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.

Friday, February 23, 2018

"Christ's Body, Christ's Wounds"

Now every time that I look at myself 
“I thought I told you, this world is not for you”
The room is on fire as she’s fixing her hair
“You sound so angry, just calm down, you found me”
I said please don’t slow me down if I’m going too fast
—Julian Casablancas
, “Reptilia,” Room on Fire

Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.
—St Paul the Apostle
, Letter to the Colossians
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About a year and a half ago, Fr Mike Schmitz, who’s pretty much a bundle of boyish energy in a Roman collar, gave a talk at Steubenville about same-sex attraction. I’m going to critique it in certain ways, but I want first to say that it is head and shoulders above the majority of orthodox Catholic sources I’ve ever encountered on the subject. For instance, he opens by boldly rejecting the idea that Catholics should tolerate gay people, because tolerance is something you do at others, and gay people belong in the Church just like straight people; he says repeatedly that “It’s not about Them, it’s about Us.” He (occasionally) uses the word gay, without going into hysterics about possible cultural implications. He even goes as far as to distinguish within same-sex relationships between the illicit sexual element, if there is one, and the love that is not only permissible but beautiful, without immediately emptying it by wittering about scandal.

One of the shortcomings of the talk—if a natural one, as he’s primarily a Catholic explaining Catholic doctrine to Catholics, rather than a Catholic defending Catholic doctrine to non-Catholics—is that, though drawing an important connection between the nature of a thing, its purpose, and how it is used, Fr Schmitz fails to give a satisfying template for how to determine the natures and purposes of things and for determining which uses are legitimate. [1] He addresses the fear of loneliness with his characteristic goofiness, which unfortunately suggests an absence of empathy rather than its presence: his style here clashes with his substance. More seriously, Fr Schmitz also presents a much sunnier picture of the Church than most people actually experience; he fails to address the fact that pious Catholics and clergy (which is what most people mean by the Church, consciously or not) hurt an awful lot of people by their sins, by bad advice, even by well-meaning deeds and words insensitively offered. A little ironically, the only kind of homophobia he speaks about is internalized homophobia.

These are symptomatic of a broader and more serious flaw, typical of devout young Catholics: naïvety. [2] A natural fault, an excusable one, but one that’s still capable of doing immense damage when people are naïve and don’t realize it. (Incidentally, the only people I can think of who are naturally naïve and do realize it are children, which may give a new layer of meaning to the command to enter the Kingdom of Heaven as little children.) It nearly killed me and my ex-boyfriend. There may be a way to get past being naïve without having your heart broken and bleeding; but I don’t know what it is. The only thing I know is that naïvety has to be broken, in each person.

I recently had a poem published in a collection assembled by Eve Tushnet, titled Christ’s Body, Christ’s Wounds: Staying Catholic When You’ve Been Hurt in the Church. This collection is precisely about the destruction of naïvety, via the nastier side of actual Catholic practice that Fr Schmitz fails to speak to: refused vocations, contempt for disabilities, molestation, homophobia, heresy, backbiting, financial corruption, cold-shouldering large families. All things that Catholic doctrine rightly disclaims, and that Catholic people most certainly do anyway—even if they call it “concerns about your Marian devotion” or “such a small percentage of the congregation,” “a matter we’re pursuing with the utmost attention” or “I don’t think you’re considering the possible scandal of your behavior,” “an outdated approach to penance” or “sharing an urgent prayer request,” “We prefer not to discuss why Father So-and-so was removed” or “It just isn’t respectful to the liturgy when they make so much noise.” Pretending that this stuff doesn’t happen is coöperating in spiritual abuse.

And no, that doesn’t mean that you have to believe every accusation and complaint, in advance of all evidence; but it does mean that you can’t reflexively dismiss such things without investigating them. Certainly not if you work in a pastoral capacity. It is a shepherd’s job to protect the sheep from wolves, and when the lambs start bleating for help, the shepherd’s instinct should not be to tell them to shut up. Nor should it be to assume that he already knows what they need. It should be to go find out.

I can’t really speak to the experiences of others (hence the importance of a book like Christ’s Body, Christ’s Wounds with its variety of testimony), but the Church’s pastoral failure in this regard is blatant in the case of the LGBT community. The scandalously milk-and-water profession of sympathy from our national bishops’ conference after the Pulse massacre, which happened just two months before Fr Schmitz gave this talk (and which he also failed to mention), is just one example of the mass refusal of Catholic clergy to deal seriously with homophobic behavior, whether among her members or in the world at large. Rehearsals of her teaching that gay people should be treated with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” are appropriate, but without effective action they ring completely hollow. Even if the argument that they don’t want to give scandal by seeming to approve of homosexuality weren’t despicable—which it is—it would still be flat-out wrong, because if you embrace Catholic teaching then you need to embrace respect and sensitivity towards LGBT people just as much as we need to embrace chastity; and if you’re worried about credibility, proving by your actions that you care about gay people is a lot more convincing than vociferously avoiding any appearance of sympathy.

I know I write about this topic a lot. Some of my readers are probably bored of hearing about it. I’m not totally thrilled myself. But I write about it because we, the gay community, don’t get days off. We don’t get to not think about it. And while I’m still a Catholic because I’m stubborn as a mule, I know Catholics who’ve abandoned churchgoing, or even their faith as such, because they couldn’t face going back to a mother that keeps hitting them and then lying about it.

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[1] This doesn’t necessarily mean he’s wrong, nor that such a template couldn’t be constructed; it just means that his analysis isn’t complete for every purpose.
[2] I specifically say naïvety and not innocence—a lovely word which we have spoilt. Innocence means, primarily, an absence (or more positive refusal) of corruption. Naïvety, on the other hand, connotes an immature simplicity of mind, a failure to draw fine distinctions between and within good and evil, or to recognize the importance of doing so. Either can exist without the other, though cynical people (who are usually naïve, however negative) habitually identify them.

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