I am full of doubts. Can I really be a Catholic author? I am such a terrible example.
What sort of Catholic author, exactly, gets caught by friends in gay bars, dressed like one of Lord Humungus' marauders? What sort of Catholic author explains his tattoo from the Purgatorio in between kisses and gropes?
There have always been bad Catholics. Famously bad Catholics, even. The twentieth century was arguably the century of the bad Catholic: Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, Andy Warhol, Anne Rice, Dan Savage. Catholicism, like its mother faith, Judaism, has an incredible staying power: however far you stray from Rome, the smell of the incense clings to you; expressed in theological language, the marks left by Baptism and Confirmation are indelible, but one doesn't need the technical terms to recognize the fact, or the experience.
Aspiring to be a bad Catholic seems well within reach for me. Can I really, though? I can't quite seem to make peace with my badness, partly because I never know how much I should. On the one hand, St Teresa said that "You must learn to bear for God's sake the trial of being displeasing to yourself"; on the other, St Paul said, "I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call in Christ Jesus."
If I weren't compelled to write it might not matter so much. It would be more seemly to shut up. But I can't. I'm a chronic loudmouth, especially when it comes to things I care about, and helping fellow LGBT people know that they can be Catholic Christians, if they want to, is something I care about so much I can't find words to do it justice. At the same time, I can't lie. I can't pretend to be better than I am: not for propriety, not to be an exemplar (a fraud is a terrible exemplar, after all), not for anything at all.
I've long taken comfort in Flannery O'Connor's introduction to Wise Blood, describing her obsessive and anti-theist prophet protagonist:
It is a novel about a Christian malgre lui, and as such, very serious, for all comic novels that are any good must be about matters of life and death. ... That belief in Christ is to some a matter of life and death has been a stumbling block for some readers who would prefer to think it a matter of no great consequence. For them, Hazel Motes' integrity lies in his trying with such vigor to get rid of the ragged figure who moves from tree to tree in the back of his mind. For the author, Hazel's integrity lies in his not being able to do so. Does one's integrity ever lie in what he is not able to do? I think that usually it does, for free will does not mean one will, but many wills conflicting in one man. Freedom cannot be conceived simply.And, more simply, from the novel itself:
There was already a deep black wordless conviction in him that the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin.He responds so readily to prayers prayed with dirty hands, doesn't He?
Catholic speakers and authors and priests talk about trying to become a saint as the most important thing, but it's not. Saintliness is the fairest and most deceitful of all idols. Pursuing God, on the other hand, is infinitely important, and has the added advantage of being impossible, whereas it's quite easy to discover that one is already saintly.
Anyway. I'm not sure where, if anywhere, I'm going with this, but it felt right to share it. Mostly because it was costly. I wanted to write something safe and sanitary today -- but that kind of thing is nearly always shit. Writing should be done in your own blood, so that you won't write anything that isn't worth it.