I've been struggling a lot with depression over the past few weeks. What would have been my anniversary with my ex-boyfriend came up late last month; work has been running me into the ground; and I'm feeling like a real moral no-show -- alternating fits between unchastity and anger, with the occasional nervous breakdown for flavor.
Regrettably, adorable drunk lesbians formed no part of any of this angst.
2013 has been a rough year: a dear friend of our family died, my youngest nephew was born nearly two months premature, one of my sisters had to have her thyroid removed, my car (as of today) is in the shop for the third time in six months, Brett Ratner is still alive.* One of the things I've found disappointing and disconcerting is that, in all of this, my main focus has been on Me: My pain, My loneliness, My holiness, not only in contrast to all the suffering people all around me (that is, everybody), but even in contrast to my family and my friends. In one sense I take that to be a good thing -- I mean, that I'm increasingly aware of my selfishness. Saint John of the Cross says that one of the illuminations Divine grace gives us is an awareness of our imperfections, so that it seems at first as though we are losing ground, simply because we're seeing shortcomings that had escaped our notice before. "Dark with excessive bright Thy skirts appear," Milton says of God somewhere in Paradise Lost** -- the light is so brilliant that, until our eyes adjust, it causes blindness rather than sight. At least, I sure hope that's what's happening.
The question of why I would remain a Catholic through all of this, when I could greatly simplify things by, at the least, renouncing the Church's teaching on sexuality, has been posed to me more than once -- not only by others but by me. The simplest answer is that I'm persuaded that the Catholic faith is true, and with that comes the conviction that the Magisterium is reliable. Any dissent from the substance of her teaching on my part would be intellectually inconsistent, and, for someone built like I am, knowingly engaging in intellectual inconsistency would be the height of dishonor. I can be a whore, and that's one thing; but being a liar -- that would be a far deeper violation. It would remove the conditions by which I am able to sin and still repent, and I need those to function as a Christian. Even, perhaps, to function as a man.
"You think a wife might feel sensitive about her husband's honor -- even if it were sacrificed on her account?" said Miss Stevens. "Well -- I don't know."
"I should think," said Miss Chilperic, stammering a little in her earnestness, "she would feel like a man who -- I mean, wouldn't it be like living on somebody's immoral earnings?"
"There," said Peter, "if I may say so, I think you are exaggerating. The man who does that -- if he isn't too far gone to have any feelings at all -- is hit by other considerations, some of which have nothing whatever to do with ethics. But it is extremely interesting that you should make the comparison." He looked at Miss Chilperic so intently that she blushed.
"Perhaps that was rather a stupid thing to say."
"No. But if it ever occurs to people to value the honor of the mind equally with the honor of the body, we shall get a social revolution of a quite unparalleled sort -- and very different from the kind that is being made at the moment."***
But there's something else going on, too. Something I don't understand, except that I sense its presence, and it is not simply intellectual; it's deeper than that (by which I don't mean it is emotional -- as important as emotions are, they are not more core to a person than the mind, just different). I certainly haven't got the strength, and don't know whether I will receive the grace, to continue on the path of celibacy. But, deep within, something is happening -- God is doing something in the dark.
Man, this guy. He really knew what was up.
Why remain here in the dark -- without hope of marriage or children or earthly happiness or simple rest? So many answers pop up, even within the doctrinal framework I accept, that I just can't espouse: like You could still get married some day, or Everyone experiences loneliness, but it passes, or Celibacy is a beautiful gift from God -- you can do so many things as a celibate that married people can't, or You can adopt, you know, or ... the mind swims in a sea of meaningless encouragements.
Meaningless, not because any of them aren't true in fact, but because none of them are what I want. When a man wants water, explaining to him that he can have as much steak as he likes is not likely to console his thirst. And what I want is a husband.
And that, on Catholic premises, I cannot have. Not even "am not allowed to." It just plain isn't possible.
I'm sure (on the basis of my theology) that there is some -- how can I put this -- some legitimate meaning in that desire, which I can have; but I don't really know what it is. I have for many years repudiated the ex-gay explanation that it is a confused mixture of the desires for a father, for male friends, and for a wife (because when you put all those roles in a blender, a husband comes out, obviously). Yet in this confusion and uncertainty, I can sense something happening, some activity of God's. I don't get it, and I don't sense it all the time -- in fact, more often than not, I'm simply unhappy. But when I do sense it, it is unmistakeable.
It would be very easy to interpret all this as comforting self-delusion, built to protect me from the vulnerability of a relationship or the risk of questioning my theology. Given that I'm a convert to Rome who passed through Calvinism, atheism, and witchcraft first, and that I've had gay relationships and gay sex, I do not find that way of reading the facts convincing; but you could read them that way if you insisted. What is at least equally interesting is that one can put the shoe on the other foot and read a lot of the LGBT movement as showing signs of an elaborate evasion of God**** -- not so much in its deviation from traditional morality or the explicit irreligion of some of its members, but rather, in its determined exaltation of romantic love as something almost like salvation. And that, I think, is something that a lot of us can sympathize with, gay or straight. Apart from Divine grace, it is called "idolatry," which is open to people of both sexes and all sexualities. With grace, such love can become something more like an icon of salvation, a means of approaching the Creator through the created -- as Dante did with Beatrice.
But I digress. (Maybe.) The point is, such suffering, and being in the dark about it, are not necessarily signs that God is absent, or uncaring, or trying to nudge me to go in a different direction. Christ Himself, in His agony in Gethsemane, shows us that. What God is doing, I don't know, and I don't know what comes next, nor how I will fall and fail. But my faith is in Him and not myself; if He knows, then the person who chiefly needs to know knows. Consoling? Occasionally. The point, whether consoling or not? Yes.
And when I do feel it, when I do receive consolations --
*Yes I'm still angry; the franchise started so well with X1 and X2, whatever their fridge-logic flaws. And then X3 was -- well, "Everyone says forgiveness is wonderful, until they have something to forgive," C. S. Lewis said.
**I don't know where, because the only place I recall reading this line is in Lewis' Preface to Paradise Lost -- oddly, though I have very little taste for Milton, I find Lewis so engaging as a literary critic that I read his commentary over and over again, at least once a year.
***Gaudy Night, pp. 376-377, by Dorothy Sayers, who was incomparably wonderful in all the ways. This is one of my favorite novels, of hers or anybody's, and gave me a clarity about the interplay of heart with intellect and about discernment that I have never gleaned from any deliberately spiritual manual.
****It should go without saying (but regrettably doesn't) that this would not apply to those Christians who, for theological reasons, take a different view of sexuality, like Justin Lee or Matthew Vines. That is also an important dimension of gay-Christian interaction; but it is a different one.