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.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Prayers for Judas

Lilith, checked in her monotonous gabble by the radiant vision who let in the sun’s new light, stared at it with old and blinking eyes. She saw the shape of a woman; and did not know beatitude, however young. She supposed this also to be in need of something other than the Omnipotence. She said, separating with difficulty words hardly distinguishable from gabble: ‘I can help you.
‘That’s kind of you,’ Pauline answered, ‘but I haven’t come to you for myself.’
‘I can help anyone,’ the old woman said, carefully enunciating the lie. … Illusion, more lasting in her than in any of her victims, was in her. At the moment of destruction she still pressed nostrums upon the angelic visitor who confronted her. She broke again into gabble, in which Pauline could dimly make out promises, of health, of money, of life, or their appearances, of good looks and good luck, or a belief in them, of peace and content, or a substitute for them.

—Charles Williams, Descent Into Hell

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I’ve hit a wall. I would say I’m in despair, but I don’t think that’s quite true. I certainly feel despair; I honestly cannot tell by introspection whether I’ve surrendered to it; I haven’t given up my duties as a man and a Christian—I don’t fulfill them particularly well, but I acknowledge them and make some effort to observe them—so I think I haven’t succumbed.

The sensation of despair comes simply from the fact that I don’t want to be chaste, don’t feel bad when I fuck around, and don’t see why I should do or want otherwise. I don’t love Christ enough to obey him for his own sake, and I don’t fear him enough (or trust him enough, maybe?) to obey him for my own sake. All I have is the bare, cold principle that this ought to be done. And I’ve found out that, at the cost that principle exacts from me, I can’t do it. Or won’t. The strength of sin is the law.

Orthodox Chapel of the Holy Trinity, Mount Sinai

Being without a husband, being bereft of specifically erotic love, is agonizing to me. It isn’t just the depression: I’ve been on Zoloft long enough to know the difference. And I know the arguments about the sacramental meaning of sex like the back of my hand, but when you’re lonely any argument is a whole lot of bullshit, and no friendship can truly substitute for a lover—they’re just not the same thing, they don’t meet the same need, they don’t touch the same wound in the soul. I have yet to hear the Catholic doctrine of sex (which I accept categorically) articulated in a way that made that reality seem important enough to warrant the cost it imposes on me.

I wish I could say ‘me and those like me’ there. But I have a nasty suspicion that, if the shoe were on the other foot, I’d be totally prepared to be merely sympathetic to people who were suffering. To just feel so sad for them, but point out that emotions can’t be allowed to change principles, and leave it at that. In short, to be a complete asshole. So I guess that’s one good thing to come out of this.

But I’m left with the sheer, brutal, staring fact that I don’t want to be chaste, not because it isn’t fun (though, no, it is not fucking fun), but because as far as I know it’s both miserable and pointless. I assent to the thesis that it’s the limits of my knowing that puts that complexion on things. But here I am, and I resent God for asking this of me, because I don’t understand.

There is a demon that the saints, especially the desert fathers, recognized in this vein—the one that comes in the daytime, during our work, to propel us further into nothingness. He was called ‘the noonday devil’ … The name of the state he tempts us to is called acedia, which is a form of despair when life itself is seen as hopeless drudgery, even if it is a necessary drudgery. This again is why the drug addict is our prophet. The drug addict is not ‘idle’—he works diligently, but his work is a slow downward spiral and an accepted and acted upon despair. Acedia also knows and even believes that man was made for great things, but does not have the hope or magnanimity to reach them. He hates that they are reachable and wishes he was called to less.1

Which I recognize as the truth. And yet another part of me snipes back: if God wants me so bad, why does he make things so damn hard? Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Savior.

The difference between this and despair? I guess I am still waiting for him to answer me, to say something. I keep coming back to him—angrier and unhappier every time, it seems, but again and again. It’s been said that the Church is the cross on which Christ is crucified; I am the nails. It must hurt him horribly, the way I act, or am, but he is the one who refuses the twelve legions of angels in favor of staying close to Gabriel. That thou doest, do quickly, he said to Judas. It doesn’t make rational sense; but poetically, nothing else is possible.

For some reason this feels like a really good way to start Lent. Certainly it’s better to be frank—I mean, it isn’t like God doesn’t know what you’re thinking, so you might as well actually talk to him about it. I don't know how to break out of the illusion, but I know that I am subject to an illusion: we have a place to start.

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1The Name of the Demon That Steals Rest, Makes You Scroll, And Inspires Overworking’ by Jason Craig at Those Catholic Men. Read this piece thanks to a friend, and it knocked a little sense into me—my original concept for this post was much more bitter and hopeless, if you can imagine.


  1. Though I know otherwise, in the face of such a struggle it feels terribly trite to say "I'll pray for you". But that's what I'll do nonetheless.

    While our sinful actions may hurt him, we are beloved to him - you are beloved.

  2. At the risk of being one of Job's friends who trie to be helpful but isn't, I'll ask two questions and offer a comment and an observation.
    1. When you say, "[N]o friendship can truly substitute for a lover—they’re just not the same thing, they don’t meet the same need," is sex the need the lover supplies and the friend doesn't?
    Comment: This is an honest question because never having had sex, I really don't know what need a lover meets, what wound in the soul he touches that a friend couldn't.
    2. Do you have a spiritual director?
    Observation: It seems to me that what you are expressing in this post is a form of repentance, not very far removed from St. Paul's introspection and outburst in Romans 7:23-24. It seems to me that the difference between unrepentance and repentance is that the unrepentant knows he will go on sinning and is content with that, whereas the repentant know he will probably go on sinning and wishes it were not so. Clearly, you are not content with the way you behave at times. I think you're right to feel you're at a good place to start Lent.

    1. 1. No. Now, sex is certainly a normal part of the relationship of lovers, and not a normal part of friendship, but that's a characteristic difference rather than an intrinsic one. (There are lovers who don't have sex, and friends who do -- they're atypical is all.) The point here is that, sex aside, the desire to be loved and to love erotically is just a different thing from the desire for friendship.

      Of course, you can have both erotic and brotherly love for the same person. And I dare say, based on my experience, that eros and friendship shade into each other more easily among gay men, but even among us I do find them to be distinct. (For instance -- I'm not real proud of this -- I slept with a close friend once, and even though the sex was great, I don't actually take pleasure in the memory as I [wrongly] do with other men I've slept with, because it feels so weird to think of him in those terms). I'm not sure how to articulate the distinction, though.

      2. Yes, and I stick very close to him.

  3. Thanks for your honesty. I'm in a similar boat, and well-meaning comments from friends who tell me "don't be sad, marriage is terrible too" just make me feel more despair. Why does God ask so much?

  4. This honesty and humility is a tremendously brave and holy choice that must surely bring spiritual fruit and I pray will ease the agony at least a little. I will offer a rosary for you and would love to know your most desired intention(s) for that and prayer throughout the holy season.

  5. Edit might be a big garbled in last comment as I accidentally hit publish in the middle of revising. Sorry!

  6. My heart hurts for you, Gabriel. Thank you for your honesty, and for the check on my own impulse to "mere sympathy." Will be praying, with Father Maurer and the rest. God bless you!

  7. Have you ever read "We" by Robert A. Johnson?

    Told in the form of an unpacking of the myth of Tristan and Iseult, he interrogates the Western myth of romantic love and the history of how it came to be such a centerpiece of our subjectivity.

    It's written for heterosexuals, of course, but I've found it useful as a gay man. Johnson explains how the Romantic came to take the place of the Sacred in our society, how that's largely an illusion that leads to endless dissatisfaction, and what we can all do to get healthy and down to earth about this again.

    It really helped me learn that my "loneliness" was a symbolic structure inside the constitution of my own self, not the lack of another person, and that my fantasies about other people were projections and transferences that were actually preventing real healthy satisfying relationships.

    1. I haven't; thank you for the tip. My immediate reaction to the thesis is twofold.

      On one hand, I'm resistant. I've run across different versions of this idea before, and, while I can certainly concede that our culture is unhealthily erotocentric—and that this goves rise to intellectual distortions as well as personal grief—I do think that eros is normally a big part of our lives, and when Christians seem to try and dismiss its importance, I get pissed. Not least because they rarely seem to talk about excessive erotocentrism except to LGBT people. (I give full weight to "seem" in these sentences; I'm giving my reaction, which I expect is somewhat blinkered.) Most versions of this idea that I've encountered seem to be unprepared to take loneliness and heartbreak seriously, and to be apologetics rather than compassion or spiritual guidance.

      Additionally, I've always had a strong appetite for spirituality as well as for eros; neither one can substitute for the other for me. If a genie offered me a life where I didn't know God but did have a husband, I'd reject it in a heartbeat, not out of principle but because that sort of life sounds cruelly pointless and boring to me. And my whole concept of eros, thanks first to Dante and then to Charles Williams, is theological: every kind of love is a preparatory form and indirect experience of the love between man and God. So the concept of substitution or opposition between eros and agape is, for me, never a prima facie assumption—though of course a given person might make that error, through rebellion or ignorance.

      On the other hand, well, I just said that people do make that error. And I'm people, so I may have done it. Moreover, as I said, I haven't read the book and therefore can't be intimately acquainted with his argument, in either its reasoning or its thrust and nuance. So, I should give it a read.

    2. Another good quote from Johnson was this: "A man who puts anima into his marriage is putting his fantasy into his marriage and turning it into a series of archetypal scenes, a playground for the impersonal forces of the unconscious. His wife, if she is not joining the fantasy, begins to realize that she is not so much a wife as the supporting cast in a gigantic stage play: the cosmic drama that goes on forever in her husband's inner world."

      This really resonated with my partner and I, because for so long my complaint to him (not having discovered any of this yet, mind you) was "You're treating me (and other people in your life) as symbols, not as real people!" He realized, eventually, that I was right. But we also realized that I too was playing out my own symbolic projections and excitement/rejection dramas with him (albeit, perhaps in a more subtle way; no less dangerous or dysfunctional for its subtlety though). When I started to resolve this, though, that soul-piercing sense of "loneliness" that previously had made me so desperate for a certain type of connection, so filled with sighing and pining...also started to wane (for the better!)

      Mind you, I'm not really a Jungian myself, though it is a framework that allows Johnson to speak about "God" and "the soul" in a non-specifically-Christian sense as psychological and spiritual realities that other psychoanalytic schools might be inclined to downplay the full importance and grandeur of.

      Personally, my psychoanalytic approach tends more towards Object Relations/transference-focused (same thing with our therapist, though she seems to skew more Kleinian whereas we have found Fairbairnian insights extremely helpful for explaining some of our dysfunctional patterns).

      Either way though, I think it's very important to say something like with Dumbledore that "Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?" Attempts to psychologize that use the fact that something is "merely" a psycho-symbolic phenomenon to dismiss its experiential reality, its human importance...are forgetting that human beings are symbolic creatures who participate in Logos.

      Of course nothing is more important than resolving oneself psycho-symbolically! Of course nothing is more important than that sort of wholeness. I don't think either Johnson or I or my couple's therapist would dismiss the significance of eros.

      What I'm saying is more that this significance doesn't necessarily come from where the myth says it does, and is not necessarily "solved" the way we imagine. Playing out transference dynamics points to a real extremely deep spiritual/psychological need (not just a want, but indeed a need)...but doesn't actually satisfy or resolve those needs in the end, it just becomes and endless cycle.

      Our symbolic drama is resolved actually through a "containing" relationship (with a therapeutic figure; the psychoanalyst or whoever fulfills that function for a person), not through engaging in the drama's "high."

      It is amazing to me now how many people (including myself) engage in a sort of psychological self-cutting, or at least poking at old wounds, just to feel something. There are people to whom you suggest healing and they're extremely defensive because the very intensity of the wound is what gives life meaning for them.

      But then, that's more a concern for their analyst, and I'm getting rather off track here...

  8. Ah, yes, I don't want to be misunderstood. Your point is well taken about Christian hypocrisy in having fully embraced the Romantic idol/illusion/myth for heterosexuals (one reason I'm HUGELY suspicious of Theology of the Body) but then speaking as if those of us with a homosexual psychic constitution should just "deconstruct" our orientation like it's that easy (I believe there was a spate of articles by the usual suspects a few years ago to this effect).

    However, Johnson writes from a Jungian psychoanalytic perspective, not a specifically Christian one (though I think he is vaguely Christian based on other things I've read), and the book was actually recommended to me by the secular Jewish psycholanalytic couple's therapist whom I talk to with my on-again-off-again partner/friend/boyfriend/he-didn't-want-to-define-the-relationship.

    The book is, as I said, primarily directed at heterosexuals (I've come to think of this symbol-entangled/over-invested psychological makeup as "Freudian" or "Woody Allen" heterosexuality) actually.

    There's some good Robert Johnson quotes, both from this book, and from others of his, here (though most will take some adapting to apply, mutatis mutandis, to a homosexual psycho-symbolic structure):

    I particularly found important this one: "Though no one notices at the time, in-loveness obliterates the humanity of the beloved. One does a curious kind of insult to another by falling in love with him, for we are really looking at our own projection of God, not at the other person."

    In my own life (and in the frustrating behavior of my companion), I found that this also works the other way around: there may be people we insist we are "just not in love with [anymore, at least]" who could make great life-companions if we actually looked at the *real* objective values between them (shared interests, shared values, compatible intellect and sense of humor, similar life goals, etc) rather than focusing on "Does this person fulfill my Symbolic roles in the right way, is this person a good vessel for my transference needs?" which just leads to extremely tempestuous dysfunctional relationships usually.

    People construct all sorts of internal compartmentalizations and part-object relations and then project them onto other people to get the supply needed to maintain these fragile internal compromises (often times to preserve a certain ideal image of the mother or the self that should have been integrated with more ambivalent features long ago...)

    I thought this short piece by Johnson was good as well:'s/oatmeal_both.pdf

  9. Ah, if that's Johnson's idea of eros, our disagreement runs very deep. I allow that eros includes the danger of neglecting the beloved in favor of an idealization, but I don't think that's the nature of eros any more than genocide is the nature of patriotism. My own belief, drawn from Dante and Williams among others, is that in eros we see the beloved (however briefly) in his or her archetypal, heavenly identity—what they are meant to be and to become. Adoration of that image is neither intrinsically inappropriate nor a reason to neglect the terrestrial beloved, who is the occasion of the celestial vision, exactly as an icon is the occasion of devotion to a saint. To confuse the two, or allow either to oust the proper place of the other, is bad theology, but also bad romanticism.

    1. Then the disagreement runs deeply indeed.

      Don't you hear what you're saying? It's all well and good to say that an icon is an occasion of devotion to a saint. But in your metaphor, the *real flesh and blood person* is reduced to merely the "icon" and the "archetypal, heavenly" image is identified with the "real"! Which is the exact reversal! With saints, the image is the occasion of devotion to the person. But with this idea of romance, you're saying the person is the occasion of devotion to an image! Backwards!! Yet it is a rather keen (if unintended) description of the whole problem.

      This philosophy of eros is extremely compelling and addicting in the intensity of its language and imagery. But it's just...not real. And it's usually cruel. Dante never knew Beatrice! And her own real agency and identity are entirely subsumed by fantasy and symbol. Maybe she's somewhere up there flattered by it all. Or maybe she's peeved that she's remembered as some man's projection of split off parts of himself rather than as her own real self...

      This is how we wind up with a society filled with divorce and restlessness and with couples who are together forty years but never really begin to know the first thing about each other because they are just Man and Woman to each other (with a capital M and capital W) rather than actual human persons. Makes for a lot of good sitcoms, though, I guess...

      People resist this realization endlessly, of course, because the psychological purpose the whole myth serves is to allow certain object-idealizations to remain split and repressed in the unconscious, and anything else is perceived as an existential threat. Trust me, I am very sympathetic to that. But the truth is...that's the problem, not the solution.

      Dante's projection onto Beatrice points to a very real spiritual reality. But it's a reality inside himself, and which should be sought inside oneself, brought to consciousness and integrated into oneself. Not transferred outward onto other people like so many characters in ones own dreamscape.

    2. I dissent pretty strongly from that analysis of the problem. I think it warrants a full post, but in the meantime I'll say the following.

      First, I didn't say—and don't believe—that a person's heavenly identity is their "real" self, while the person we meet is only a cipher. This is partly because I assume a higher nobility in icons than you appear to; my metaphysic makes most things icons, or ectypes, and the relation of ectype to archetype governs most of existence. I'm strongly influenced by the Eastern attitude towards icons here. The Trinity Itself is so related: the Son is "the image [εικων] of the invisible God," and that informs my whole concept of icons and typology. So relating a person's phenomenal self (the one we meet) to their celestial self (the one we see with the vision of eros) is no division, substitution, or projection, in my view. Those exist as dangers but not as necessities.

      Secondly, my concept of romantic love is fairly extensive. Following Williams, Sayers, and Lewis, as well as Dante, I consider eros (and Romanticism in general) a way of the soul: the experience of falling in live is an *invitation to embark* on the way, not the totality of the way, and like every other way of the soul it's subject to the authority of revelation and the economy of the sacraments. To say that eros can't be so experienced doesn't seem like sound theology to me (to say nothing of its defiance of the actual experience and testimony of not all, yet many lovers): it seems to relegate eros to a specially *deprecated* status of being too inferior to be transfigured by grace, as opposed to the secular error of so exalting eros as to make it a substitute for grace. Not only the Divine Comedy but the Song of Solomon and the whole principle of the Incarnation seem, to me, to rule out such a low view of erotic love.

  10. I don't think Johnson deprecates romance. These are some quotes from the introduction to "We" that I think suggest quite otherwise:

    "At a certain point in the history of a people, a new possibility bursts out of the collective unconscious; it is a new idea, a new belief, a new value, or a new way of looking at the universe. It represents a potential good if it can be integrated into consciousness, but at first it is overwhelming, even destructive. Romantic love is one of these truly overwhelming psychological phenomena that have appeared in Western history. It has overwhelmed our collective psyche and permanently altered our view of the world. As a society, we have not yet learned to handle the tremendous power of romantic love. We turn it into tragedy and alienation more often than into enduring human relationships. But, I believe, if men and women will understand the psychological dynamics behind romantic love and learn to handle them consciously, they will find a new possibility of relationship, both to themselves and to others."

    "For both men and women, to look honestly at romantic love is a heroic journey. It forces us to look not only at the beauty and potential in romantic love but also at the contradictions and illusions we carry around inside us at the unconscious level. Heroic journeys always lead through dark valleys and difficult confrontations. But if we persevere, we find a new possibility of consciousness."

    The gist of his message seems to be more like...the mythos of romantic love is very powerful and very good. The problem is almost...people taking it "literally."

    He seems to indicate that our problem is almost like...people taking the beautiful mystical imagery of Genesis...and the point they get out of it is becoming Creationists.

    Romantic love is a myth that, to be sure, can only be expressed as a story about the love between two people (and, if we're honest, only fully symbolized as the love between a Man and a Woman).

    But when people try to find it or enact it literally in their actual relationships? "No, Robbie, it isn't true."

    1. That's much closer to something I'd agree with. It's still different from my own Dantean-Williamsine belief in romantic love as a way of the soul: partly because I don't think that romance is intrinsically ordered toward sexual union, and therefore don't consider heteroerotic love more perfect than homoerotic love; partly because, while I warmly assent to the value he seems to give to myth, the suggestion of an opposition between myth and fact is one that I discarded a long time ago (largely under C. S. Lewis' influence -- the subject is discussed very intelligently in 'Perelandra'). But even so I would agree that our culture -- better to say, our whole civilization -- has not "digested" romantic love, and as a result it is neither integrated rightly into our psyches nor generally used as the spiritual way it has the potential to be. Indeed, except for Dante, Charles Williams, Dunstan Thompson, and a handful of others, I can name very few exemplars of romantic theology properly so called.