industry, because she is gorram amazing.)

Why the autobiographical detour here? Well, I wanted to introduce you to some gay people. I am the gay man I know best, so I introduced you to me. And why? Because there's no point in paying attention to any of this unless you do so in a personal context.

Society is made up of people and the decisions they -- we -- make. It isn't made of anything else. Whether you want to reform society, or conserve society as it is, or to reform some parts of it and conserve others, nothing whatsoever can be done unless it is done by people and about people. Trends, statistics, movements, they're all useful fictions. They are really useful; but they are, also, really fictions. There is no person whom you can authentically relate to through general ideas. There is no ideal gay, no ideal lesbian, no ideal American, no ideal Christian, no ideal Catholic. There are only the women and men that you meet. Get to know them. Get to know the useful fictions only as it helps you interact with real, living, breathing, drooling people.

I mean to spend this series explaining some of the fictions that I think are most useful -- which means exactly one thing: the fictions that I think are realities for most LGBT people, or most Christians, or most Christian LGBTs. But none of these rules of thumb will mean anything -- anything -- unless preceded, and trumped, by actually knowing and caring for the people here concerned. And you can't do that by reading a blog. Or a book. Or a tweet. All this stuff can help; that's why I'm writing this. But you can only relate to people by going out and doing it.

I've called it Raw Tact because that brings together the two things most badly needed in Christian-queer dialogue: total honesty (instead of ideology, half-truths, equivocations, don't-ask-don't-tell tactics, and the like), and extreme sensitivity (instead of moralizing, unimaginative sympathy, and so forth). Both are needed by both sides. It is an incongruous turn of phrase, which I think is good; it's hard to hold raw honesty and tactfulness together. But it's high time we did. I don't think we'll make any progress until we do; otherwise we are left to choose between an honesty so brutal that it won't help anybody, and a compassion so undisciplined that it can't figure out how to.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Reblog: Brent Bailey

My next post is coming fairly slowly. To cover myself, and more importantly because it's fantastic, I'd like to recommend this post from Brent Bailey at Odd Man Out. He is one of the writers on homosexuality that I like best (along with Melinda Selmys, Steve Gershom, Joshua Gonnerman, Eve Tushnet, and a few others), and this post deals with the lived experience of gay Christianity -- something that I see less often than I'd like. It's easy to get caught up in the "issues," which, while they are legitimately important, frequently have very little to do with the daily lives of the spirituality of -- well, anybody really. Please enjoy.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Pope! Twitter! Indulgences! Buzzwords!

Several friends have asked me of late about the silly and irresponsible rumor flying around the webnet that Pope Francis has proclaimed that people who follow him on Twitter will get time off Purgatory. Sadly, as with many technical aspects of theology, a misunderstanding that takes a dozen words to acquire can take a dozen pages to disentangle and correct; as one can imagine that it might take some doing to re-educate the child who wrote that Martin Luther was nailed to the church door at Wittenberg for selling papal indulgences.

The original source of the rumor appears to be this article from the UK's Guardian, which is rather vague about its source. Father James Martin, SJ, wrote this pleasingly snarky piece that does briefly what I'm going to try to do in a little more detail. A concise explanation of the doctrine of indulgences can be found here, but not everybody finds the Catechism very readable, so I'm going to try a more colloquial way of discussing it.

"What do you want me to do? Leave? Then they'll keep being wrong!"*

1. What's an Indulgence?

To answer this question, we must first have a clear understanding of the effects of sin. Sin has a twofold result: eternal separation from God, and also temporal consequences here on earth. Those temporal consequences, which can be many and varied, include things like the 'equal and opposite reaction' that every action has (if you get really furious and punch a wall, your hand will hurt, and that is a natural consequence of losing your temper); and also a kind of fraying of the fibers of the soul -- because every act has the possibility of producing a habit, so that when we do something, we weaken our resistance to doing it again another time. Additionally, because we tend to rationalize things we've already done, sin often results in a clouding of our judgment -- we don't want to admit that we've done wrong, so we half-consciously confuse ourselves.

Forgiveness, which we receive in the sacraments of Baptism and Confession, means that our souls are reunited with God. The eternal consequences of sin are done away with by absolution; we are put back into a right relationship with God.

But the natural or temporal effects of sin aren't the same thing. God often leaves those to happen, as a means of disciplining, teaching, and purifying us. A parent doesn't stop loving a child who has done wrong, and if the child says sorry, the parent forgives; but the child may still be grounded, or have to do extra chores. The relationship is restored but the consequences aren't abolished, or not necessarily.

We have a specific Biblical example of this in the case of David (II Samuel 11.26-12.19). After his adultery with Bathsheba and effective murder of her husband, and the cover-up of both crimes, he is rebuked by the prophet Nathan. David, overcome with remorse, repents, and immediately, Nathan tells him, "The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die." The prophet specifically says that the sin has been forgiven; but the temporal consequences, in this case very terrible ones, remain.**

What an indulgence is, is release from the temporal consequences of a sin that has already been forgiven. If you do something wrong and get grounded, but then your parents change their mind and decide to waive the punishment, that is the same sort of thing as an indulgence. Or, in King David's case, when he asked God to spare the child's life, he was asking for an indulgence.

2. Fine, But Who Says the Church Can Dole Indulgences Out?

Short answer: Jesus. The passage is so well known from debates between Catholics and Protestants that many Christians could recite it almost in their sleep: You are Peter [i.e. Rock], and on this rock I shall build My Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. And I shall give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven. I've heard and read a number of attempts to explain or explain away Christ's statement that St. Peter is the rock upon which the Church will be built; interestingly, I don't think I've ever once come across any explanation of the words about "binding and loosing" except that set forth by the Catholic Church.

It's important to realize that Jesus, as a Jewish rabbi, was training His disciples to be His apprentices. That's what rabbis did. He taught them to teach, He taught them to baptize, He taught them to perform miracles, and He taught them to forgive sins, and gave them the power and the right to do all these things. That the Church has the power of the keys, i.e. the authority to absolve sins, is not a new doctrine or even a Medieval one; it is profoundly Scriptural, rooted in Jesus' own ministry of forgiveness that He passed on to the Apostles, and they to those whom they ordained as successors. The consistent, recorded belief of the Church ever since is exactly that: some of the earliest debates in the ancient Church were about the extent of the power of the keys; yet the common ground among the varying positions was that the Church did have the power of the keys. Considering that forgiveness is a much graver matter than indulgence, it doesn't seem to me like a stretch to suppose that the "whatever" of the passage quoted above includes releasing us from the temporal effects of sin.

3. So What Does This Have to Do With Purgatory?

Unfortunately, like indulgences, Purgatory is among the most widely misunderstood doctrines of the Catholic Church. That this rumor should name both is, therefore, kind of a nightmare for anybody who likes concise explanations. Fortunately, most people who use the internet are models of patient technical analysis, which is why you can trust most of the things you read on it.

Snark aside. Purgatory, in substance, is a "place" where we finish dealing with the temporal effects of sin. (I put "place" in quotes because, being something that has to do with the soul rather than the body, since our bodies don't store moral guilt, Purgatory probably doesn't have a physical location like Rome or Jerusalem or Denny's.) In more Protestant language, if you're into that, it could be described as a place where we finish being sanctified. It has nothing in common with Hell; the defining characteristic of Hell is separation from God, and the whole point of Purgatory is that, in it, we are coming closer and closer to full enjoyment of God.

Obviously, since dealing with the temporal consequences of sin is the only thing that happens in Purgatory (if there were still eternal consequences to deal with, i.e. if you refused Divine forgiveness, you wouldn't be in Purgatory in the first place), indulgences are the sort of thing that could help. The Church does therefore offer indulgences for the dead, to speed them on their way to the final and blessed vision of God.

4. Wait. Why Doesn't the Church Just Indulgence Everything, Then?

Because of what the temporal consequences of sin are. They are not simply arbitrary; they are the natural consequences of doing wrong things, and they are therefore one of the chief means through which Christ teaches and purifies us. For that matter, Christ Himself was "made perfect through suffering," as we are told in the book of Hebrews. It seems a bit silly to expect to reach union with God without suffering if even the God-Man didn't do that.

Let's say that you are a child who, in a fit of anger, has broken your mother's favorite vase; an apology has been made, and you are forgiven, but also grounded. Now, your parents could waive the punishment -- but will they? If they do, it will most likely be because they can see that you've already learnt your lesson, so that the punishment is less needed. But if they can see that you've learned your lesson, it'll be because of something you said or did -- a heartfelt apology, a voluntary replacement of the vase, perhaps an extra effort to eat something they know you don't like at mealtime just to be peaceable. Indulgences aren't handed out at random, by parents or by the Church: if they were, they'd probably do more harm than good, by training us to be used to having no consequences for our actions.

That is why indulgences are attached to specific acts of penance by the Church: specific prayers, acts of service, and so forth; to ensure that the good which the disciplinary consequences would have done your soul is not merely missed, but replaced by something else equally beneficial. That is also why, in order to obtain an indulgence, the Christian must be properly disposed: in other words, in addition to performing the act that an indulgence is attached to, the relevant sin must already have been forgiven, which means you must have repented of it beforehand, which includes a sincere intention to amend yourself.** Repenting means turning away from sin, not just making weepy noises very very loudly. Of course, we're extremely fragile creatures, and God knows that; but if we're simply saying the words of repentance, without meaning them, then it isn't really repentance, for the same reason that saying "There's nothing behind you" to a friend when we can in fact see a zombie behind them isn't really honesty. Indulgences are not licenses to commit sin, and certainly can't be obtained in advance for a nice juicy sin we have planned -- the lack of repentance invalidates them.***

5. So Can You Get an Indulgence From Following Pope Francis on Twitter?


6. Then Why Did They Say You Could?

There was a misunderstanding involved; that, and the media isn't exactly famous for its friendliness to the Catholic Church, nor for its caution in verifying details of doctrine.

Here is what seems to have happened. Pope Francis has gone down the Brazil for World Youth Day. Naturally a lot of people want to go, and it's a way of witnessing to, and building up, one's faith; pilgrimages are a not uncommon devotional practice (even outside of Christianity, e.g. the Hajj in Islam), and this is a pilgrimage. So the Vatican issued an indulgence to those who are attending. But of course not everybody can go.

Unlike World Youth Day! But seriously, this fire was sad in real life.

Some people are too ill to travel; others don't have the money, or the time, or their families are against it, what have you. So, in an effort to be inclusive and generous, the indulgence was also extended to those who are penitent, and are following the events with devotion, but cannot be there in person -- even if that following is through social media such as Twitter. (A parallel example would be the live webcam at the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in France, which exists so that those who cannot make a pilgrimage to the site can nevertheless have some remote participation.)

In short, you can -- under the normal conditions, of sincere repentance and acting out of faith and love -- get an indulgence through participating in World Youth Day, which might very well include following Pope Francis on Twitter; but not simply by clicking 'Follow @Pontifex.'

7. But What About --

Sorry, I'm done for the evening. There has been much theology and now Gabriel needs a whiskey.

*Image and caption are xkcd #386 by Randall Munroe.

**I don't have time or space here to discuss the justice or injustice of this punishment. It is, obviously, an important question, but to try to treat it here would be a colossal change of topic. To try to treat it briefly would only cheapen the question.

***This is part of the controversy that Luther was in fact addressing in Wittenberg in 1517. It is a little-known fact that the famous 95 Theses were wholly Catholic -- indeed, they not only accepted but relied logically upon the truth of the Catholic theology of indulgences; more than that, far from being an attack upon the Pope, or the Papacy as such, they were in fact very concerned to safeguard the purity and the honor of the Papal office. Tetzel, the friar of whom Luther rightly complained, was guilty of simony -- the crime of selling holy things, in this case indulgences -- and, apparently, of preaching that they could be bought before committing a sin, so that you didn't have to worry about it afterwards. Tetzel was rightly condemned by the Catholic Church, at the time, with as much vigor as he has ever been condemned by Protestants since.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Reblog: Andrew Marin

I've been kind of out of commission this week. A friend of our family unexpectedly passed away on Sunday night, and I've needed time to grieve and detox from the busy-ness. I am working on a new post, but it'll be a bit longer.

Meanwhile, this essay on the difficulty of trusting someone who likes someone you hate (or who hates you) from the Marin Foundation's blog is worth a read. I like the work they do a lot, and I feel that this post sets exactly the right tone for all bridge-building projects -- as well as showing why they're so hard. Reconciliation is never, ever easy, and sometimes, because of one or both parties' stubbornness, it doesn't succeed; but it is nonetheless work worth doing.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

On Matthew Vines, Heretic

Matthew Vines, whose video on a pro-gay hermeneutic of Scripture recently and surprisingly went viral (despite lasting over an hour!), was interviewed a little while ago by Justin Lee for GCN Radio, the podcast put out by the Gay Christian Network. The interview is about half an hour long; I encourage you to listen to the whole thing, but the bit I want to focus on runs from about the 10 minute mark to just before the 15.

His arguments in favor of a new sexual ethic are (from my reading on both sides of the issue) fairly standard, though better researched and articulated than is often the case. Replies have been made to it from a traditional standpoint, such as this essay on First Things by Joshua Gonnerman, so I won't linger over that for now.

Listening to the GCN interview, however, something did stand out to me, strongly. And that is that he doesn't make any concessions to his maybe being wrong. He is wrong, and I am extremely glad he doesn't even admit the possibility.

This may seem paradoxical; I altogether deny the charge. He believes in absolute truth, and therefore holds his views absolutely. I can't imagine not respecting that. Few things are so false as the notion, so common today, that we can only be on good terms with people whom we agree with; and, as a corollary, that we can only maintain civil relations with those we do disagree with, by watering down what we do believe. It's true that it can be hard to argue and be respectful, but it can be done -- Chesterton and Shaw disagreed with each other about as much as two men can, and were fast friends. I rate respect a damn sight higher than mere tolerance; I admit I prefer tolerance to persecution, but I don't care to settle for tolerance if respect is available.

Chesterton himself put the matter very plainly, in his introductory essay in the collection titled Heretics:

"In the former days the heretic was proud of not being a heretic. It was the kingdoms of the world and the police and the judges who were heretics. He was orthodox. He had no pride in having rebelled against them; they had rebelled against him. The armies with their cruel security, the kings with their cold faces, the decorous processes of State, the reasonable processes of law -- all these like sheep had gone astray. The man was proud of being orthodox, was proud of being right. If he stood alone in a howling wilderness he was more than a man; he was a church. ... For obviously a man ought to confess himself crazy before he confesses himself heretical. The Bohemian, with a red tie, ought to pique himself on his orthodoxy. The dynamiter, laying a bomb, ought to feel that, whatever else he is, at least he is orthodox."

He goes on to say, speaking of Kipling and of Shaw himself, two of the men whom he first addresses:

"I wish to deal with my most distinguished contemporaries, not personally or in a merely literary manner, but in relation to the real body of doctrine which they teach. I am not concerned with Mr. Rudyard Kipling as a vivid artist or as a vigorous personality; I am concerned with him as a Heretic -- that is to say, a man whose view of things has the hardihood to differ from mine. I am not concerned with Mr. Bernard Shaw as one of the most brilliant and one of the most honest men alive -- I am concerned with him as a Heretic -- that is to say, a man whose philosophy is quite solid, quite coherent, and quite wrong."

Now, there is one inevitable misconception that must be cleared up immediately. Eight million percent of readers (in round figures; the actual number may of course be higher) will take this to mean I think Vines is going to Hell. I don't think this; I have less certainty about Matthew Vines' eternal fate than even about my own*, because it's none of my business. Even if we are to judge angels on the Last Day, I hope that we will be excused from the frightful task of judging men; and whether we judge anyone or anything then or no, the Last Day can look after itself -- we have other days meanwhile. To say that someone's opinions are wrong is not the same thing as saying that they are sinning by holding them; nor, even if we knew that, would that be the same thing as knowing their final destiny.

But hang on. Isn't saying that someone is a heretic more than just saying they're wrong? Well, in one sense, no. False doctrine and heresy are synonymous terms, if we are talking simply about the thing being believed. The sense in which heresy can be a sin comes in only when the reasons, or lack of reasons, that a person has for believing something are clarified -- when a person is believing a false doctrine because of a refusal to trust God, for one reason or another. And because only God looks on the heart, that question is in a real sense unanswerable -- except of ourselves, to ourselves. We do not know whether someone else holds their beliefs for bad reasons, but we can realize that we do; we often have to, and in fact Vines makes that very point in the interview I linked to, acknowledging his own bad reasons for the opinions he held before converting to a pro-gay hermeneutic.

That is one of the reasons that I can't join in the tendency, on display among a lot of Catholic bloggers, authors, and apologists, to not simply argue with but despise those who hold beliefs contradictory to the Catholic faith. I find it distasteful and counterproductive, and seriously at risk for being sinful, since no poison is deadlier than pride. But aside from all that, I just can't, and won't, understand the feeling that people who are thoughtful enough to be solid, dogmatic heretics deserve to be mocked.**

Am I grieved when people espouse heretical beliefs? Of course. Just as Vines is grieved when I espouse the traditional doctrines of Catholicism, and he should be, because the truth matters. I very much imagine, expect, and hope that Matthew Vines would regard me simply and categorically as a heretic, for the same reasons I regard him as one; and I don't doubt that he would nevertheless be as capable of respecting me as I respect him.

But is it really respecting someone to call them a heretic -- to call them wrong? I think it, in a way, extremely respectful. It is certainly more respectful than speaking and acting as though their ideas are too unimportant to be wrong or right. To quote my master Chesterton once again:

"... I would ask first and foremost, that men such as these of whom I have spoken should not be insulted by being taken for artists. No man has any right whatever merely to enjoy the work of Mr. Bernard Shaw; he might as well enjoy the invasion of his country by the French. Mr. Shaw writes either to convince or to enrage us. ... If a man convinces us at all, it should be by his convictions. ... If a man comes into Hyde Park to preach it is permissible to hoot him; but it is discourteous to applaud him as a performing bear. And an artist is only a performing bear compared with the meanest man who fancies he has anything to say."

Naturally I have no idea whether Matthew Vines will ever read this. But if ever you do, sir, permit me to close by raising a glass in your honor. (I hope you like whiskey, not least because if you don't, you're wrong about that too.) Slainte.***

*The Catholic doctrine of assurance need not detain us, but can be summed up in a beautiful quote from Saint Joan of Arc, in an answer she gave during her trial for heresy. Asked whether she knew herself to be in a state of grace -- an attempt to trap her, so that she could be accused of either admitting that she was in sin (if she said no) or presuming upon her own holiness (if she said yes), the prophetess replied simply, "If I am not, may God put me there; if I am, may God keep me there."

** This isn't the same as playful banter -- something of which Chesterton dealing with Shaw (and, indeed, Chesterton dealing with basically everybody) is a splendid example. Humor of this sort is founded on respect, on taking the other person and their position seriously; it is humorous in form, precisely because it views the other person as being able to handle the humor. People often assume that all humor about opposing viewpoints is contemptuous, but this seems to me to be based in a subconscious idea that humor is always hostile -- a patently obvious falsehood, once it is stated out loud.

*** In answer to your question, yes I did do the Darth Vader Episode III "Nooooo" when I realized I don't know how to get an accent mark over the 'a' in that word.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Pray for Baltimore

Some of you may know this already, but Baltimore is having a bad year for crime, even for Baltimore. There having been dozens of shootings, about a third of them fatal. I'd like to ask all my readers to pray for the city. For those who are Catholic, Orthodox, &c., the patron saints of the city are Mary Immaculate and St. Ignatius de Loyola; I'm planning to make appeals to the Sacred Heart of Jesus as well. God grant His mercy to us.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Why Not Ex-Gay?, Part III: If It's Broke, Don't Fix It

I've discussed both theoretical and practical problems with the ex-gay version of Christian-LGBTQ dialogue, but I've also said that I don't regard either of those as the fundamental objection to it. Well, if "not bloody likely" and "doesn't bloody work" aren't fundamental objections, then what is?

How about "no bloody point"?

Think about it for a moment. Why were Christians trying to find a "cure" in the first place? Is heterosexuality listed among the virtues in Scripture? Is marriage one of the duties of a Christian? Are there passages in the Gospels and Acts recounting the miracles of reorientation performed by Christ and the Apostles? If you answered "Yes" to any of those questions, congratulations, you are somehow more homophobic than the Restored Hope Network.*

My own beliefs about homosexuality are those of the Catholic Church (see paras. 2357-2359 of the Catechism for a brief summary**), as I've stated before. Nowhere in those beliefs is it stated or even suggested that sexual reorientation is necessary, meritorious, likely, or desirable. Nor, on the whole, has the Catholic Church taken that view. It is true that some Catholics have, like Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, founder of NARTH. But they aren't representative of the general Catholic response to homosexuality, whether orthodox or dissident; the main focus of Catholicism lies elsewhere. There are three major reasons for this (that I'm familiar with enough to run my mouth about, anyway).

The first is that sexual attraction, of whatever kind, isn't a sin. In fact it can't be. Having an impulse to do something, which is what attraction means, can no more be a sin than sneezing; it is something that happens to you, not something you decide on. Granted, you can decide whether you generally approve of or like being attracted to a given object, or not; and you can decide whether you'll act on an attraction or not -- normally, with allowances for the force of passions, addictions, and the like, which to varying degrees interfere with our wills. But you can't decide to not feel the things you feel, and trying to do so generally leads either to serious dishonesty or powerful and dangerous repressions. Judging from biology, homosexuality, though not genetic per se, is nevertheless a naturally occurring variant in multitudes of species, so it isn't surprising that it should pop up in human beings too -- the difference, according to the Catholic Church, being that we have rational souls which are meant to be the lords of our bodies in a different and more specific way than animals' minds are of theirs. The supposition that the mere attraction is a sin smacks of the kneejerk condemnation expressed by the Apostles in John 9: "Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?"***

The second is that human beings just don't need sex to be happy. True, the urge for it is an extraordinarily powerful one, and it shouldn't be surprising that a lot of people never totally master that urge -- one of many good reasons not to waste time being shocked at other people's unchastity, especially if they believe in different sexual ethics than you do, but I digress. Plenty of people live their whole lives without sex and are perfectly happy; sometimes, in the case of saints and mystics, they actually seem to possess something for which happiness is too weak a name, as St. Francis did. This isn't to say that everybody is capable of such self-mastery: St. Paul, in I Corinthians 7, seems to assume that a lot of people aren't. God does not dispense all graces equally, and it is a piece of unsubstantiated egalitarian silliness to think He does. But it is to say that, against the commonplace secular belief (also influential within American Christianity), human happiness does not spring from sexual love, and saying that a person can't have what they want sexually is not the same thing as barring them from earthly happiness.

The last reason is that Catholic Christianity specifically, unlike most incarnations of Protestantism that have graced American shores, is possessed of a spirituality of suffering -- one that has endured for literally thousands of years. The notion that a given individual might be required, for moral reasons, to forgo something beautiful and profound -- and sexual love, though not the source of all happiness, can yet be one of the most beautiful and profound things in the world -- is not that puzzling to a Catholic. (At least, not in principle; there is a tinge to American Catholicism, particularly since the sexual revolution, that is plenty puzzled by it, but that has to do with America rather than with Catholicism, and even here it is not universal.) The Church would certainly admit that this can be tragic, even heartbreaking; but she insists, or rather observes, that life is like that sometimes, and she maintains and those who do it are not losers but heroic. J. R. R. Tolkien depicted it with a bitter, lovely clarity in Frodo, whose farewell to his dearest friend is worth quoting:

"'But,' said Sam, and tears started in his eyes, 'I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire, too, for years and years, after all you have done.'
'So I though too, once. But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.'" -- The Lord of the Rings, p. 309

But Frodo's quest wasn't like that; he was defending people from a danger -- destroying it, rather -- and the quest ran him ragged until he had no chance for rest except going into the secret realm of the Elves and the angelic Valar. Am I saying that being gay is like being a servant of Sauron? Certainly not. I dare say that, in a far darker and more grievous case, like that of a man tempted to pedophilia who nevertheless maintained his conscience and resisted that temptation, he might feel as desperate and grim as Frodo and Sam trying to destroy the One Ring. Or, under the crushing weight, not so much of sexual desire, but of loneliness, I have often felt that I could understand the terrible thirst that afflicts travelers in Mordor.

The point is not that there are moral equivalencies in any of these examples; there aren't. The point is that doing difficult things we don't want to do is largely what moral courage means. We must decide on other grounds whether a task is worth doing; how great our prospect of success is doesn't enter into it. Gandalf was right: "Despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not."

Okay, but what does this have to do with suffering in particular? Does the Catholic Church believe that there is some sort of mystical power in suffering that can help other people? Um, yes. That's kind of the point of the fasts and penances and hair shirts and all the accoutrements of asceticism: it is the point of the crucifix, suspended over every celebration of the holy Mass. Or rather, it's one of the points of all these things; there are others, which need not for the moment detain us. St. Paul, in a passage I have quoted more than once here on Mudblood Catholic, told the Christians of Colossae, "I fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ"; in another place he says, to St. Timothy I believe, that he was being "poured out as a drink offering." And again, he says in Romans, "Offer your bodies as living sacrifices."

When I was an evangelical I talked almost casually of the priesthood of all believers. It was a little surprising to find out that Catholics believed in it too; Catholics, however, had a better reason, as I learned much later. For priesthood means sacrifice. Sacrifice of what? There is only one sacrifice, Christ; and we are the Body of Christ, mystically. He coinheres in us; we sacrifice ourselves. We must not hate or damage ourselves -- that is one of the reasons the Church keeps a careful eye upon ascetics, indeed more so than upon indulgent types -- but we are called to allow ourselves to be transfigured into Jesus, to coinhere in Him as He coinheres in us ("I in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you"), and to accept our sufferings of whatever kind as His own wounds, expressed in us. And those wounds, remember, still shine in glory; they are not something to be covered up or ashamed of -- just the opposite.

Ex-gay? No; that, as I have said before, would be declining the problem of life as God has set it to me, even if it worked. This, with apologies to identity paranoiacs, is the stuff we're made of -- the type of material from which we are being sculpted. There is a legend about Michelangelo's David, that, due to a flaw in the marble block, everyone said it couldn't be used for anything any good, and, well, now it is Michelangelo's David.**** Which took a long time, lots of work, and a master sculptor.

"Elrond raised his eyes and looked at him, and Frodo felt his heart pierced by the sudden keenness of the glance. 'If I understand aright all that I have heard,' he said, 'I think that this task is appointed for you. ... But it is a heavy burden. So heavy that none could lay it on another. I do not lay it on you. But if you take it freely, I will say that your choice is right ...'"

*The group was founded a few years ago by people who felt that Exodus was no longer sufficiently anti-gay, and includes several ex-gay luminaries, such as Anne Paulk, Andy Comiskey, Joe Dallas, and Dr. Robert Gagnon. No I will not link to them. If you want light psychological horror porn you can look it up without help from me.
**The language of the Catechism on this subject, relative to the English vernacular, is rather unfortunate. I say this not because I question Catholic theology, but because the technical jargon of theology -- like the technical jargon of any academic discipline (and, perhaps, none more so than theology) -- is widely different from and sometimes clean contrary to normal English usage. I'm planning another post on queer-related language, in which I mean to parse these paragraphs.
***I can't help noticing, too, that while Jesus did heal some blind men, He left most blind men that have ever lived unhealed. As a theist I assume that there is some reason for His not doling out miracles to everyone, and possibly even a subtler one than His not being a supernatural Comcast On-Demand.
****You could, if you wanted to, observe that Michelangelo himself was gay, as a neat historical coincidence. You could even speculate about how much fun he had carving a large male nude, if you were disposed to indulge such crass, tasteless humor.