Summary of the Law (said at every Sunday Mass)

Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Dirty Hands

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.


  1. Well said. Surely the words you quote from St. Teresa and St. Paul are not mutually exclusive?

  2. I believe that your sincere honesty in your writing is what makes you a better Catholic author. Ultimately what I see here is an individual who has grasped the true understanding of Saint Paul's words of striving towards "the prize of the upward call in Christ Jesus." Yes, sin will continue to be a reality in our lives, but a constant pursuit towards God will ultimately be the fire that continues to purify us after every fall.

    It is easier to write about pursuing God rather than act on it. I myself feel distanced from prayer and God's love with every sin I commit daily. Last week escalated to using the webcam with a complete stranger... I'll leave the rest to one's imagination. What truly worried me was the numbness of shame that I felt after, which made me feel less eager to go back to Christ in my sorry state.

    I too see myself as far from being a good Catholic, despite what my friends think of me and my adherence to Christ and His Church. I also consider myself to be a bad Catholic.

    Still, what I would suggest to you Gabriel is this: don't ever stop writing. You can never know the impact of your writing to others. Your blog is what I consider a well of grace and help. To find such resources online as your blog is a rarity. I may not know you personally, but to me you are a great example of leading LGBT people to Christ, despite your faults and errors. I only look at myself and see my own faults and errors, and any judgment that I may have dissipates into thin air.

    Take care, Gabriel. You shall be in my thoughts and prayers, despite the small amount of prayers that I manage to say every week. God bless you, dear brother in Christ.

  3. "'You didn't like her. I sometimes think when people wanted to hate God they hated mummy.'
    'What do you mean by that, Cordelia?'
    'Well, you see, she was saintly, but she wasn't a saint."

  4. We are all bad Catholics. That's why we need all the help we can get. The Church knows this and why we have the sacraments, sacramentals and other things. In addition, we have to help each other get to Heaven. Our goal is union with God and you are right, striving to be a saint can be an idol itself. Hang in there brother. We are all in this together.

  5. I am a constant reader in your blog, but it seems that this is the first time I've been compelled to comment on a post.

    "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."

    I completely, respectfully disagree. The point of being a saint is not to become a perfect person. That's the most common misconception about saints, and a misconception which I find incredibly annoying. The point of being a saint is striving for God in the best way one can. It's working hard, acknowledging one's faults, and most importantly continuously going towards the Truth, which is Christ. Nobody's perfect, yes, but trying to become perfect is still worthy in God's eyes. Sinners make the best saints, and there's no saint in history who has ever had clean hands. We look up to saints because they've been through the same crap we're going through as humans. They sinned, they made mistakes, and people around them at the time they were alive didn't knew immediately they were going to become saints. Unless you're a martyr who died for the Faith, of course we won't know who becomes a saint until they're canonized. And if saints are like us, then what's the problem with following their example? They're just like us.... except they're dead. And they're venerated.

    I know you're being humble, and their's merit in that. I myself am also a humble person. It's just that... humility can go bad in excess and turn into self-depreciation. I know that people cannot be perfect. But they cannot be perfect in this life, for being one with God is the ultimate perfection. If trying to become a saint is really a form of idolatry, and the idea of trying to become a saint is trying to become perfect, then that means trying to pursue for the perfect is wrong. Pursuing perfection is part of human nature, and the great paradox is that even those who fail even recognize it. The only way of pursuing perfection is to be with God. But the thing is that's what all saints in history were striving for - to be one with the Lord - and they all have achieved that goal. And since we are all striving for the Lord, then an option would be to follow their example.

    I'm trying to hint that you're forming a dichotomy between becoming a saint and pursing God when in fact there's none - they're just two sides of the same coin.

    Those are just my two cents.

    But besides all of that I really enjoyed your blog. :)

    1. You're perfectly correct; I was speaking rhetorically, not theologically. I think the language of striving after sainthood is easily distorted by our unconscious minds, and that the simpler and more direct counsel "Love God and your neighbor" is harder to warp. But theologically, you're right, divine love and saintliness are synonyms.

      As to me being humble, it's a kind thing of you to say; but have you any idea how much I've been congratulating myself for writing such a humble, vulnerable post? I have a matryoshka ego.

  6. Love the matryoshka ego! That's a great image for my repeated repentance of white privilege and racism, taking some small steps to educate myself and advocate for justice, then getting totally pissed at other white people who are clueless, and then the Screwtape-triumph self congratulation. Sigh--Kyrie eleison!

    I am sorry that it's so hard but really admire your perseverance in the difficult path of discipleship to which your church and conscience guide you and will pray for strength, comfort, and divine consolation (which isn't all Hallmarky, of course). And I greatly appreciate your courage in sharing the ups and downs of the path which, as others have said, is a real gift to your sisters and brothers in Christ--including this one.

  7. If being a "bad Catholic" makes you a writer of the caliber of Waugh, Greene, and O'Connor, I think you have to go for it. Yet as I once read, there is no such thing as a good Catholic or a bad Catholic: merely those who try and those who do not try.

  8. I don't think you have to have sinned to be a great Catholic saint .... but to be a great Catholic writer, you kind of do! All the human experiences have to be honestly reflected in what you write, and sin is one of those things. Somebody (Lewis??) once said that you should never write a villain with vices you were never tempted to. It's knowing how that vice feels that lets you write about it truly.

    (That said: I'm not suggesting you should sin MORE. Also, I hope you are being safe. I know it seems wrong to plan for the fact that you might sin and carry protection with you, but ..... I think it's just the virtue of prudence. I hope you don't mind my saying this; it feels intrusive but I didn't want to leave it unsaid.)