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.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

For Kerry Is an Honorable Man

Remember this guy?

He played Captain America in The Avengers, I think?

Well, our beloved Secretary of State, John Kerry, has apparently decided that the reason he hasn't returned to the United States from Russia, after leaking volumes of information about seriously unconstitutional and frankly horrifying breaches of the right to privacy on the part of the U. S. government, is not that he doesn't want to be tried for treason and executed, or perhaps not even tried. No, the reason is that he's a wuss, it seems. If it were so, it were a grievous fault, and grievously hath Snowden answered it.

I speak not to disprove what Kerry spoke (beginning near the 3 minute mark); he says, among other things, that "He should man up and come back to the United States. If he has a complaint about what's the matter with American surveillance, come back here and stand in our system of justice and make his case."

I'd say he's made his case already, and pretty damn effectively. As for the criticism that he is holed up in Russia -- which, quite true, is an authoritarian country -- I venture to suggest that revoking Snowden's passport was not Snowden's idea, and he claims himself that Russia was not where he had intended to stay. Considering that it is precisely the U. S. state that not only revoked his passport but chose when to do so, I don't think it stretches credulity to suppose that the moment for doing so may have been chosen in order to discredit him.

As for standing in our system of justice, well, let's reflect on that for a moment. Do you remember these three guys? They all have two things in common.

Anwar al-Awlaki

Samir Khan

Abdulrahman al-Awlaki

Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were al-Qaeda agents: the former was one of its most prominent members, particularly after the death of Osama bin Laden, while the latter edited an Islamic militant journal in which al-Awlaki had a hand. Both were killed in a drone strike.

If the third, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, looks kind of out of place with the other two, don't worry, there's a perfectly satisfying explanation. He was the son of Anwar al-Awlaki. He was also killed in a drone strike, at the age of sixteen, two weeks after his father. His crime? Being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The government avers that his death was unintentional, collateral damage from the targeting of Ibrahim al-Banna, a suspected (though, it seems, so far unconfirmed) member of al-Qaeda, who, for those of you keeping score at home, was not killed in the drone strike that took young Abdulrahman's life.

They were all killed in drone strikes; that's one thing. The other thing they have in common is that they were all American citizens, killed outside of combat and without due process. There is a word for this kind of killing, and that word is "murder."

All American citizens are entitled by law, if accused of any crime, whether the attached penalty is death or not, to a trial by a jury of their peers. That, Mister President and Mister Secretary of State, is what "due process" fucking means. President Obama chose to ignore this, and, with no precedent whatever (not that precedent would make such an act not a war crime), authorized the targeted murder of two Americans; and in fact accomplished the murder of a third as well, who was wholly innocent, recently orphaned of his father by his country, and barely old enough to drive.

With liberty and justice for all. (Some restrictions may apply. May be unavailable in certain areas.)

Given the precedent of detaining and even murdering citizens without trial that has now been established by this administration, I find it difficult to criticize Snowden for being reluctant to return home, even assuming that Kerry is being quite truthful when he states that he would be permitted to come back in spite of his revoked passport. I haven't a great deal of liking for Kerry, but I would have thought -- or at least hoped -- that someone with his history of anti-war work and his criticisms of government policy in Vietnam would have been, if not less stupid, at least less willing to embarrass himself with such a hypocritical rebuke.

And the defense is what? That these men, living and dead, endangered American lives? Their lives sure were. Also, point of interest: everybody dies. You don't, in any final sense, save American lives by killing American terrorists or anybody else -- you just put it off till a later date. And that does matter. But in view of the fact that everybody dies, whatever else we believe comes after that, we have more reason, not less, to care about justice simply for its own sake: because if death (as I do not believe) is followed by mere nothingness, it can scarcely be held to matter when exactly you hit that point; and if (as I do believe) death is followed by judgment, then you are suddenly going to find yourself caring a very great deal about whether the things you did in life were right or wrong.

Well, turning to ethical grounds, is the defense maybe that they were war criminals? Very probably the elder al-Awlaki and Khan were; though not, perhaps, with the certainty with which we can observe that the members of this administration are war criminals. The right to trial by jury is not asterisked, any more than the right to privacy. The whole point of our justice system is that if you have an accusation against someone, you try them, presuming that they are innocent, and then you either damn well prove they aren't or else you let them go.

(Or if that's taking too long we'll just murder your ass.)

Of course, those three dead men have reached the end of their stories, whatever that end may be. I fear and hope for their souls, and don't claim to know anything at all about their eternal fates. And Snowden is about as stuck as stuck gets: he might be able to come back if there were an amnesty, which doesn't seem likely in the paranoid political climate we enjoy, and if he has to stay in Russia, I fear for him there. Maybe the saddest part of all this, though, to my mind, is the squalid corrosion of the American public's attitude to the state: we saw a sixteen-year-old boy (to say nothing of the others) killed, we watched it reported on national and international news, and we shrugged our collective shoulders and said, "Collateral damage. What can you do." Anyway, that was like five news cycles ago; no one can be expected to remember. So let it be with drone strikes.

Pray for our nation, readers, I urge you. Pray for a revival of conscience, in the leadership, yes, but above all among the people -- which inevitably means, in each individual heart, beginning with one's own. Pray for Edward Snowden, in whatever net of circumstance he may, perhaps, be trapped. And pray for the souls of three dead men: two whose crimes, it may well be, rebounded upon their own heads; and one whose innocence was no protection against the realpolitik of his own people.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Five Quick Takes


I'm still coming out of my hibernation over the last week, and I've concluded that I need to hibernate a lot more often. The jittery energy of social media is at once disrupting and addictive. I never did make the Lenten retreat that I kept telling myself I was going to; my hope is that I will make some time over the summer. I am expecting to go hiking in the Adirondacks for a bit shy of a week late in June, which will be a beautiful rest, but I have not been setting aside the time I need to be in touch with God properly.

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I can't remember when I came across it, but Sufjan Stevens' album The Age of Adz (pronounced odds) has captivated me this year. I've been specially entranced by three of its tracks: "I Walked," "Vesuvius," and this one here, "Get Real Get Right":

Sufjan Stevens is one of the few explicitly Christian musicians that I really enjoy, mewithoutYou and Psalters being some of the others: all three completely avoid the St. Stepford quality that afflicts a huge swath of Christian music, both artistically and lyrically, and their songs are far more authentic -- and, correspondingly, more enriching to listen to -- in consequence, as well as just flat out being more inventive.

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Pope Francis is in the Holy Land now, and has been making noises about calling for a sovereign Palestinian state. Today, after a Mass in Bethlehem, he invited President Shimon Peres of Israel and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority to pray together for peace, offering his residence in the Vatican for the event. (CNN has described this as an invitation to "peace talks," perhaps not wholly grasping the distinction between prayer and international diplomacy.)

I have a deep love for the Jewish people and culture, and take delight in everything that I learn about them; and, given how surrounded the state of Israel is by enemies, I'm glad it has America as an ally; but I have to say that the Israeli resistance to the sovereignty of Palestine is saddening to me, and from a people who ought to understand what it means to be dispossessed and disfranchised, it doesn't exactly look good. Admittedly I am in the comfortable position of not having to pay for my opinion on the subject, which Israel is not. Then again, Israel is also in the unenviable position of having to pay for its own resistance to a Palestinian state. Regardless, I hope that the Holy Father's example of generosity and pleas for mutual reconciliation will be heard, and that the bitter conflict will approach some degree of resolution.

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I was disappointed and really a bit angry to encounter this article the other day: apparently is engaged in some sort of fight with Hachette, a publishing company, and is (among other things) raising prices and delaying delivery -- sometimes for weeks -- on Hachette materials. I don't know the precise nature of the quarrel, but, being instinctively distrustful of large corporations, and indeed of most things that are large, I'm suspicious. That Amazon is in effect punishing authors and customers in the course of a fight with a publisher and supplier appears to be beyond dispute; I'm contemplating boycotting them, which I've done before (when, for a while, they defended their sale of a self-published guide for pedophiles, because apparently Amazon's profits go mostly to meth). I'd like to get to the bottom of things as far as their dispute with Hachette goes first. It's particularly annoying because I wanted to buy The Thief and the Cobbler: The Recobbled Cut and I'm not sure where else to get it.

If you haven't seen this yet, watch it; it's as good as a Miyazaki. But not
the Miramax version. The changes they made are stupid and terrible.

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On finally giving it a try, I have to admit that the US version of Queer As Folk is, in fact, really pretty good, though I still think the UK version is better. The US version of Being Human still sucks, though. (If for some reason you're inspired by this to watch Queer As Folk, however, do be informed that places like Babylon are mostly just fantasies, and that the social drama represented in the show bears about the same relationship to the actual lives of gay people as the drama on Friends did to straight people.)

UPDATE: I've watched several episodes of the US' Queer As Folk now, and wow it's a lot pornier than I had realized, even for Showtime. Maybe think twice before turning it on.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Time Out

Hey Mudbloods, I'm going to be spending a few days, perhaps a week, away from the blog and my email. Just need time to relax and process; life's kind of overwhelming right now. So if your comment isn't approved or your email isn't answered, that's what's up. Prayers are appreciated.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Harvard's Black Mass and Divine Mercy -- Updated

You may have heard about Harvard planning to play host to a Black Mass in the near future. If you are wondering whether that's merely the latest hysterical rumor from Rorate Caeli or what on earth is going on, here is a brief summary:

1. Yes, this is actually happening. Elizabeth Scalia of The Anchoress on Patheos confirmed it by phoning both event coordinators for Harvard and representatives of the Satanic Temple, the organization that is, uh, performing the event itself. She and others in the blogosphere have been keeping abreast of the developments; she has a few other posts on various aspects of it, but this one seems to be the most current as to the situation as such. The event is slated to happen on May 12.

UPDATE: The Black Mass did not take place last night as scheduled, and has been "indefinitely postponed." Due to public outcry, the event was moved to an off-campus location; thereafter, negotiations for a space fell through. So far it appears that this event will not be taking place at all. Thank God.

2. So what, exactly, is happening? There is no nice way of saying what follows, so I ask my readers to bear with me.

A Black Mass, in the strictest theological sense, is a deliberately blasphemous celebration of the Mass. This means it requires either a priest to "celebrate" it, or for someone attending or otherwise assisting with the Black Mass to sacrilegiously steal a Host from a real Mass, often by posing as a communicant. Obviously such sacrilege is not common, whether for Satanic purposes or others, but if you've ever received the Host, left without immediately consuming it, and been given an angry or panicked lecture thereafter, this is why. The Black Mass was one of the forms of witchcraft that developed during the Middle Ages, and was generally said with the purpose of increasing one's wealth or power, obtaining sexual love from someone, or killing someone. Its details need not detain us.

However, there is something else which also goes by the name of the Black Mass, and this owes its origin to modern Satanism rather than to Mediaeval witchcraft; the two should not be confused. Many of the trappings we normally associated with Satanism today (such as the notorious goat-headed Baphomet figure generally treated as a representation of Satan) are fairly recent developments, dating to the last two hundred years or less. Modern forms of Satanism, along the lines of the so-called Church of Satan founded by Anton LaVey, are frequently if not usually atheistic, and their posture of devil-worship is meant primarily as an act of defiance to Christians, rather than to a God in whom they do not believe, still less as an act of devotion to a devil in whom they also do not believe. From what I know of this ritual, it involves among other things the physical destruction and sexual violation of the Blessed Sacrament; an actually consecrated Host is not strictly necessary to them (since they don't believe there is any difference), but it does add a certain social force to the blasphemy to use one, for obvious reasons. The rite which a Harvard cultural studies club is proposing to host is of this latter kind, and, according to Lucien Greaves, a representative of the Satanic Temple, a truly consecrated Host will not be used, contrary to previous reports from the Temple.

If the Satanic Temple is now being quite truthful and accurate, then we may certainly thank God that Christ Himself will not be personally violated in the flesh. That admittedly doesn't help very much, insofar as the intention of the event, and the corresponding corruption of both spirituality and basic human decency that it suggests, are unsolved; but under the circumstances I'll take what I can get.

3. What the actual fuck!? Yeah, pretty much.

4. Why are they doing this? The club in question, and the Satanic Temple, assert that this is a strictly educational event, referring to it as a "re-enactment" (you know, the way people re-enact the Night of the Long Knives). They stated in an e-mail:
Our purpose is not to denigrate any religion or faith, which would be repugnant to our educational purposes, but instead to learn and experience the history of different cultural practices. This performance is part of a larger effort to explore religious facets that continue to influence contemporary culture. (Source.)
The claims would be laugh-till-you-cry ridiculous if they were about something that was less utterly sick.  The entire and only point of a Black Mass is blasphemy: which, especially in the atheistic form, has no other purpose than to disgust, hurt, and horrify Christians. The little obfuscation about not denigrating "any" religion or faith, as if this were not a specifically anti-Christian and even a specifically anti-Catholic horror, is merely the stupid asshole frosting on the diseased insanity cake. I do also have difficulty in believing either that this is of any great cultural value in itself, given that Satanism 1) has never been a major religious trend in, uh, anywhere ever, and 2) is explicable only in terms of Christianity, so that attending a Christian event (like, for instance, an actual Mass) would have been a better use of their time and attention even from a cooly pragmatic viewpoint.

I am seriously offended, too, that they apparently saw fit to compare this event to things like a Shinto tea ceremony and a Buddhist presentation on meditation. Dear Harvard, there is no comparison between these things. They are cultural developments of religious and philosophical systems in their own right, whose existence is not premised upon the violation of the most sacred beliefs of another religion. None of that is true of Satanism or of the Black Mass in any form.

5. What is being done about this? Ah, there's the rub.

Little can be done, from one perspective. Protests are taking place, naturally, and the Archdiocese of Boston has issued a statement, in which "Are you serious right now? That's gross and wrong" is put in more ecclesiastical language. But college clubs do offensive and unnecessary things all the time -- while I was a student at Maryland, a group of students insisted on having a pornographic movie played at the college's expense, under the banner of "free speech" (which, sorry, but rubbing one out is not technically speech). I admit I entertain no great hopes that Harvard will come to its senses and put a stop to this nauseating piece of lunacy, not on its own initiative anyway.

And from another perspective, everything can be done, because we can pray. Pray for the repentance of the organizers and stagers of this event -- both that they would turn away from this specific act of hatred, and that they would leave Satanism or whatever else they may be participating in for restored fellowship with God; pray for the local Catholic community, whether horrified or angry or grieving or in any other state. It is easy for us to think of prayer as "the least we can do." And it's true that it takes little ostensible effort; which then leaves open the question of why more of us are not advanced in the practice of prayer.

Because the specific act is against the Mass, I am praying a Divine Mercy Chaplet (which is prayed on ordinary Rosary beads), and concluding with the Divine Praises and an Act of Reparation to the Heart of Jesus. You can pray along with the video any time, if you want to, and I've included the texts of the relevant prayers below. (An illustrated instruction on how to say the Divine Mercy Chaplet can be found here.)

The Divine Mercy Chaplet

(On the crucifix)

In the name of the Father + and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

(On the first main bead)

You expired, Jesus, but the source of life gushed forth for souls, and the ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world. O Fount of Life, unfathomable Divine Mercy, envelop the whole world and empty Yourself out upon us.

O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fountain of Mercy for us, I trust in You! (said three times)

(On the first bead of the set of three above the crucifix)

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

(On the second of the set of three)

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

(On the third of the set of three)

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; He descended into hell; on the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

(On the beads of the five decades: the first prayer on the main bead for each decade, the second prayer repeated on each of the ten beads in it)

Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of Your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.

For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

(On the medal or the junction of the cord, after the five decades)

Holy God, holy Mighty One, holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world. (said three times)

Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion -- inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is love and mercy itself. Amen. +

The Divine Praises

Blessed be God.
Blessed be His holy Name.
Blessed be Jesus Christ, true God and true Man.
Blessed be the Name of Jesus.
Blessed be His most Sacred Heart.
Blessed be His most Precious Blood.
Blessed be Jesus in the most holy Sacrament of the altar.
Blessed be the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete.
Blessed be the great Mother of God, Mary most holy.
Blessed be her holy and Immaculate Conception.
Blessed be her glorious Assumption.
Blessed be the name of Mary, Virgin and Mother.
Blessed be Saint Joseph, her most chaste spouse.
Blessed be God in His angels and in His saints.

An Act of Reparation for Sins Against the Sacred Heart

May the Heart of Jesus, in the most Blessed Sacrament, be praised, adored, and loved, with grateful affection, at every moment, in all the tabernacles of the world, even to the end of time. Amen. +

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


This post is about how going to a gay bar may have saved my Catholic faith.

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A good hustler knows that sex is important, but that contact with another human body is even more important -- it's something all people need at some times in their lives, for whatever reasons -- and it's hard to get enough of it.

-- Rick Whitaker, Assuming the Position: A Memoir of Hustling, p. 42

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I've always been lousy at celibacy. I espouse the traditional Catholic view of gay sex because I think it's true, and I write about it because I'm the sort of person who's more or less incapable of shutting up, but I have no talent for it at all. It kind of makes me mad when people tell me I'm a good witness. The people who criticize me as a hypocrite, I can understand rather better than the people who idolize me.

I started having sex when I was thirteen. Well, sort of. I've written about this a little bit previously, though, for a multitude of reasons, not in great detail (the previous post is here; be warned that it may be triggering for victims of trauma). Long, hideous story short, I was seduced and raped by a man about six years older than me. Nobody knew, and nothing further happened, for years; then, when I was sixteen, we started surreptitiously meeting up. The third time, we were caught.

Partly in response to all of this, and partly for other causes, I was way too closed off as an adolescent to actually, you know, relate to people in any way. I hardly had any friends until I was seventeen, when I started college.

"Friends? Ha! These are my only friends -- grown-up nerds like Gore Vidal, and even he's kissed more boys than I ever will."
"Girls, Lisa. Boys kiss girls."

During my closed-off period, it was fairly easy not to sex anybody. I mean, I didn't know anybody except other Christians, really, and I certainly didn't know anybody who was openly gay. Whether that counts as being good at celibacy I don't know; I'm inclined to think not. Probably it doesn't much matter.

At any rate, that situation didn't last. Since converting to Catholicism (accompanied by the usual fervor, which made things considerably easier for a while), I have experienced a strange mixture of things that have made even trying to be celibate a lot harder: loneliness and the wounds of loneliness, the incessant pressure of libido, resentment at the obligations of chastity (not very creditable I know, but there it is), trying to reclaim the personal power that was taken from me in the rapes, they all play a role. But one of the things I feel most strongly is the simple, unreflective hunger to be touched. Not touched in some metaphorical or emotional sense. Simply touched. There are definitely times when I've had sex, not because I was all that horny, but because I was starving to be held.

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I lived, for a while, as if repressing certain things was not only acceptable but somehow deeply appropriate. I had a mounting feeling that my life had become sufficiently corrupt that there was a kind of justice in my decision to disregard my feelings and my thoughts. I had done enough thinking, enough feeling, enough believing in the myths of progress and self-development and emotional work. The bets I had placed on myself -- as a writer, as an intellectual, as a loving and lovable human being -- were not paying off. It may have been vainglorious to have expected satisfaction in my twenties, but I was genuinely disheartened at the time.

-- Assuming the Position, p. 40

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Catholicism is, in my judgment, the only religion for the demimondaine. The doctrine of justification by faith alone, in making good works to be solely the evidence of salvation, was meant as a comfort, but turns for the likes of me into despair; for, if the mark of true faith is an increase of righteousness, what then becomes of the sinner who goes on sinning? Who perhaps suffers many things of physicians, and spends all he has, and is nothing bettered? Even Luther and Cranmer had more sense than to do away with the confessional, and that, much though I owe to Calvinism, is more than can be said of Calvin.

It's often pointed out that the Catholic Church, far more than Protestant bodies, tends to contain a significant proportion of people whose practice of their faith is inattentive, superstitious, or nonexistent. Protestants would have us believe that this is a bad thing. I came in the end to see this as one of the strongest arguments in favor of the Church: namely, her power, in Msgr. Knox's phrase, to retain the affectionate loyalty of the erring; and her tendency to prove ineradicable from any soul that has once been stamped with her imprint. The only religion I can think of with a similar staying power is Judaism.

But it isn't only that Catholicism, in the sacrament of Confession, offers the assurance of individual forgiveness (something that statements of God's-love-for-sinners-in-general-and-therefore-for-oneself, if I may trust my experience, entirely fail to do*). It isn't even only that Catholicism allows that the soul is purified by love and not by intellectual belief alone.**

It is that Catholicism is intrinsically, in a way that few forms of Protestantism -- and very few other religions except Hinduism -- really are, a religion of the body. The Church's attitude to the body has often seemed ambivalent; it is full of unruly passions, which make the sort of people who are likely to become priests (in many religions) rather uncomfortable, and not least when they feel the force of those passions as much as the next man. But her belief about the body, that it is good -- that, in fact, God Himself took on a Body, and that that Body came from a body at once untouched and fruitful, and that Body infuses its own being into our bodies and souls by the bodily means of the Blessed Sacrament, so that spiritual coinherence itself coinheres with physical coinherence -- that belief has always been an unwavering touchstone of orthodoxy. Its persistence even in the face of the grimmest ascetical mood is what distinguishes the Catholic monk from the Gnostic perfectus or the Buddhist boddhisattva.

Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I myself: handle Me, and see; 
for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have.

It may seem strange to call that a comfort and a reassurance to someone who, like me, seems to be a misplaced child of the Flytes. You would think it would make me more frightened and ashamed over my continual sins of the passions: the exalted significance of the body surely increases the gravity of such sins correspondingly. But comfort it is; partly because, by being a religion of the body, Catholicism is also a religion of beauty. Our own age may not be conspicuous for producing it, but Catholic art -- architecture, music, ritual, literature, poetry, painting -- is astonishing to me in its richness, its diversity, and its power to move the soul; beauty ever ancient, ever new. And participation in that beauty is something that I can do, however imperfectly, even when my attempts at chastity are a complete shambles.

God's curious fondness, during His earthly life, for whores, barflies, and assorted rowdy nogoodniks is a reassurance too, of course. It is, or rather ought to be, impossible to feel quite comfortable with a spirituality that is thoroughly respectable. I cannot quite articulate why the two things -- the splendor of Catholic beauty, and her hold upon thoroughly disreputable people -- seem so firmly connected in my mind, aside from the fact that the one phenomenon is surely a reason for the other. It may be simply that both are bodily: the vividly material glory that makes a monstrance, and the vividly material passions that make a demimondaine.

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Some people, if not all of us, need to be fucked hard once in a while, both physically and figuratively. We sometimes need to prove to ourselves, somehow, that we are free, in some sense, from responsibility and from civilization. Most of us are embarrassed by this need, because it seems like an expression of weakness. Certainly I am weak -- to an extreme degree. I long to feel, if only for a moment, that whomever it is that is responsible for all the chaotic business of life, it's somebody other than me.

-- Assuming the Position, p. 154***

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The first time I ever went to a gay bar, the total experience -- the decision to go, being there, and the aftermath -- vividly exhibited the strange confluence of sensuality and spirituality I find in myself. I don't think it's intrinsically wrong to go to a gay bar: it depends on your motives for going; but, I wasn't going there to hand out tracts.

And honestly, if I had brought any tracts, they'd probably have looked like this.

The morning after -- but that phrase is so tangled in associations; it instantly calls to mind tangled sheets full of dubious fragrances, a series of gravely paradoxical or at best mysterious memories, and an intense desire that all nerves from the neck up cease relaying any light- and pain-related messages to the brain. But I digress. The morning after, I had thought, I would be crushed by shame, guilt, and fear. Or worse, I'd discover that I simply didn't care anymore -- that my conscience had just been suddenly pulled out of me, like a bad tooth.

Neither happened. That morning, a Sunday, I felt a huge, mysterious sense of gratitude. To God. And this was shocking, not just because it was the exact opposite of anything I had expected, but because, to date, I had almost never felt grateful for anything.

Why that is, I'm not sure (though I suspect it had a great deal to do with the duty of gratitude to God having been firmly impressed upon me from a young age: as C. S. Lewis pointed out somewhere or other, an obligation to feel can freeze feelings). What I was grateful for is hard to articulate, even to myself; it had partly to do with -- there's no point denying it -- having seen a lot of male beauty the previous night, and having been thrilled by it. That response had a great deal of lust in it, but I don't think it can be simply resolved into lust and so summarily dismissed. There was, too, the element of sheer relief in not fighting the theoretically good, experientially dismal and exhausting, fight, if only for a few hours.

There was, too, as a priest I spoke with about the matter later said to me, a new level of self-acceptance involved. The way I held myself, the way I talked, was completely different afterwards: there had always been a stiffness, a frigidity, in all my mannerisms before then, and now, I was just talking. And it wasn't about sex -- that night I hadn't had any. It was just ... you know, I still don't know what it just was. But somehow or other, that night, I made peace with being gay.

Part of that peace was a recognition that accepting myself wasn't incompatible with my beliefs. Most people will take this to mean that simply being gay isn't against Catholicism, and provided all our terms are properly defined, that's true, but it isn't what I'm talking about. It is, rather, that the truth of Catholic teaching and the sincerity of my belief in it, weren't dependent in the slightest upon my behavior. Somehow I'd never digested that fact before. Call it a relic of sola fide, maybe, but I'd been haunted by the fear that my works and my beliefs were tied together in such a way that if I didn't behave myself, I'd become intellectually dishonest. I discovered that night that that wasn't true at all; that the truth remained unblemished and solid whether I heeded it or not. That was a moment of deep liberation. I had feared before, subconsciously, that the truth was something my mind was generating. I knew now that it was real. And it's truth that I want the most.

I have been slowly making my way through The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself for several months now, and one thing about her writing has impressed itself on me strongly. She spends a lot of time talking about how wicked and foolish she was, and how astonishingly generous it was on God's part to shower favors upon her in the form of consolations, visions, and the like. At first I just thought of this as a sort of pious convention, because many of the saints talk about their own sinfulness, and the rest of us snigger and say, "Yeah, you were just terrible for not even entering a convent until you were fourteen, how could you live with yourself?"

Would you believe this jerk was never even martyred? What a lightweight.

But somehow or other -- I rather think she obtained this grace for me herself; the Carmelites have been looking after me for some time -- it occurred to me to wonder, What if she's just right?

For of course that alters the picture quite drastically. If, by some odd twist of fate, the great saint was not an idiot nor afflicted by a very morbid false modesty, and was, if only periodically, as wicked and silly as she professed to find herself, suddenly God's behavior toward me made a great deal more sense, and was a great deal more encouraging. I didn't and don't claim to thoroughly understand why going to a gay bar should have been followed by an overwhelming sense of love and intimacy with God, but what if He just chose to take an opportunity to show me that He loves me? And what if He did so, not because I deserved it, but because I needed it? Was that really totally incredible?

And the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. I was resorting more and more, as people of a religious temperament so chronically do, to what St. Paul calls the law in his letters, and what Victor Hugo depicted in the character of Javert: the habit, so engrained that it becomes a kind of belief, of putting one's confidence in one's own obedience -- justice without charity, virtue without grace. But that kind of obedience walls the heart against God still more thoroughly than against vice; and in breaking down the wall to admit a vice that was, at the same time, so bound up with a legitimate need, God too came into me.

And conversely, if Saint Teresa and the rest were right about themselves, and God used them gloriously anyway, perhaps I don't need to be quite so self-conscious. Or so egotistical, either.

*Far be it from me to suggest that a doctrine is true or false based on whether or not we find it practical or comfortable. I would suggest, however, that insofar as God made the human heart and understands how it works, we may expect Him to work with it rather than against it. On those grounds if on no others, we might consider the longstanding interpretation of such Scriptures as John 20.21-23 that is common to the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and is the only recorded Christian view until the Protestant Reformation.

**Which is all the rejection of sola fide meant, if you read the canons of the Council of Trent. This is part of why Pope Benedict, former head of the CDF, was able to say to a synod of Lutheran bishops that the doctrine of sola fide as understood by Luther, i.e. faith inseparably united with love, was strictly compatible with Catholic orthodoxy. It is also presumably what St. James meant when he said in no uncertain terms that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

***I wouldn't like to leave the mistaken impression that, in quoting this, I am giving either this particular passage or the book as a whole my unqualified approval. What I am indicating is my recognition of the same impulse and feeling within myself, along with a hunch that it's a common craving among human beings.