Collect for Candlemas

Almighty and ever-living God, we humbly beseech thy majesty: that, as thine Only-Begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in the substance of our flesh; so we may be presented unto thee with pure and clean hearts, by the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Monday, January 20, 2014

To Bear Wrongs Pridefully

A mild sensation seems to be continuing at Crisis, which I have touched on here and here. I'm surprised that a group of people saying things that I had taken to be odd, but essentially unremarkable, have provoked such forceful repudiations from some of the commenters. Anybody would think we were comparing God to an unjust judge or advising men to make friends for themselves by unrighteous mammon.

Of course, it's easy to snark, particularly from the relative safety of my own blog. I am pretty reluctant to suppress comments, and I do have to read them first, but it doesn't seem like most of the more vocal segment of readers there are likely to come and read anything over here, so I doubt I will have to grapple with accusations of narcissism (which are kind of justified) and collusion with Satan (which, I think I can say without undue prejudice, do not seem to me to be altogether justified).

Gay Catholic self-portrait.

But snark, however enjoyable, is also fundamentally unproductive. I mean, you usually only enjoy snark when it's coming from your own side. Insofar as what I want is reconciliation between ... I don't know, I guess I have to call them conservative Catholics even though that term is horribly vague, and the little movement (?) of which I'm a part -- anyway, insofar as I want reconciliation between these two groups, snark is, in the long run, counterproductive. Or at least, that is the risk latent in it.

Because of course the thing that makes snark fun is "scoring" off one's opponents. Which situates it firmly in the conflict paradigm, and I'm not keen on that. There are circumstances in which it can be carried out respectfully and even with mutual enjoyment -- a lot of my friends are people that I can, so to speak, verbally roughhouse with, because we have a fundamental respect for one another that allows us to know that it's only joking. Indeed, I tend to suspect that, at least among most males, the instinct for verbal roughhousing is fundamentally similar to -- if not the same as -- the instinct for physical roughhousing.

But of course the line between roughhousing and fighting can be a fine one, even though they are extremely different, and can be felt from within to be different. Likewise, the line between friendly smartassery and downright quarreling can be a fine one. And friendly smartassery between strangers is next to impossible.

Quarreling with a stranger, however, is easy and fun.

Look how much fun they're having.

It's easy to feel better than a faceless collection of sentences you don't agree with, because you can concoct any explanation you like, and we often do without even realizing it.

Now, this is supposed to be the part where I lecture people about not judging and how we need to make space for gay people in the Church and so forth, and all of that is true. But I can't actually write the lecture, because I keep coming upon layer after layer of self-congratulation for doing it, and that's exactly the kind of pride I was aiming to rebuke in the first place. Hell, I'm congratulating myself for writing this paragraph.* Pride is the hardiest of all sins, because it feeds on our strong points rather than our weak ones, and the good things we do, or attempt to do, or even think of doing, are occasions for it.

In a weird way, I'm kind of glad that my friends and I are being vilified by devout brethren. I'm not glad of it for its own sake, or because of some imagined martyrdom; we're not important enough for the latter, and the former would be grotesque. A number of the things that have been said about me are deserved, but I can take no pleasure and see no justice in the accusations and attacks that have been launched at a group of men and women whose writings and friendship have been to me like water in the desert. Nor, since I consider these attacks to come from a grave misunderstanding and misjudgment of the situation, can I be glad of what I take to be serious flaws in the perspective of the people who are thus maligning us so severely.** But it's situations like this that show us what we're made of. When put to it, can we respond to misunderstanding and even hostility with grace, joy, hope, and patience? Or do we hit back?

My conscience is not altogether clear on that issue. I am committed to pacifism, not just in the sense of refusing to be involved in warfare, but in the sense of maintaining the firm conviction that reconciliation, forgiveness, and (if necessary) bearing the wrongs of others, are better than any kind of hitting back -- whether physical, verbal, or even in the privacy of my own mind. I can't say I've lived up to that in this controversy, and I want to. Unpleasant and even hurtful though they may be to endure, these situations -- which I still hope are predominantly the fruit of misunderstanding, not malice -- give us a chance to find out exactly where we are spiritually, and to try for a higher place. And, more importantly, to pray for the grace needed to get there and like it. Heaven, said C. S. Lewis, is an acquired taste.

*I don't know how much irony it'll take before my ego just collapses in on itself and starts absorbing all matter, energy, and light that comes within a few inches of my head, but it can't be much more than this.

**I ought to clarify here that I am not talking about Mr. Ruse himself. I admit I'm extremely dissatisfied with his take on our writings, and I don't feel that he's made an adequate case for his objections; but he has by no means given us the appalling language that some of the commenters at Crisis have seen fit to use.


  1. It strikes me that Austin Ruse has used some evocative phrases to try to describe the "New Homophiles," phrases which hardly express the full reality and which are capable of being understood in various ways. Then along come the commenters, who settle on one of the possible understandings of a phrase, and threat that understanding as an accurate and complete description of the "New Homophiles," whether it's the phrase "New Homophiles," proud (pride is an intolerable sin), homosexual (they must repent), seeking a modification of doctrine (heretics).

    It is unjust for them to make the judgments they do, so it is reasonable enough to want to correct them.

  2. Hiya Gabe -

    1. Thank you for this post.It aligns with so much of what I believe but often fail miserably at living out. You are, I think, a better person than me.

    2. I thank you *not* for pointing me to that scary article with the fear-mongering comments. This is a great example of group polarization; reinforcing our prejudices and leading us away from reconciliation.

    3. Thank you again for this post which I had to reconsider after reading the scary comments - and reevaluate my participation in group polarization which leads away from shalom. I see myself in those commentors...

    God help us all. And I mean that.

  3. I wonder if part of the problem comes from paying too much focus on a secondary goal? As a gay (currently Anglican although I'm taking steps towards joining the RC church) Christian from the UK, I am very much an outsider to the more US-centric culture wars and often it seems that a lot of the discussions on both sides of the 'debate' are rather parochial as opposed to catholic. I am not trying to be malicious - though if I sound that way, do let me know, as I can get a bit carried away with the snark! - but sometimes it seems as though there is a greater concern to reach some sort of mutual understanding with those who really can never and will never get there, rather than bringing in gay people who have been estranged from Christ, with the unique privileges and insights our lack of privilege has enabled.

    Of course, this is probably just a matter of projection - I know I still battle with the desire to vanquish my ideological/theological/whatever-logical foes and rejoice in my triumph which is why this post is so pertinent for me (so thank you for writing it!). From experience in this particular issue, I tend to find it easier to respond with grace when I realise I don't actually have to respond at all - or rather, that that is not the ultimate goal. If I remind myself that I am passionate about bringing people to Christ, not with convincing all my fellow Christians that my way about it is superior to theirs, it does help me to become more gracious towards those I have serious disagreements with.

    1. I'm not sure I follow your first paragraph. (Allow me to assure you that it doesn't sound malicious to me.) Would it be accurate to rephrase it as something like: the attempts at bridge-building that the "New Homophiles" are engaged in, between the Catholic subculture and the LGBT subculture, seem fundamentally unproductive, because of the stubbornness of one or both sides? Or am I missing you a bit here?

    2. Yes that would accurate. I think there are fundamental disagreements concerning human sexuality within the Church and not just between gay Catholics and... Catholics who have issues with gay Catholics - that's just a more obvious example. I think it might be healthier to let such disagreements stay instead of trying to argue about it, because it seems to divert a lot of attention from a primary goal to a subsidiary one. That's not to say we can't be firm about where we stand on certain issues (individually or as a group), but actually that might be easier when we don't worry about convincing everyone who disagrees with us.