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.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Dona Eis Requiem, Part V

I sat and scratched.
Smoke in greasy thickness rolled round the cave,
from flames of fierce fancy, flesh-fire-colored.

Fire of the flesh subsided to ache of the bone;
the smoke rolled out, faded, died;
the beast, as the smoke thinned, had disappeared;
starveling, I lay in bone on the cave’s floor.

Bone lay loving bone it imagined near it,
bone of its hardness of longing, bone of its bone,
skeleton dreaming of skeleton where there was none.

—Charles Williams, Taliessin Through Logres, ‘Palomides Before his Christening’

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The first three chapters of Genesis are, words fail me, great. Myth1 always has power over our imaginations, because it deals so largely in archetypes that have rich associations in every level of our minds; but the archetypes of Genesis seem to me to be wonderfully universal, even for myth. The primordial darkness, the word of power, the sea, the stars, the Tree of Life, the male and the female—this is the stuff of magic. And, as commentators never tire of noting, the first thing that we see declared not to be good before the Fall itself, is the loneliness of the first Man.

Azerbaijani depiction of the Tree of Life, 17th cent.

It is for this reason that Woman is created, who is like him and yet unlike; even so it is the likeness that the text accents: Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh. And while I certainly think that the creative pattern of sexuality is established here, I also think that in another sense, Woman is here a cipher for (as she is the origin and the possibility of) Mankind rather than simply Man.2 The otherness-in-sameness that inheres in every person not ourselves, is specially highlighted in the meeting of man and woman, whose difference shows not only in disposition but in the very shape of the flesh, and yet the union of that flesh is so profound that new human life springs forth from it. And of course, because that new life is to be distinct and independent, other in its sameness, it comes through the woman.3

But we live in a broken world. Loneliness isn’t gone. And that primordial sorrow is, for many gay Christians, what we’re landed in. Catholics especially, I think: both marriage and Holy Orders are usually closed to us,4 and those are the main paths into the rest of life for most Catholics. And the brute fact is, couples, especially couples with young children, tend to socialize with other couples, and clergy tend to socialize with clergy. And that can leave Christians like me more than a little stranded.

Because this isn’t just a matter of needing friends—still less of just wanting sex. We absolutely do. But the artificial uprootedness and isolation of the modern West hits people like us especially hard, because, put briefly, we don’t have anybody to come home to, nor any realistic hope that we ever will. It’s like being a widower.

We need help to carry that cross. It’s a heavy one. I’ve been taken aback by the number of Catholics who reply to this that they carry their crosses alone, so gay people should stop whining and do the same5; nobody should carry their cross alone; that’s not the example Christ set for us. Frankly admitting need, joyfully giving help, and graciously accepting it, are standard movements of the divine economy. And there are plenty of people other than LGBTs who’ve been neglected by the Church, but I write about our experiences because they’re the ones I know most intimately.

So what is this help we need? Well, what does a widower or a widow need?

1. The right to grieve. No one wants to grieve all the time (though admittedly there are some of us, like me, who tend to make a meal of our grief and need the occasional reality check). But sometimes, we need to grieve. We have, de facto, lost even the reasonable possibility of a spouse and children; and whatever other blessings we may have through celibacy, having a family of one’s own is a real good to be mourned.

Our culture is pretty bad at dealing with grief in any context. There seems to be a sentiment in America that there’s something indecent and embarrassing about being sad. This isn’t the place to go on a tear about how much that warps us psychologically, nor to lay out a comprehensive guide to grieving. The one thing I will say is: don’t try to solve grief, your own or someone else’s. Emotions do not respond well to solvents. The thing a mourner mostly needs is support in their grief, which among other things means acknowledging its validity.

2. Respectful welcome. Both halves of this seem curiously hard for Catholics, especially the ones who insist they’re doing it already. The welcome part is what Pope Francis has been emphasizing: you could define it as making your love perceptible to someone who isn’t like you. No matter what your intentions are, rehearsals of doctrine probably won’t do that. You have to respond to them, rather than rushing to give them what you think they need. This is especially important for LGBTs who aren’t part of the Church, but those of us who are need welcome too; staying in the Church can be harder than entering her.

The respect part mostly means listening. Christians, being in possession of a precious truth, are correspondingly apt to want to share it, right in the face. However, people generally like a say in what is put into their faces, and are less than receptive to that which is thrust into them without invitation. Besides, The Truth About Homosexuality© isn’t the only thing we need. As Catholics are often eager to remind us, there’s more to us than our sexuality; and even our sexuality is a much bigger thing than just sex. If you happen to be straight, just think about how subtle the tact of interacting with the opposite sex can be, whether you’re partnered or not, whether they’re partnered or not; think of the shape that gives to relationships in general, romantic or no; and think how much range of affections there is even within a single romantic relationship. All those same understated courtesies apply to us and our relationships, with the added complication that retreating into the company of our own sex, however comforting, doesn’t lessen the need to observe those courtesies at all.

The thing that’s helped me most is being invited into the families of my friends. Aside from my own family (I have two married sisters, both with sons), there are three or four couples who’ve made a point of not only being there for me, but involving me in their daily lives and in taking care of their kids. That’s huge. Being included in that way, there where the pain of losing the possibility of a family is apt to be keenest—that is a wonderful balm to the soul.

3. Sometimes, financial or mental or even physical protection. This, thank God, is rare in the United States (which is more than can be said for some countries). But even just in the space of the last two years, one gay man I know lost his job because of his orientation, another narrowly escaped from an abusive and cultish home life, and a trans man and lesbian couple (who are living as brother and sister) were hounded out of their parish. And then, well, there’s the tragedy in Orlando last June, whose anniversary sparked this series. Point is, we might not need you to step up and be a hero; but we might.

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1Myth is not properly a synonym for falsehood, an abuse of the term introduced I think by the rationalists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is a genre of literature (written or oral), embracing material as varied as the first ten chapters or so of the Torah, the works of Homer, the Mahabharata of Vedic India, and the Eddas of the Norse. Its concern is typically with the nature of the cosmos and the ideal origin of the culture it springs from. Hence it doesn’t bind itself to historical accuracy, but may contain history incidentally; rather as it may happen to be true that Sir Isaac Newton was hit in the head by an apple, but that isn’t why we tell the story.
2‘Men are men, but Man is a woman.’ —G. K. Chesterton.
3The supreme instance of this otherness-in-sameness is the conception of Christ in the womb of the Virgin. The supernatural otherness of the conception, fused with the natural sameness of the pregnancy and Nativity, coming through the sole, supernaturally natural Woman since the fall of Eve, is mythically perfect.
4I say usually because lesbians and gay men do sometimes marry someone of the opposite sex, and dispensations can be granted for gay men to become priests. And of course, there are priests who are closeted or who don’t like the term ‘gay’ though they are homosexually oriented. But these are exceptions, not something the average LGBT Catholic can expect the way a straight Catholic might.
5Or, more odiously, that they know unmarried people who don’t complain about their state in life and so why should we; not noting that, if these unmarried people did complain, they probably wouldn’t do it to someone so unsympathetic.

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.