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, 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 coĆ«rcion, 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 coƶperators 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.


  1. I think you need a post addressing the fact that many of the people (hierarchs and clergy and laity) who have done the things you are demanding an apology for...are themselves/ourselves gay (or "same sex attracted") albeit possibly repressed, closeted, or in denial. This isn't as simple as Church vs Gays; a lot of it is gay on gay crime...

    1. An important and delicate complication. It's tricky to address, not least because -- while the proportion of homosexual priests and religious in particular is probably higher than most priests and religious, and many laity, would like to admit -- we can't know which are and aren't, unless they come out (or are caught in an unambiguously compromising situation). So addressing gay clergy and theologians is usually going to be abstract, too. And of course there are further problems. Someone who experiences same-sex attraction *ought* to be sensible enough to be sensitive to others who do (yet often aren't), and conversely every priest is bound to teach the Church's doctrine even if they personally are heterosexual (yet often don't); a given homosexual priest may feel that since he's mastered celibacy without much difficulty, the LGBT movement is clearly being irrational and self-indulgent, while another may feel that since he's professing orthodoxy he can give himself some wiggle room in practice; one heterosexual priest may be unreflective enough that he conflates his own instinctive dislike of gays with the Church's actual moral teaching, while another may be so embarrassed by his advantage of normality that he can't bring himself to articulate the teaching or offer guidance to those who need it ... The amount of secrecy, hypocrisy, and mere common imprudence surrounding the issue is exceedingly frustrating. But in any case, if we speak of gay-on-gay crime, the first thing to note is that it *is* crime. Whatever the conditions of the criminal, interior and exterior, the first priority is to attend to the victim and, as far as possible, right the wrong. After that we can discuss guilt if it's necessary.

      This touches on one of the reasons that I'm in favor of gay/SSA clergy coming out (except of course in cases where they merely prefer not to -- it is a personal matter, after all -- or where it would inhibit their ministry). As things stand, they seem to me to be self-blackmailed: when you have a secret to keep, it hampers your ability to act freely. The simplest way to get rid of a blackmailer is just to make your secret public; they then lose all power to extort. So here, I think. An avowed population of gay, orthodox, celibate Catholics, both lay and clerical (at all levels of the hierarchy), would be a very strong witness to the Church's doctrine. Though of course, I may be missing important aspects of the problem; I offer this as my opinion, not as a conviction.

    2. I say this as an out and proud gay man: while I empathize with the sentiment, I think this is just another unhealthy way of nurturing resentment and placing the blame on another group of people for your hurt feelings.

      The fact of the matter is, homosexuality was never even on the radar screen of the Christian milieu prior to the 1960s. It certainly wasn't commonly spoken about or even acknowledged publicly.

      In the 1960s and 70s, the response of the church has always been tepid, and remains so till this day. She has simply stated her teaching on a number of occasions you can count on one hand and then... left it at that. It was never really enforced or emphasized. And it was certainly never taken seriously by the general public. If anything the church has generally been apathetic and indifferent. (Think back on your dealings with your fellow Christians here; I think you will agree that they didn't so much outright hate you, so much as they didn't really care).

      And as for apologies, you might as well demand an apology from the world at large.

      There are so many forces within society and within the LGBT community itself that are far more emotionally brutal and conducive to self-hatred than anything christianity has had to offer with its archaic views on sin and immorality -- which are hardly ever preached might I add, and even when it is it's with a certain sense of trepidation and an emphasize on kindness and so-called charity in my experience.

      Lastly, I would like to remind you that we are not the only sexual minorities. There are those way, way lower on the totem pole. I have in mind here those who are known as pedophiles and zoophiles who I have treated as a therapist. A lot of them are like you. They refrain from acting on their sexual impulses because they believe it's immoral. Now... are you willing to reach out to these sexual minorities yourself? Are you willing to listen to their stories and narratives? Emotionally invest yourself in understanding their experiences? Apologize for the contribution you've possibly, unwittingly, made for their plight? ... No? Then how can you expect the same from your heteronormative counterparts? Just think about that the next time you feel slighted by them.

    3. In reverse order:

      To begin with, I am a little ashamed to say that I don't refrain from acting on my sexual impulses because I believe they're immoral. I should. But I don't, and in that respect, many pedophiles, zoophiles, &c., are doubtless far superior to me morally. I feel a great deal of pity for pedophiles especially -- I can only imagine how miserable a cross that is to bear, and I know I've done very little to help anybody who suffers from it. There are, I know, some out pedophiles who devote themselves to avoiding acting on their impulses at whatever cost, and that's profoundly admirable in my view. I admit I'm not totally sure what I could do to help, and that (with one exception) I'm not sure I know any personally, but those aren't very good reasons. Incidentally, if you have suggestions for anything concrete I could do, please tell me. It'd be both just and pleasant to pay it forward.

      Certainly there are other forces than the Church that complicate the lives of LGBT people, some of which have little or nothing to do with Christianity. The reason I address myself primarily to Christians is that I'm not sure I'm qualified to speak to anybody else: the Christian world is the one I understand best, both intellectually and culturally, and the one I'm part of; hence, I feel I may be able to rebuke and exhort here in a way that I'm not competent to do elsewhere. And I certainly agree that indifference is usually a greater problem than active hatred, and that repentance and apology are not very likely in many cases. Maybe most. But, though whatever I can do may be small, I want to do what I can rather than leave it undone.

      As to blame-shifting -- well, like I said, other forces are indeed at work. Some of them are interior to LGBT people, for cultural or personal reasons. The reason I didn't cite them here is merely that they aren't what this specific post is about, not because they aren't legitimate topics of discussion. But I didn't want to de-focus; I feel it'd weaken the piece significantly. And it's not like I'm going to shut up any time soon anyway, so I'm sure I'll get to that.