Collect for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity

Lord of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things: graft in our hearts the love of thy Name; increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of thy great mercy keep us in the same; through 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.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Dona Eis Requiem, Part VI

He knew that they called Ferreira the Apostate Peter and himself the Apostate Paul. Sometimes the children had gathered at his door chanting the name in a loud voice.
‘Please hear my confession. If even the Apostate Paul has the power to hear confessions, please give me absolution for my sins.’
It is not man who judges. God knows our weakness more than anyone, reflected the priest.
‘Father, I betrayed you. I trampled on the picture of Christ,’ said Kichijiro with tears. ‘In this world are the strong and the weak. The strong never yield to torture, and they go to Paradise; but what about those, like myself, who are born weak, those who, when tortured and ordered to trample on the sacred image …’
I, too, stood on the sacred image. For a moment this foot was on his face. Even now that face is looking at me with pity from the plaque rubbed flat by many feet. ‘Trample!’ said those compassionate eyes. ‘Trample! Your foot suffers in pain; it must suffer like all the feet that have stepped on this plaque. But that pain alone is enough. I understand your pain and your suffering. It is for that reason that I am here.’
He had lowered his foot on to the plaque, sticky with dirt and blood. His five toes had pressed upon the face of one he loved. Yet he could not understand the tremendous onrush of joy that came over him at that moment.

—Shūsaku Endō, Silence1

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You can go here for Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V.

Apologies to my readers for the protracted radio silence here. The past month has been a strange one with some unexpected changes, not least of which has been finding out (much to my surprise) that The Vampire Diaries isn’t crap. But to return to the series.

The normal calling of LGBT people in the Catholic Church is celibacy.2 There’s no way around this, and there’s no dressing it up as anything but an incredibly hard path—no amount of righteousness, beauty, or being worthwhile can possibly make celibacy easy. I’ve written already about some of the support we need in this, including, among other things, apology from Christians for the abuse and neglect we’ve frequently suffered at their hands; as well as firm and active opposition to homophobic violence both here and abroad—not just words about how the Church cares for everyone equally, but deeds of charity, like taking in homeless LGBT teens or funding refugee programs for those whose home countries put them in serious danger.

Photograph from a protest held in Chechnya, where in the last six months more than a hundred men believed 
to be gay or bisexual have been consigned to concentration camps; an unknown number have been killed.

What I’ve said very little about thus far is what, in my experience, Christians usually think of when they picture the trials of a gay person who’s also trying to be a faithful Catholic: i.e., the challenge of refraining from gay sex. The truth is, I’m not sure I know a single gay believer for whom that’s the costliest aspect of their faith. Faith itself is far costlier; loneliness is far costlier; perseverance is far costlier. And even those things aren’t always costly for the reasons you might suppose. Permit me a lengthy quotation.

I met a guy who was smart, attractive, and well-versed in theology. Like many gay people who grow up in the church, he’d been on a rollercoaster as he came to terms with being gay. He’d gone from having accountability software on his computer, to dancing for tips in a speedo at a bar. By the time we met he was cautiously returning to the church. Compared to my other relationships, this guy barely registers—we dated long distance for all of two months. But it was a rollercoaster of its own. We were sexually active when we first started dating, and then a few weeks in, he suggested we stop—he said it didn’t feel right and that he wanted to wait until marriage. He was sweet, and then he became callous. And after our breakup he did a complete turn-around in terms of his own sexual ethics—he even got into an open relationship.

I puzzled over this for months. … The explanation stems from the notion that we are all sinners who can’t escape our weaknesses; it is only open rebellion—being unrepentant—that is unforgivable, what dooms us to hell. Combined with the doctrine that all same-sex relationships are sinful, it gets warped into a theology that says promiscuity is better than monogamy. Committing to someone of the same sex would be committing to a life of unrepentant sin, whereas the ‘trip-up’ involved in casual sex is an offense from which we can easily seek forgiveness. You can meet a stranger for sex and never see him again, have a threesome or two, and even live a season of debauchery and lust, as long as you repent. This is a familiar cycle for many gay Christians, and while forgiveness of these acts is real, so is the guilt and shame that compounds in their hearts over weeks, months, and years.

Setting aside the dangers inherent to a promiscuous lifestyle, this cycle carries an even graver consequence: It drives people away from God. Scripture and human experience reveal that celibacy is a gift reserved only for some. I implore our straight brothers and sisters to imagine being told you must permanently abstain from sex, while in your hearts you don’t feel called to celibacy. Imagine spending years praying that God will either change your sexual orientation or numb your desires for intimacy. Imagine trying one therapy after another, often at severe emotional and financial costs. Imagine praying for just one thing, but the one thing you ask for is the one thing God continually denies.

‘Well, Lord,’ you might say, ‘I’ve done everything I could to give up this need. If you won’t help me, then I’ll give in. Goodbye.’ This is tragic, and I can’t imagine it pleases God. ‘A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.’3

This is where the going really gets rough. When you look at the consequences of behavior that you’ve tried and failed to control, consequences not just for yourself but for the men you fuck, and you start asking yourself whether it wouldn’t be better to compromise rather than go on hurting people—that’s when hope and perseverance in the pursuit of chaste celibacy start to look pointless, foolish, and cruel.

I can’t plead this defense. It’s myself I want to spare: if other people suffer but I don’t know about it, I find I don’t actually care that much, but if I find out about it I’ll feel empathy for their pain, and that’s a nasty feeling that I want to stop; what’s more, I always thought of myself as a virtuous person, and if I just can’t be chaste then my ego doesn’t have to break. But there are others, both LGBT Christians and allies, for whom the fundamental problem really is one of what the morally best thing to do is in these wretched circumstances. And they deserve an answer.

I shrink from saying that the right answer is, always and for every person, to stick to your guns no matter the cost. The mysterious concession given to Naaman the Syrian seems inconsistent with that; and the Church does sometimes tolerate irregular situations, as being the best on a list of bad options—I think that’s partly what Amoris Lætitia was getting at.

Yet consider the martyrs. It’s hard to blame a man for apostatizing in under torture, especially if (as depicted in the novel and film Silence) others are being tormented to provoke his apostasy. But greater love hath no man than this, that he should lay down his life for his friends; and it is that greater love which we are challenged to practice. If the consequence of martyrdom is not too severe to change what the right thing is, what consequence possibly could be? To be sure, here I exercise myself in great matters, in things too high for me. But the interior martyrdom of a life lived in continual, acknowledged imperfection, the daily crucifixion of one’s sense of dignity and control … I’m starting to believe that that is what loving God and my neighbor might look like. It’s frightening. It’s humiliating. It’s also, somehow, exciting. I’ve said flippantly before that if the Church is the Bride of Christ, asceticism might be our BDSM; given how extreme and weird submission can get, I’m starting to think the analogy holds.

And what is this to you, gentle reader? I’ll tell you: the thing that has been most discouraging to me in my attempts at chastity has never been the shameful apathy of the hierarchy, the derision of non-Christians, nor even the malice of the homophobic. It’s been the decision made by friends of mine to surrender their beliefs, not out of intellectual analysis, but out of that pity which cannot bear to watch me or others suffer4; not because pity is a bad thing but because, when it’s separated from the commitment to truth at all costs, it isn’t a reliable thing. Such friends may well wish to support me in my convictions without sharing them—but when someone has more pity for me than loyalty to reality, it wounds my power to trust them. Because at that point, are we still pursuing the same work? And where will your pity draw the line? This is what Flannery O’Connor was talking about when she said Tenderness leads to the gas chamber.

If you want to show me love, show me the kind that helps me bear the suffering. Taking away the suffering isn’t always the answer. Any addict can tell you that.

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1The plaque here is a reference to the fumie, images of Christ or the Virgin used by the authorities in seventeenth-century Japan to test suspected Christians: those who showed reluctance to dishonor the image on the fumie outed themselves as the faithful, while those who trampled were accepted as apostate.
2Normal, because canon law discourages gay men from becoming priests (wisely or not, it does this in fact), and most lesbians and gay men aren’t likely to desire marriage to somebody of the opposite sex. There are exceptions; bisexuals are, naturally, in a partly different position regarding marriage; and trans and intersex people are in a still more difficult position no matter what validity we give or don’t give to trans identities.
3Constantino Khalaf, ‘Pious Promiscuity,’ Dave and Tino. I’ve edited it down to a manageable length, but to the best of my ability and knowledge, I’ve preserved Mr Khalaf’s meaning intact.
4I will not name names. Nor do I claim that all or most of those who adopt Side A beliefs do it for shabby reasons.

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