What did I ever do to you, Gogo?
Originally I had been planning to spend the weekend with a friend of mine, but when it started hurting to move, we agreed it was probably better to postpone it. It so happened that he had a number of family and household issues to attend to, and my sister, whom we had been planning to meet up with, couldn't make it this weekend owing to the recent minting of my youngest nephew. The postponement meant he could deal with Things, and my sister would be able to meet with us after all, and I wouldn't infect them both with a cold that apparently thinks I slept with its wife and killed its dog. The timing, therefore, though not perhaps the fact, of my being ill seemed -- if I can say it without sounding like (or being) a Sentimental Christian Blogger (TM) -- providential.
This drew my mind back to the articles (here and here) that Austin Ruse has been writing for Crisis on our little movement; or rather, to the comments. (Related: never read the comments.) Many of the commenters have railed against any and all notion that gayness -- that is, the tendency to be attracted to the same sex rather than the opposite sex -- is in any sense good or even salvageable; that anything worthwhile can be gleaned from it; that any response to it is acceptable other than disgust, concealment, or (at best) pity.
Now, I start from the same premises of Catholic doctrine as the majority of these commenters: namely, that same-sex sexual desire is a misdirected desire (which is what the technical theological term disordered means in the vernacular). The reason I don't have such a totally negative attitude toward homosexuality isn't because I'm wooly about what the Church does and doesn't teach, or because my loyalty to that teaching is less than complete. Indeed, my initial reaction to what seemed to be accusations of heresy and treachery was that if confessed fidelity to the teaching of the Church -- a confession made multiple times by all of us -- is not enough for these critics, I think it bears considering whether it is they who are too stringent with their requirements, rather than we who are too lenient.
But I digress. The latent premise here would seem to be that, if something is bad or messed up or in any way less than ideal, the only thing to do with it is to heap vilifications on it, as a faithful Catholic.
This seems to me to be not only wrong, but positively and specifically un-Catholic. O certe necessarium Adae peccatum, quod Christi morte deletum est! O felix culpa, quae talum ac tantem meruit habere Redemptorem! "O sin of Adam, necessary indeed, that was destroyed by the death of Christ! O happy guilt, that merited such and so great a Redeemer!" Without losing consciousness of the distinction between good and evil, and without falling into the trap of supposing that we may deliberately accomplish good ends through intrinsically evil means, Catholic spirituality has always recognized every shortcoming -- however trivial or however terrible -- as an occasion for grace to operate in a new way, to redeem things rather than destroying them. The Crucifixion itself was the worst thing that ever happened, after all; and the best.
Go forth, O ye daughters of Sion, and behold the King with the crown wherewith his mother crowned Him
on the day of His espousals, and on the day of the gladness of His heart. -- Canticles 3.11
Is this gay exceptionalism? I don't think so. It applies to everything. For example, one of my nephews has Down Syndrome. Is that a good thing, to be desired for its own sake? No. But when I see him smile, I am not settling for a second best. He is not the dregs of humanity; he is not something to be ashamed of, or hidden from polite society, or discussed only with pity. He is a great joy in my life, and one about which I have no ambivalence. I wouldn't want things to be any other way than they are.
Not only that, but people who are thus on the outside of normalcy, so to speak, not infrequently have something to offer normalcy that normal people can't, or tend not to, obtain for themselves. Theologians have poured out volumes on the subject of the Real Presence, but the best definition I've ever heard was in a story I heard once at a retreat. The speaker talked about a boy with some sort of mental disability (I forget what) being interviewed to determine whether he could be regarded as eligible to receive Communion. The interview, or this part of it, was being conducted in a church, and the boy thought for a moment, then pointed at the Crucifix and said, "That looks like Jesus, but it isn't"; then he pointed toward the Tabernacle and said, "That doesn't look like Jesus, but it is." Theologians rarely rise to such simplicity.
Hence, I have no qualms about supposing that gay people have something special to offer the Church, for the simple reason that I work on the premise that everybody has something special to offer the Church. I don't insist that our peculiar gifts have to do with our gayness; but I don't rule it out, either, and when I contemplate the curious tendency of gay people to involve ourselves in the arts, I feel -- let's call it a hunch; that seems diffident enough for what I mean -- a hunch that, to the extent gay people as gay people have our own special talent, it may well lie there. I don't propose to be dogmatic about that, only to throw it out as a possibility that it might be worthwhile to speculate about.
One thing that I do think we can give the Church right now, not because of anything intrinsic to our gayness but because of our current cultural milieu, is a sense of how she sounds to those outside her. And the brute fact is, that knowledge is essential if the Church is going to communicate effectively. Melinda Selmys (who has a knack for being terribly quotable) said that "We can't talk effectively to gay people if we insist that as a precondition of dialogue they first learn to speak like us." It is we who must take the responsibility of making plain what we mean to the people around us; they can't be expected to do the work for us. It wouldn't be fair, and even if it would, it isn't going to happen. If our charity is real, then we have to swallow our pride -- yes, and our terminological rightness -- and do what it takes to get the message across. But if our response is that this crowd which knoweth not the Law is accursed, I believe we need to ask ourselves whether it is the truth or our sense of superiority that is at stake.
And the point isn't solely that the Church needs to understand how she sounds to gay people (though she does). Gayness is just one example of a group of people that the Church has difficulties in reaching. The particular advantage that attends us is that, regardless of whether we use the word gay (in itself, in my view, a matter of indifference) or agree with gay politics or what have you, we do at any rate have a large swath of shared experience with gay people. That means we can empathize with one category of those outside the Church in a way that a lot of people can't; and, by extension, that habit of empathy can be used to imaginatively sympathize with people outside the Church in general. Not that it's perfect, but nothing is, and it's a good start in understanding how to minister the truth effectively, not just with doctrinal correctness.
Because really, truth, in the abstract, has no value. God Himself is Trinity; that is, He subsists in relationship and as relationship. Truth, abstracted from the personal context that gives it significance, is a resounding gong. And people don't like gongs, especially when they are sounded over and over for no apparent reason. The doctrine of homosexuality, like every doctrine, is in the last resort about living, breathing, drooling people, and it cannot be intelligently discussed except in that personal context.
Of course, there are also those to whom no profession of loyalty to the Catholic religion, and no affirmation of her doctrine, will suffice. Nothing I can say will convince them. I don't propose to waste my time in the attempt. Nevertheless, so as not to end on a total downer, here are some adorable puppies:
Eh, they were probably bred by heretics.