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.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Fear and Trembling

An adherent of the Enlightenment, a very learned man, who had heard of the Rabbi of Berditchev, paid a visit to him in order to argue, as was his custom, with him, too, and to shatter his old-fashioned proofs of the truth of his faith. When he entered the Rabbi's room, he found him walking up and down with a book in his hand, rapt in thought. The Rabbi paid no attention to the new arrival. Suddenly he stopped, looked at him fleetingly, and said, 'But perhaps it is true after all.' The scholar tried in vain to collect himself -- his knees trembled, so terrible was the Rabbi to behold and so terrible his simple utterance to hear. But Rabbi Levi Yitschak now turned to face him and spoke quite calmly: 'My son, the great scholars of the Torah with whom you have argued wasted their words on you; as you departed you laughed at them. They were unable to lay God and his Kingdom on the table before you, and neither can I. But think, my son, perhaps it is true.' The exponent of the Enlightenment opposed him with all his strength; but this terrible 'perhaps' that echoed back at him time after time broke his resistance.

—Martin Buber, Werke [1]
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Trigger Warning: Suicidal Ideation

This was a tough post to write, and may be a tough post for some of you to read. However, if you’re going to read it then I beg you to read the whole thing. Each part of it is important to hold together with each other part.

You may have heard of Josh and Lolly Weed, a Mormon couple in a mixed-orientation marriage whose coming out post, ‘Club Unicorn,’ went viral about six years ago. This wasn’t a late-in-life gay identity epiphany or an ex-gay conversion therapy success story; Josh knew he was gay before he even met Lolly, he told her before they started dating, and he never claimed to be a straight man (or an ex-gay one, for that matter). A couple of weeks ago, they announced on their blog that they are getting divorced.

It’s an eloquent, heartbreaking piece. I admire the Weeds for their courage and honesty. And it left me physically shaking, and mentally shaking, too.

Some key excerpts from their (justly) lengthy post, ‘Turning a Unicorn Into a Bat.’
[Josh:] About three years ago, I finally saw how important it was to love myself, to truly love myself as a gay man. It happened when my dear friend Ben Shafer (who himself is straight) turned to me one day and said, ‘Josh, you realize your sexual orientation is beautiful, right? Not just tolerable. It’s beautiful …’ I could hardly even register what he was trying to say. … ‘But what about it being so obviously not what God or biology intended? I’ve just always believed that I was meant to be straight, and that God will fix me someday so that I fit in with the rest of His children. I’ve always believed I was a broken straight person …’ And it was as I said those last words that my therapist-brain kicked and listened to the words coming out of my mouth. And I was stunned. People who view themselves as fundamentally broken, I knew, are not healthy. What I had just said was not healthy. 
… That night I talked to Lolly and told her all Ben had said, still with a vein of skepticism. ‘Can you believe he said that?’ was the feeling behind my words. And she sat for a moment thinking, then said something that surprised us both. ‘Josh, Ben is right. You aren’t just a broken straight person. Your gayness is a part of who you are. And your sexual orientation is beautiful. You are as God intended you to be.’ Though we had never fully embraced these ideas as reality before, we felt the spirit confirm them powerfully in that moment. The truth of Lolly’s words rang in our bodies. … And we were suddenly able to see more clearly the pain that my sexual orientation brought to our marriage. It hurt us both very deeply, and we spent many long nights holding one another and weeping as we thought of the decades to come for us, neither of us experiencing real romantic love. 
… Probably the most motivating factor of all that got me to actually really consider what God had been telling us for a while was my recognition of my own internalized homophobia—the layers of disgust and self-loathing I felt for myself that I was in denial of—and the way that led to my own suicidal ideation. … Guys, my life was beautiful in every way. My children, my wife, my career, my friends. It was filled with so much joy. The things I talked about in my coming out post in 2012 weren’t false. The joy I felt was real! The love I felt was real, but something in me wanted to die. …

My suicidality was not connected to depression. That’s how my mind could hide it from me. With no context and no warning, I would occasionally be brushing my teeth or some such mundane task and then be broadsided with a gut-wrenching, vast emptiness I can’t put into words, that felt as deep as my marrow—and I would think in a panic ‘I’m only 37. I’m only 37. How can I last five more decades?’ That thought—the thought of having to live five more decades, would fill me with terror. It was inconceivable for a few moments. 
And then it would pass. 
But the other thing I hadn’t been looking at was something I read, with horror, in a text message I sent to a dear friend during my week in Jacksonville. By the time I read what I had sent, the denial had broken down. Lolly was sitting next to me, holding me as I wept, and I was reading these text messages to her, and it felt like reading the words of another person … The text I had sent one week earlier said: I have thought of putting a gun in my mouth more times than I can count. 
… Do you realize how wrong it is that I have had to face the following cost/benefit analysis: if I stay in my marriage then I won’t disrupt my daughters’ sense of continuity. But I also might take my own life. And if I did die, wouldn’t that end up being way worse for them in the long run …? Is it worth the risk? 
[Lolly:] For me, giving my whole heart to Josh while knowing that he did not love me the way a man loves a woman has always been devastating. We were best friends, but he never desired me, never adored me, never longed for me. People who read our previous post might be confused because we mention having a robust sex life. That was true. We put forth a lot of effort and were ‘mechanically’ good at sex—and it did help us to feel intimate, and for a time that did help us to feel content … Whenever he held me in his arms, it was with a love that was similar to the love of a brother to a sister. That does eventually take its toll on your self-esteem. No matter how much I knew ‘why’ he couldn’t respond to me in the ways a lover responds to a partner, it wears a person down, as if you’re not ‘good enough’ to be loved ‘in that way.’ 
… Almost everyone has said to me, with an air of protective emphasis, ‘Oh, but Lolly, you deserve to be loved in that way! You will find someone else who can love you like that. You deserve to love and be loved in that way!’ And I agree with them. … The thing that’s so interesting to me is how few people think of Josh in this way. How few people in his life have ever thought these things about him—things that are so obvious, so clear, so emphatic when talking to another straight person.

Christian, when you talk or think about sexual ethics, when you study and articulate and defend Catholic teaching on the subject, this needs to be held firmly before your eyes, too. Not only are you not speaking in a vacuum; not only are you speaking to human beings; you are speaking to loving, devout, perceptive people, who have spent time and thought and agony in trying to practice their beliefs faithfully and gained nothing from it but more anguish. It’s easy enough to rationally disapprove of the man who gets high and has unprotected sex with four complete strangers in the back room of a bar; it shouldn’t be so easy to turn that same disapproval against a man like Josh Weed. I don’t say it’s impossible to affirm Catholic doctrine in the face of this kind of testimony, but I do say that any affirmation of Catholic doctrine must acknowledge and grapple honestly with this kind of testimony, with the cost the doctrine imposes. If you refuse, you’re printing counterfeits.

Take time to think, actually think, about the effect of pious clich├ęs. ‘Just take it one day at a time’ is among my least favorite, because what it sounds like is: ‘It doesn’t matter that you’re lonely, because after all, you can survive as long as you don’t think about the fact that it isn’t likely to change.’ ‘We all have a cross to bear’ is, please note, not a quote from St Simon of Cyrene. ‘Your sexuality doesn’t define you’: well, no, but this isn’t about what defines people; it’s about whether they can be happy, healthy celibates if they don’t seem to be called to celibacy. And I’ve seen in the lives of others that relationships and marriage aren’t everything, sure, but masturbating into a sock while crying quietly still gets old after a while.

But what I think I hate the most is when people turn us into mascots. Those of us who are able to lead chaste lives as celibates are exceptional, for exactly the same reasons that chastely celibate heterosexuals are exceptional. And mixed-orientation marriages are very exceptional indeed, again for the same reasons that straight people getting into gay relationships, while it does happen (and adorably), is exceedingly rare. [2] Saying that so-and-so can do it, and therefore so can anybody, is not only a blatant error but a terribly cruel one. No two people enjoy identical circumstances, nor identical graces. Using the transparency of one person to shame or pressure another is hideous behavior.

If our religion is true, Catholic reader, then a lot of gay people have to lead lives of intense suffering. We need you to respect that.

For me personally—like I said, this post left me shaking for hours. I’m scared for myself, I’m scared for my gay brothers and sisters, I’m scared for my Church. I don’t know how to deal with this kind of thing: and as a self-appointed quasi-apologist, I need to say that, publicly and clearly. Anything less would be spiritual fraud.

About the most sense I can make of this experience is in something Pope Benedict wrote:
Both the believer and the unbeliever share, each in his own way, doubt and belief, if they do not hide from themselves and from the truth of their being. Neither can quite escape doubt or belief; for the one, faith is present against doubt; for the other, through doubt and in the form of doubt. … Perhaps in precisely this way doubt, which saves both sides from being shut up in their own worlds, could become the avenue of communication. It prevents both from enjoying complete self-satisfaction; it opens up the believer to the doubter and the doubter to the believer; for one, it is his share in the fate of the unbeliever; for the other, the form in which belief remains nevertheless a challenge to him. [3]
Note how ‘solving the problem’ is not at all what His Holiness tries to do here. Eliminating doubt isn’t his goal. Facing the truth is.

And to those of my LGBT readers who may be moved to write me words of instruction, urging me to slough off the unhealthy beliefs my Catholic faith has imposed upon me: please don’t. I’m not in a place where I can process that kind of thing. For all her warts, I love my mother the Church very deeply, and being unsettled about her is not merely unpleasant; it’s a shock to my sense of self. I need to spend my own time with that.

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[1] Though I admit I know the passage only through Benedict XVI’s Introduction to Christianity.

[2] Some people (of various orientations and philosophical alignments) insist that a single instance of erotic interest in the same sex should always be classified as bisexuality. I personally don’t find this a very helpful use of the term; falling in love outside of one’s normal attractions once doesn’t necessarily mean that you had been repressing your other attractions, nor that you are attracted to both sexes in general, &c. But I’m not deeply invested in the terminology here: the only distinction that I would want clearly made is that between people who are attracted to both sexes in general, and those who are generally attracted only to one sex but experience an exception.

[3] Also from Introduction to Christianity.


  1. It's surprising to me how light my cross has been, compared to how others suffer. I recently celebrated my 75th birthday, and I remarked that if my last 75 years are as good as my first 75, I'll be happy indeed. Why has celibacy in particular and homosexuality in general not been the heavy burden for me that it clearly is for you and so many others? I seriously wonder if it stems from a deficiency on my part. Am I unfeeling and unloving? There is evidence in other areas of my life to conclude. Maybe I'll answer for it in Purgatory. Certainly I don't deserve to have it easy while you suffer.

    While Simon of Cyrene didn't say that everyone has a cross to bear, in effect Jesus did. Mark 8:34 and parallels. Why is yours so heavy? I wish I could say. I wish I could even say that Jesus will be a Simon of Cyrene for you. I wish I could say something helpful for you. All I can say is that I think I understand, and I hope it will get better at some point.

  2. Many things should be said to this, of which the first is: Thank you. So many people can't, or won't, imagine the experiences of those whose needs and limits differ from theirs; your compassion is, truly, beautiful.

    Secondly, I doubt (almost refuse to believe) that the lightness of your cross—thanks be to God!—is a sign of some flaw in you. For one thing, just because a person is gay doesn't mean that's their principal cross, at least not as far as I know; for another, just because being gay hasn't been much of a cross for you doesn't mean you haven't borne your share of Christian suffering.

    I will conclude with: pray for us! Not only for me, but for all LGBT Catholics and indeed all LGBT people. Whatever else is true, we crave God's grace (even when we don't call it that or won't acknowledge it). Too few Catholics have a heart for us, other than a heart eager to impose its culture and its limits, as well as its truth, upon us. But God is not subject to such limits, so please, appeal to him for us.

  3. I am a long long long time reader. I'm a bisexual Catholic who lives in the South, in a house that would be equally hostile to the bisexuality and the Catholicism. And for me this has been more than a burden for me.

    My family would not approve of any same sex relationships, or even worse, religioning with the Pope! But whenever I discuss my sexuality with my Catholic friends their response is...disconcerting.

    Only have hetro relationships. Ignore your same-sex attractions and offer your suffering up for the souls in purgatory. That response in particular I found to be so callous it eventually broke me. I am in a same-sex relationship primarily because I was so sick of being told to suffer for others (IE stop telling me how much you're suffering, I don't care).

    So I understand fully what you're going through. You have my full support, my prayer and my unconditional love. Don't ever suffer in silence, tell us all. We're listening. And though we can't make your burden any lighter we can at least be here for you.

    I know this was rather rambling but this post got to me. Because few things irritate me quite as much as people's tendencies to dismiss suffering with platitudes. It finally broke me. I pray you remain strong.

  4. I'm sure many of us gay Catholics know this suffering all too well.

    Sometimes from the other side: I really would like to have a natural biological family, to be part of "the Grand Design" and easy default-assumption social scripts that way...but I just know I couldn't stomach a mixed-orientation marriage.

    Or rather, I just know that without the consolations and "foolish courage" provided by actual romantic love and erotic attraction...I just really don't have the *motivation* need to sustain myself through all the work (and it is work) and pain and awkwardness needed to, you know, establish that level of intimacy with someone. I'd start to just feel the suffocation so fast.

    And so sometimes I find myself wishing that I was just in a society where arranged marriages were the norm.

    But that brings me to my other thought which is about how this is, in the end, about social constructs. Many people are going to rip into Christian teaching like "See! Anything other than letting people have gay marriage is wrong and leads to misery!"

    And, in one sense, I understand that viscerally. I empathize complete with all the emotions, the idea "How can I go 50 or 60 more years like this?" and randomly thinking of killing myself for the dread and dissonance. I've thought and felt that too many times myself (though I've also felt it when my relationship with my Borderline commitment-phobic intimacy-sabotaging "ex-boyfriend" was not going well)...

    And yet...I know that this "necessity" of romantic love as the supreme meaning of life is a social/cultural construct and a rather late one. I remember reading an article once (I can't find it now!) about the nihilism of Seinfeld and Woody Allen and how sexual Romance was the last bastion of enchantment in the disenchanted universe and all this.

  5. can we ask people to live without enchantment? I mean, really. And yet, as Christians, we know that enchantment was NOT always limited to this sphere (which is why I was a bit angry at your articles about renouncing Christendom because to me Christendom and the medieval isn't about some notion of violently enforcing's about the fact that the world back then was Enchanted).

    Many of us, upon first converting, remember feeling that enchantment for a moment. But in modernity...well, it was not sustained consistently. It's like at the end of "The Man Who Was Thursday," when Sunday says "I sat in the darkness, where there is not any created thing, and to you I was only a voice commanding valour and an unnatural virtue. You heard the voice in the dark, and you never heard it again. The sun in heaven denied it, the earth and sky denied it, all human wisdom denied it. And when I met you in the daylight I denied it myself." We heard that voice in the dark once. But no matter how much we are intellectually religious or make acts of faith by sheer will...religious enchantment comes only in little snatches now. It is like this great civilizational Dark Night of the Soul. Some would say this means we don't "really" believe like the men of old did, in our bones.

    But some would say that makes our belief purer. Von Balthasar has a quote I love in "Razing the Bastions": "What a strangely new meaning for the Bride Church take on those words, once the object of so much commentary, from the Song of Songs: curremus in odorem unguentorum tuorum, now that the invisible fragrences of the Beloved now are scattered in the most worldly parts of the world and suddenly accost the unperceiving Bride as she hastens through uncharted places after the invisible One."

    For the Church to not have a sort of fundamental solidarity with Lovers is abominable. "Salt Lake City is for Lovers" said I sign I once posed with ironically (to apply this to Mormons specifically). This is probably why as an mostly celibate gay young-fogey...I also can't help but have this loyalty to the myth of Romance in music and in movies and TV and such. There is something fundamentally Catholic about it, in the way (don't get me wrong) there is something fundamentally Catholic about idolatry. By which I mean...woe to those who make bedfellows with the Atheists in their zeal to wipe out Idols (even if we admit their are wrong religions...if you fight wrong religion you can, all too quickly, find out you've wound up totally undermining religion period.)

  6. I liked Aaron Taylor's piece on Spiritual Friendship a long time ago about how Foucault's explication of how sexuality had come in our "confessional culture" to become THE "central truth about the person," in other words "Who we are." And who can ask anyone to not be who they are?

    And yet, looking at it, we know even just as honest is totally historically contingent. And yet, we can't escape it. Knowing the genealogy of how Sexual Orientation came to be constructed across history...doesn't make me any less gay. I can't deconstruct myself out of this social reality (maybe in a prison or on an island of all women or something...)

    So while I'm sometimes angry at the fundamentalists who seem to callously want me to just amputate my heart (even while their "heterosexuality" is just as compromised, and only sort of *accidentally* lines up with true human nature)...I'm also mad at, yanno, leftist decadence for making me this way in the first place (I'm no essentialist on this question, obviously; both those positions sort of are).

    And yet...what are we to do? We are, all of us, wrongly constituted. Not just the homosexuals, the heterosexuals too. Somehow, through some horrible path from the Renaissance, through the Reformation, through the Enlightenment, through the Revolutions, through that horrible 20th Century...we are all become wrongly constituted subjects who CANNOT be happy correctly.

    (My one warning to this poor Mormon fellow is that if he thinks gay marriage based on initial limerence is going to make him happy...well, all the miserable middle aged straight married couples I know of who "married for love" will tell him he has another thing coming...)

    What do we do? What do we advise? Sometimes I just want to cry and cry and cry.

  7. Hang in there. When the going gets tough the tough stick through it.

  8. Maybe "hang in there" is not the greatest metaphor for someone in a situation that increases the risk of suicide.

    1. Oh, I don't know that we need to be quite that scrupulous about a perfectly commonplace idiom? At any rate it didn't suggest anything unsavory to me.

    2. I agree with Gabriel. If I had wanted to be malicious, I would have used an idiom more akin to “It get’s better.” THAT phrase would surely increase the risk of suicidality. But there is no arguing with the devil, as Pope Francis says. He was the first grammarian - as writes the beloved St. Peter Damian. So really, nothing we say or do would be helpful, since he, Lord of the World, controls the show.

    3. I guess I was over sensitive because I work with suicidal patients.

      Glad to hear there's no cause for concern in this case.

  9. Gabriel, you and I have workplaces 3 blocks apart. If it helps, I'd be glad to listen over coffee someday. (I was reared Catholic --12 years parochial school--in the old days.)