Postcommunion for Trinity Sunday

O eternal God, who hast given unto us to acknowledge the holy and eternal Trinity to be likewise one undivided Unity: mercifully grant that we, who have now received thy holy Sacraments, may thereby be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Dona Eis Requiem, Part IV

Pride is the besetting sin of Pardon, almost the infernal twin of Pardon; it is its consciousness; rather, say, its self-consciousness become its only consciousness. ‘Cast thyself down,’ the devil murmurs, ‘the angels will support you; be noble and forgive. You will have done the Right thing; you will have behaved better than the enemy.’ So, perhaps; but it will not be the angels of heaven who support that kind of consciousness. Can Forgiveness worship the devil? all the virtues can worship the devil.

… The double responsibility of guilt enters; sinner to sinner. Heroic sanctity is required perhaps to forgive, but not to forgive is ordinary sin. There is no alternative; the greatness of the injury cannot supply that.  It becomes—an excuse? no, a temptation; the greater the injury, the greater the temptation; the more excusable the sin, the no less sin. Can any writer lay down such rules for himself and for others—especially for others? No; and yet without those rules, without that appalling diagram of integrity, there can be no understanding, however small, of the nature of the interchange of love.

—Charles Williams, The Forgiveness of Sins

It is always agreeable to hold someone responsible.

—Charles Williams, Witchcraft

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Now the next step, and you’re not going to like this one. We, the LGBT community, need you, the Christian community, to apologize.

It’s hard to apologize when you’re wrong, and harder to apologize when you’re right. Hardest of all to apologize when you are both. The technique of repentance is simple enough to understand, but it’s terribly challenging to do, because it’s brutal on the ego like nothing else is: every impulse to defend and explain, every manifestation of the desire to be the one in the right, even the senses in which we are in the right, must be simply renounced; our own responsibility for what we have done wrong has to be stated in plain English and owned. You have to put the rights and sufferings of the other person ahead of yours, and ask forgiveness. And to ask forgiveness is, necessarily, to ask for what the other could reasonably refuse. A Christian has the duty not to refuse; but even if all the victims of our sins were fellow Christians, not all of them always do their duty; and when it comes to forgiveness the undutiful response is always comprehensible.

‘Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until he has something to forgive.’1 Correspondingly, most people love the idea of being forgiven in a general, irresponsible way—that is partly why it is so pleasant to recite the confession of the penitential rite, with its from time to time and its manifold sins and wickedness that don’t linger over anything particular, which could be awkward-making. But to be forgiven for something concrete, implying an explicit acknowledgment and asking for what could never be claimed as a right, asking this person you’ve wounded to be generous to you—that’s scary. There aren’t many situations as vulnerable as that, and perhaps none that are more. It’s much more comfortable to find a way of not needing to be forgiven, or not as forgiven as all that: appealing to misunderstanding, or coërcion, or habit, or (best of all) to the injuries the other person has done to you, and perhaps avenging their pardon by pardoning in your turn.

The centrality of forgiveness to being a Christian, especially a Catholic Christian, ought to mean we all have some training in the technique of pardon. Unfortunately we often show that we have nothing of the kind: neither the gentle, honest, unshowy willingness to pardon nor the swift, cheerful, humble willingness to be pardoned.

The point is—you’ve hurt us, and we need you to apologize and then stop talking. No, not renounce your beliefs; not never talk again; but we need an apology that’s an apology, not a ‘We truly are sorry, but’. An apology’s not an opportunity to restate your position, or explain why it was really somebody else’s fault, or a sop thrown to the opponent in the hope of making one’s later arguments more convincing. It is saying, I hurt you. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?, and meaning it. Don't couch it. There's nothing more orthodox than repentance.

And what have you done?

You personally may have done nothing to us; I don’t know. But professing Catholics can’t reckon accounts that way: the communion of the saints is real, Christians interanimate one another, we live each other’s graces and each other’s sins. At the simplest level, it just isn’t very consistent to rejoice over the virtues of St John Paul II if you will not also blush for the vices of Julius II. It’s more than that, though. Henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. The root of our being is Jesus, our brother and our God, and through him we exist in one another and they in us. You can’t separate yourself from your fellow Christians except by separating yourself from the very Vine.

So what have you done?

You’ve told us that we’re disgusting. That we’re inferior to heterosexuals. That we’re out of control, shameless, incapable of healthy love. That we’re rapists and pedophiles. That two cities were destroyed by fire for no other reason than that people like us lived there. That we’re mentally ill for even seeing beauty in the same sex. That God loathes us. That we’re excluded from heaven. That HIV is divine punishment against us. That we’re conspiring to hurt you. That our lives are worth less than yours.

You’ve subjected us to attempted cures by chemical castration, electric shock, and conditioning weirder than A Clockwork Orange. Insisted—first in advance of, and then in the face of, the evidence—that our desires come from twisted family dynamics, and forced us to distort our own experiences and memories so they’ll fit the theory. Forced us out of homes, schools, jobs, and churches. Pressured us into sham marriages that destroyed multiple lives.2 Advocated laws that would get us locked up or even executed. Told us what words we can and can’t use, and then stood by while slurs were thrown at us. Demanded that we be silent, compliant coöperators in being abused.

You’ve created an atmosphere, both by what you’ve said and by what you’ve left out, in which violence against gays, lesbians, and the transgendered is normal. Disclaimed the responsibility to show compassion when we’ve been attacked. Refused to bury our dead. Celebrated our killers. Applauded statesmen, here and abroad, who allow us to be imprisoned and assaulted. Made us believe that we are so horrible and unacceptable that we’d be better off killing ourselves. Stood by and said nothing when we’ve been shot, and beaten, and burned.

Can you apologize, please?

Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, judge of all men: We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time most grievously have committed, by thought, word, and deed, against thy divine Majesty, provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us, the burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; for thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, forgive us all that is past; and grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please thee in newness of life, to the honor and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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1From Mere Christianity. I’ve always loved the combination of exact truth, irony, lightness, and severity this quote is capable of.
2No, not every mixed-orientation marriage is a sham. But some are.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Dona Eis Requiem, Part III

I did a long, fascinating interview, in which the interviewer is a secular progressive. He found aspects of my book intriguing, but at one point he said, ‘Look, I need to push back on you a bit here. … You want to reduce stigma against not only gay people, but same-sex affection—men holding hands, for example, signs of affection which majority American culture reads as sexual. But can you really reconcile reduction of stigma with upholding Catholic morality?’ … What I pointed out to this guy—after rambling a bit—was that Jesus attempted this same trick. He made the prohibitions on lust more strict, and yet welcomed and succored prostitutes and adulteresses.

Part of how He squared this circle was by prohibiting judgment. Spending your time imagining what those hand-holding guys might be doing is itself immoral. Acting to stigmatize and humiliate them is itself immoral. This obviously makes building a nice Christian society really hard. The tools of shame and social pressure which all societies use to maintain their boundaries suddenly become moral problems, not solutions. … So much Christian discourse around gay people focuses on what is being rejected. There’s a kind of terror of any hint of acceptance: If you give them an inch they’ll take an ell! Everything gay people do is viewed as sexual and therefore everything churches do to welcome gay people is treated as suspect. This isn’t how Jesus operated.

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Now that you have prayed for the dead of the shooting at Pulse—you haven’t yet? Okay, go do that first. I’ll wait.

Good. Thank you. Now then, the next thing I’ll address is terminology. I am not going to critique the language of the Catechism, as for instance Fr James Martin SJ does, expressing reservations about phrases like objectively disordered: on the one hand, I don’t think a theological textbook should be our normal evangelistic resource in the first place; while on the other, when read in the Thomistic register its authors wrote in, the offending phrases mean something totally different from what laypeople think they mean anyway.1 No, the terminology I want to start with is the Deplorable Word itself: g—

Ahem. Gay. And, by extension, lesbian, bisexual (though for some reason nobody seems keen to attack this one), queer, and all the rest of the alphabet soup. I mean, we joke about it and they were all our idea.

In popular speech, the words lesbian, gay, and bisexual mean ‘a woman who’s attracted to women,’ ‘a man who’s attracted to men,’ and ‘someone attracted to both sexes,’ respectively. They do not signify the moral, religious, or political affiliations of the persons so described,2 and for most people outside the Church and many within her, they are the preferred terms.

I belabor the point because the moment the subject comes up, Catholics are falling all over themselves to discourage the word gay. I’ve been told ‘You’re not “gay”,’ in person and in print, more times than I can count. ‘There’s more to you than your sexuality’—yes, I know that, and so do most of us; that we have a word for it doesn’t mean we reduce ourselves to it, any more than heterosexuals all reduce themselves to their heterosexuality. ‘It normalizes it.’ Yeah, well, homosexuality’s pretty normal. It’s existed for all of recorded history, in every society, and while Scripture teaches that gay sex is wrong, it doesn’t bother about whether it’s weird. ‘Why is it anyone else’s business?’ Is your marriage any of my business? More importantly, if you want credible witnesses to the Church’s teaching about chastity, is it really in your interest to keep those witnesses from saying anything? While on the other hand, if there is injustice against gay people—and unless you think we should be tortured to death for being gay, you have to admit that it’s possible to treat us unjustly—who would know of it better than we would?

This leeriness of public acknowledgment of our sexuality, regardless of our orthodoxy,3 is part of a larger scandal. LGBT people are overwhelmingly distrusted by Catholics. I don’t know all the reasons: maybe it’s a sense of political vulnerability, maybe it’s feeling like our values are too alien for détente,4 maybe it really is homophobia (i.e., a belief that gay people, as such, aren’t trustworthy). But wherever it comes from, it’s both unfair and damaging—unfair to LGBT people, and damaging to both them and the Catholic Church.

I hope the unfairness is obvious, at least in principle. We are no less likely to be honest and intelligent than anybody else. The damage to us comes in two ways: first, if Christian parents of gay or trans children absorb this notion that their children can’t be trusted, that frequently issues in abuse; sometimes, horribly, abuse with the very best of intentions. And second, if the Church looks like a deeply homophobic institution—and I’m afraid she does—then her power to evangelize a culture that is generally gay-friendly is hamstrung. Yes, there will always be people who regard any traditional view of sexual ethics as homophobic, but that’s not the point. The point is that when you can’t stand to talk or hear from or about gay people, or can’t do us the courtesy of using the words we explicitly prefer,5 the accusation of homophobia becomes credible to the fair-minded person too. With that, the good will and trustworthiness of the whole Catholic edifice becomes suspect. And that is precisely a scandal:

Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. They are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structures leading to the decline of morals and the corruption of religious practice, or to ‘social conditions that, intentionally or unintentionally, make Christian conduct and obedience to the Commandments difficult and practically impossible.’ This is also true of teachers who provoke their children to anger.6

The constant ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ used on LGBT people in general, and LGBT Catholics in particular, is wounding and exhausting. And if you are a Catholic that should matter to you. We are supposed to love one another at least as much as we are supposed to be chaste and truthful, and if you don’t care that you’re hurting us, then your love isn’t worth the javascript that expresses it.

Please stay with me, and keep listening. We need so much more, but we need you to start with prayer and we need the next step to be you listening to us. Those two things are part of what authentic love looks like. If you’ve got it, let’s see it.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of wickedness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. If any man among seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
—James 1.xix-xxvii

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1Indeed, though I would trust the Church to do so intelligently, I’d be reluctant to see her fiddle with this terminology. In Thomist philosophical parlance, objectively disordered is an exact equivalent of misdirected, which is a fairly harmless and completely unavoidable view of same-sex sexual desire if Catholic sexual mores are accepted in the first place. The problem arises in vernacular English, which uses phrases like objectively disordered (if it uses them at all) to mean ‘mentally sick, as anyone can see.’ This is not what the Church teaches and is, cough cough, not very helpful.
2They used to, say, forty years ago. However, just as the term Negro has changed its significance from being a preferred term to being an archaism or a term of mild abuse, so these words have shifted too.
3Up to and including written attacks and firings, not only of LGBT Catholics who espouse heterodox views, not only of those who don’t espouse heterodox views, but of those who make their celibate fidelity to the Church’s doctrine public.
4We don’t all have the same values, obviously. But the Catholic subconscious is as prepared as any other to play tricks on its ostensible master.
5I realize not all of us prefer the same words; I am generalizing for convenience. The principle of courtesy stands.
6The Catechism of the Catholic Church, §§2284, 2286.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Dona Eis Requiem, Part II

Help him as far as possible, not by tears, but by prayers and supplications and alms and offerings. For not unmeaningly have these things been devised, nor do we in vain make mention of the departed in the course of the divine mysteries, and approach God in their behalf, beseeching the Lamb who is before us, who taketh away the sin of the world; not in vain, but that some refreshment may thereby ensue to them. … Therefore with boldness do we then intreat for the whole world, and name their names with those of martyrs, of confessors, of priests. For in truth one body are we all, though some members are more glorious than others; and it is possible from every source to gather pardon for them, from our prayers, from our gifts in their behalf, from those whose names are named with theirs. Why therefore dost thou grieve? Why mourn, when it is in thy power to gather so much pardon for the departed?

—St John Chrysostom, Homily XLI on I Corinthians

The Church is Catholike, universall, so are all her Actions; All that she does, belongs to all. … All mankinde is of one Author, and is one volume; when one Man dies, one Chapter is not torne out of the booke, but translated into a better language; and every Chapter must be so translated … but Gods hand is in every translation; and his hand shall binde up all our scattered leaves againe, for that Librarie where every booke shall lie open one to another … Any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

—John Donne, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions XVII

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I said I’d make some suggestions about what Catholics can do to reach out to the LGBT community, in commemoration of Orlando, and I will start with the most and least practical thing, which is to pray for the dead. Most practical, because you can do it without even getting up, and for the dead themselves it is the only thing you can do; also, because I have a hunch that you won’t in fact do anything else for them, or for us the living LGBT community, if you don’t start here. Least practical, because you have responsibilities to the living that are not discharged by praying for somebody else. But these prayers are the subject of this post.

A brief reminder, which should be unnecessary: we do not know the eternal fate of any departed soul except those whom the Church has declared to be saints. We know1 that those who have been canonized are in heaven with God. No other soul’s destination has been revealed to us; for all we know, hell could be entirely empty of human souls (and it may be noteworthy that in the terrifying parable of the sheep and the goats, hell is described by Jesus as a place that was never designed for humanity at all). No one, for a Catholic, can be adjudged beyond the hope of final reconciliation and entry into the glory of God.2

A Divine Mercy Chaplet or a Rosary would be peculiarly suitable, fifty beads for fifty dead. If you are a priest, I appeal to you to make the dead of the Pulse shooting one of the intentions of your next Mass.

These are the names of the victims:3

Stanley Almodovar III, age 23
Amanda Alvear, 25
Oscar Aracena-Montero, 26
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21
Martin Benitez Torres, 33
Antonio Davon Brown, 30
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29
Jonathan Camuy Vega, 24
Angel Candelario-Padro, 28
Simón Adrian Carrillo Fernández, 31
Juan Chavez Martinez, 25
Luis Daniel Conde, 39
Cory James Connell, 21
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velázquez, 50
Deonka Deirdre Drayton, 32
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26
Peter Ommy Gonzalez Cruz, 22
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22
Paul Terrell Henry, 41
Frank Hernandez, 27
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30
Javier Jorge Reyes, 40
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30
Anthony Luis Laureano Disla, 25
Brenda Marquez McCool, 49
Jean Mendez Perez, 35
Kimberly Jean Morris, 37
Akyra Monet Murray, 18
Jean Carlos Nieves Rodriguez, 27
Luis Omar Ocasio Capo, 20
Geraldo Ortiz Jimenez, 25
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32
Enrique Rios Jr., 25
Juan Pablo Rivera Velázquez, 37
Yilmary Rodríguez Solivan, 24
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano-Rosado, 35
Gilberto Silva Menendez, 25
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25
Luis Sergio Vielma, 22
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31

As well as the perpetrator and final casualty:

Omar Mateen, 29

Do not omit to pray for him, Christian. Our faith moves us to forgive—or at least begin to forgive—or, failing that to, to beg the grace to begin; or, it is worthless. Prayer, for others or oneself, is an act of compassion: it isn’t given because it’s deserved, it’s given because it’s needed.

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1Or more exactly, if we accept the Catholic religion we believe this to be the case.
2Not until the Last Judgment, anyway; but that can take care of itself.
3The names are listed alphabetically by surname. Given the extremely high proportion of Latino victims, some of the names may not appear where an English speaker would expect, as Spanish surnames are taken from both the father and the mother, with the mother’s second but the father’s treated as primary: e.g., someone named Juan Martinez Reyes would be listed under M, not R.