Collect

Preface for Maundy Thursday

It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto thee, O Lord, holy Father, almighty, everlasting God, through Jesus Christ our Lord; who for our sins was lifted high upon the Cross, that he might draw the whole world to himself; who by his suffering and death became the author of eternal salvation for all who put their trust in him.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Meditations for Holy Week 2018

✠ ✠ ✠


Palm Sunday
(Matthew 21.1-11, Mark 11.1-11, Luke 19.28-44, John 12.12-18)

Here is no continuing city, here is no abiding stay.
Ill the wind, ill the time, uncertain the profit, certain the danger.
O late late late, late is the time, late too late, and rotten the year;
Evil the wind, and bitter the sea, and grey the sky, grey grey grey.
O Thomas, return, Archbishop; return, return to France.
Return. Quickly. Quietly. Leave us to perish in quiet.
You come with applause, you come with rejoicing, but you come bringing death into Canterbury:
A doom on the house, a doom on yourself, a doom on the world.

We do not wish anything to happen.
Seven years we have lived quietly,
Succeeded in avoiding notice,
Living and partly living.
There have been oppression and luxury,
There have been poverty and license,
There has been minor injustice.
Yet we have gone on living,
Living and partly living.

—T. S. Eliot, Murder In the Cathedral

Fig Monday
(Matthew 21.12-22, Mark 11.12-26, Luke 19.45-48)

A shadow passed over Saruman’s face; then it went deathly white. Before he could conceal it, they saw through the mask the anguish of a mind in doubt, loathing to stay and dreading to leave its refuge. For a second he hesitated, and no one breathed. Then he spoke, and his voice was shrill and cold. Pride and hate were conquering him.

—J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

Temple Tuesday
(Matthew 21.23-26.2, Mark 11.27-13.37, Luke 20.1-21.38, John 12.19-50)

Professing only a moral union, they fled
from the new-spread bounty; they found a quarrel with the Empire
and the sustenance of Empire, with the ground of faith and earth,
the golden and rose-creamed flesh of the grand Ambiguity. [1]

Fast as they, the orthodox imagination
seized on the Roman polity; there, for a day,
beyond history, holding history at bay,
it established through the themes [2] of the Empire the condition of Christendom
and saw everywhere the manumission of grace into glory.
Beyond the line of ancient imperial shapes
it saw the Throne of primal order, the zone
of visionary powers, and almost (in a cloud) the face
of the only sublime Emperor; as John once
in Patmos, so then all the Empire in Byzantium:
the Acts of the Throne were borne by the speeding logothetes, [3]
and the earth flourished, hazel, corn, and vine. [4]

—Charles Williams, The Region of the Summer Stars, ‘Prelude’

Spy Wednesday
(Matthew 26.3-16, Mark 14.1-11, Luke 22.1-6)

If suddenly he should change his mind,
Tell the dark boy with copper hair
To go, to go,
And he went, lamenting, granting
His mercy from eyes like ruined planets—
Would the end of the world find him friendless?
Before God Glorified, he thought,
I shall stand,
And my knees knock from not kneeling.

Only his mother, he supposed, and one or two
With whom he had never been possessed,
Might say something to extenuate,
Might ask forgiveness for a fool’s despair.
But then, suddenly, he laughed,
Saying
The bars are all open in hell.

—Dunstan Thompson, Lament for the Sleepwalker, ‘Merciful God This is a Strange Reckoning’


Maundy Thursday
(Matthew 26.17-46, Mark 14.12-42, Luke 22.7-46, John 13.1-17.26)

And a woman spoke, saying, Tell us of pain.
And he said:
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.

Much of your pain is self-chosen.
It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.
Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility:
For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen,
And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.

—Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Good Friday
(Matthew 26.47-27.61, Mark 14.43-15.47, Luke 22.47-23.53, John 18.1-19.42)

Father was eighty years old now, and promptly at 8.45 each evening—an hour sooner than formerly—he would open the Bible, the signal for prayers, read one chapter, ask God’s blessing on us through the night, and by 9.15 be climbing the stairs to his bedroom. Tonight, however, the Prime Minister was to address the nation at 9.30. One question ached through all of Holland like a long-held breath: would there be war?

… Then the Prime Minister’s voice was speaking to us, sonorous and soothing. There would be no war. He had had assurances from high sources on both sides. Holland’s neutrality would be respected. It would be the Great War all over again. There was nothing to fear. Dutchmen were urged to remain calm and to—

The voice stopped. Betsie and I looked up, astonished. Father had snapped off the set and in his blue eyes was a fire we had never seen before.

‘It is wrong to give people hope when there is no hope,’ he said. ‘It is wrong to base faith upon wishes. There will be war. The Germans will attack and we will fall.’

He stamped on his cigar stub in the ashtray beside the radio and with it, it seemed, the anger too, for his voice grew gentle again. ‘Oh my dears, I am sorry for all Dutchmen now who do not know the power of God. For we will be beaten. But He will not.’

—Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place

Holy Saturday
(Matthew 27.62-66, Luke 23.54-56)

A voice came from beyond the river: ‘Do not do it.’

Instantly—I had been freezing cold till now—a wave of fire passed over me, even down to my numb feet. It was the voice of a god. Who should know better than I? A god’s voice had once shattered my whole life. They are not to be mistaken. It may well be that by trickery of priests men have sometimes taken a mortal’s voice for a god’s. But it will not work the other way. No one who hears a god’s voice takes it for a mortal’s.

‘Lord, who are you?’ said I.

‘Do not do it,’ said the god. ‘You cannot escape Ungit [5] by going to the deadlands, for she is there also. Die before you die. There is no chance after.’

‘Lord, I am Ungit.’

But there was no answer. And that is another thing about the voices of the gods; when once they have ceased, though it is only a heart-beat ago and the bright hard syllables, the heavy bars or mighty obelisks of sound, are still master in your ears, it is as if they had ceased a thousand years before, and to expect further utterance is like asking for an apple from a tree that fruited the day the world was made.

—C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces


Easter Sunday
(Matthew 28.1-8, Mark 16.1-20 [6], Luke 24.1-49, John 20.1-23)

A red-gold glow burst suddenly across the enchanted sky above them as an edge of dazzling sun appeared over the sill of the nearest window. The light hit both of their faces at the same time, so that Voldemort’s was suddenly a flaming blur. Harry heard the high voice shriek as he too yelled his best hope to the heavens, pointing Draco’s wand:

Avada Kedavra!

Expelliarmus!

The bang was like a cannon blast, and the golden flames that erupted between them, at the dead center of the circle they had been treading, marked the point where the spells collided. Harry saw Voldemort’s green jet meet his own spell, saw the Elder Wand fly high, dark against the sunrise, spinning across the enchanted ceiling … toward the master it would not kill, who had come to take full possession of it at last. …

One shivering second of silence, the shock of the moment suspended: and then the tumult broke around Harry as the screams and the cheers and the roars of the watchers rent the air. The fierce new sun dazzled the windows as they thundered toward him, and the first to reach him were Ron and Hermione, and it was their arms that were wrapped around him, their incomprehensible shouts that deafened him. Then Ginny, Neville, and Luna were there, and then all the Weasleys and Hagrid, and Kingsley and McGonagall and Flitwick and Sprout, and Harry could not hear a word that anyone was shouting, nor tell whose hands were seizing him, pulling him, trying to hug some part of him, hundreds of them pressing in, all of them determined to touch the Boy Who Lived, the reason it was over at last …

—J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

✠ ✠ ✠

[1] They here refers to the heretics of the first several centuries and particularly to the Gnostic and Nestorian heretics, whose beliefs refused either the fact or the fullness of the Incarnation (the grand Ambiguity of the two Natures, human and divine).
[2] In Byzantine terminology, a theme was roughly equivalent to a province.
[3] The office of logothete was an administrative role, originally applying to financial affairs and eventually extended to the civil service generally.
[4] The hazel in Williams’ poetry is typically cited because of its pedigree as a tool in magic (wands being by preference made of hazel), and thus by extension as a sign for transcendent and supernatural things generally; corn in contemporary British English could be used to signify grain in general, as opposed to maize in particular. Thus, hazel, corn, and vine could be understood as the spiritual, civil, and cultural aspects of the Empire, or as a trinal symbol of the Eucharist itself (spiritual power in combination with the grain and wine derived from corn and vine), or most probably both.
[5] In Till We Have Faces, Ungit is a pagan goddess of fertility, vaguely equivalent to Aphrodite, but more Sumerian in character, with a devouring aspect as well.
[6] Mark 16.1-9 are original to the Gospel. Mark 16.11-20 are more dubious, and seem to represent a redactor’s effort to harmonize the ending of Mark with the ending of Luke.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Review(ish): "Love, Simon" and "Geography Club"

Did they remain friends when they went back to school on Monday? Or did they immediately return to their respective social circles and continue ignoring each other? … If the kids show up to school on Monday and form a new clique that breaks down social barriers and challenges conventional high school’s idea of archetypes and popularity hierarchies, that makes The Breakfast Club a piece of shit movie. … We’d lose the realism and honesty that was present throughout all of The Breakfast Club’s non-weed-related moments. … The right ending would have the kids all going back to their own cliques, because that’s how you survive high school. The criminal goes back to being high and making fun of the brain, the princess goes back to ignoring everyone, and the jock continues doing whatever popular jocks do in high school. That ending makes The Breakfast Club heartbreaking and real and kind of a perfect movie. 
✠ ✠ ✠

I went to see Love, Simon today. As well-made gay movies so often do, it left me feeling really jumbled up inside—caught between liking the characters, empathizing with their angst, and feeling sorry for myself about not having what they have. [1]

The premise is straightforward: the Simon of the title is seventeen, has a generally happy and normal life, and a secret: he’s gay. He has been in the closet for four years, even to his closest friends. He starts trading anonymous e-mails with another gay teen [2] at his school, known only as Blue. He becomes more and more taken with Blue and desperate to find out who he is; but Simon is also still attempting to maintain his passing status, afraid of the social fallout of making his sexuality public. Then an acquaintance, Martin, finds out, and decides to try and blackmail Simon in exchange for a chance with Abby, a friend of his.

WARNING: HEREAFTER BE SPOILERS

The blackmail works, and Simon makes hay of the relationships of his friend group, trying to keep Abby available for Martin by redirecting another friend toward a different girl—who, unbeknownst to Simon, is in fact in love with him. When Abby turns Martin down after a very public, very dramatic declaration of love, he spitefully publishes proof of Simon’s homosexuality. Simon’s friends, on finding out about his lies and manipulation, desert him, and Blue, frightened by the sudden publicity, cuts off all contact with Simon. After a homophobic prank, however, Simon’s friends gradually decide to forgive him, and even Martin feels guilty and tries (with limited success) to make some amends. Finally, Simon finds the strength to accept the ways his life has changed, and sends the anonymous Blue a public invitation to meet him—which is, at the last moment, accepted.

It’s finely acted if formulaic. Nick Robinson (the lead) and Katherine Langford (of Thirteen Reasons Why fame) do particularly well, as do Tony Hale and Josh Duhamel. What I found interesting, though, was comparing and contrasting Love, Simon with a highly similar film that came out five years ago: Geography Club.

The plot reads like a bad plagiarism of Love, Simon, at least at the beginning. Russell, a teenage boy, is starting to think he’s gay and gets interested in an anonymous fellow student online. He and the guy eventually meet, and it turns out to be the quarterback, Kevin. The two share a kiss, which another student sees; she tries to get them involved in the Geography Club, which is in fact a clandestine LGBT support group (they chose the name because they thought it sounded so boring that nobody else would want to join). Russell does, while he and Kevin conduct a secret relationship. Russell and his best friend Gunnar, thanks to the former’s new status as a running back on the football team, even start dating two of the most coveted girls in the school. However, in order to stay on good footing with his teammates, Russell is forced to humiliate another member of the Geography Club, and gets thrown out. Then, when a double date with Gunnar seems to be getting sexual, Russell rejects his girlfriend’s advances, hurting her deeply and prompting the other girl to start spreading the rumor that he’s gay, and he and Gunnar argue over Russell ruining both dates. The other players force him off the football team over the gay rumor, Kevin included, and Russell is left completely isolated; until the kid he humiliated, understanding the pain of being an outcast, extends a friendly hand to him.

The Geography Club finally decides to go public. Kevin begs Russell to keep seeing him secretly, but Russell refuses. He and Gunnar make up, and do a parenting project together for a class. Russell outs himself decisively by attending the first open meeting of the re-formed LGBT club. Kevin almost goes as well, but can’t face the prospect of losing his place playing football, and passes by.

The structural parallels are obvious—and perhaps inevitable, given that high school stories are all but invariably social dramas, which, when dealing with queer issues, become more intense exponentially. But Geography Club’s handling of its material, if on a much lower budget, was to my mind far more inventive and realistic. Like the eponymous group, a film titled Geography Club is not likely to have a vast audience, at least not immediately (some films, like Clue, prove to be slow burns); and I must admit that there were some deliciously cringeworthy moments on the part of the adults in Love, Simon that its predecessor lacked.

But what Geography Club did so well was to present, not only in the character of Russell but in Kevin’s as well, the two distinct arcs of coming out to oneself and coming out to everybody else, and it depicted the possible consequences of the latter with much more force. Not because the consequences for Russell in Geography Club were worse than they were for Simon in Love, Simon, though they were; rather, the power came from how the consequences in the earlier film lasted, whereas the consequences in the later one were all swept away by the end. Geography Club has, on balance, a happy ending, but it’s a complicated and fairly realistic happy ending, and one that doesn’t involve Russell and Kevin riding off into the sunset together; which is almost literally how Love, Simon ends.

In Geography Club, there is moral development in each character, or the definite refusal to develop thanks to cowardice or vanity; Simon and Martin and the rest make choices in the later film, but we aren’t quite left with a sense that they’ve grown. Simon often expresses the fear that everything will be irrevocably different if he comes out, but nothing really is. And that isn’t a terrible message by any means—some people need to hear it; coming out is scary even when it doesn’t have to be—but it is also (in my opinion) a less interesting message than ‘Sometimes change is worth it.’

✠ ✠ ✠

[1] I don’t simply mean ‘a boyfriend’ here, though that’s certainly something I want. But whether sad or happy, what (nearly) all movies have in common is resolution, which life often lacks, at least while it’s being lived.
[2] To any LGBT teens who happen to be reading this, for the love of heaven, please do not think that trading e-mails with an anonymous person who might want to shag you is a good idea.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Rosary Meditations

‘Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.’ This he said, signifying what death he should die. 
—The Gospel According to Saint John, 12.xxxi-xxxiii
✠ ✠ ✠

The Crucifixion has been one of the principal focuses of Christian piety since the first century, and naturally so. St Paul’s mystical assertion of the Coïnherence set the tone, and the King James translation (to my mind) still captures it more vividly in English than any other I know: I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. The interanimation of our being with his, expressed in rare and exceptional cases by the Stigmata, is the principle of all Christian life.

The West has tended to accent identification with the suffering of the Cross. Various devotions to the Passion—the Stations of the Cross, meditations on the sorrows of the Virgin, the very use of the crucifix—are salient features of Latin Catholic piety. The East, by contrast, has tended to emphasize a different image: Christus Victor or ‘Christ the Conqueror,’ drawing on phrases of St Paul and especially of St John, the latter of whom in his Gospel depicts the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension as a single act of divine glory, which might rather be called the Exaltation. Neither image need (or, indeed, can) exclude the other; but different rites have different spiritual styles, and while this is a very good thing, it can lead to neglect of one image or the other.

The Anglican Use, though obviously about as Western as rites come in geographical terms, may bear some relation to the ancient rites of the East. [1] And there does seem to be a persistent tendency, if not to turn, yet at least to glance eastward, among Catholics of the English tradition; perhaps St Theodore of Canterbury [2] bequeathed it to us. In the spirit of the glance eastward, I’d like to suggest some Scriptural meditations for the mysteries of the Rosary, connecting them with the Exaltation seen as a single action.


The Joyful Mysteries

I. The Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary by Gabriel
- In the holy tabernacle I served before him; and so was I established in Zion: and I took root in an honorable people, even in the portion of the Lord’s inheritance.
- I shall put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; he shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
II. The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Elizabeth
- The temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his covenant.
- By the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people: insomuch that they brought the sick into the streets, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them.
III. The Nativity of the Lord Jesus Christ at Bethlehem
- The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us: and we beheld his glory.
- Behold, the Lord rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be shaken at his presence.
IV. The Presentation of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple
- Take thine only son, Isaac, whom thou lovest, and offer him for a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.
- There shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand as an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.
V. The Discovery of the Lord Jesus Christ in Jerusalem
- Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.
- As for that place wherein the ark is laid, it shall be unknown until the time that God gather his people again together, and receive them unto mercy.


The Luminous Mysteries

VI. The Baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Jordan
- Behold the lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world.
- As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
VII. The Miracle of the Lord Jesus Christ at Cana
- Jesus said unto her, ‘Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.’
- When the king saw Esther the queen standing in the court, she obtained favor in his sight: and the king held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand.
VIII. The Proclamation by the Lord Jesus Christ of the Kingdom
- This day this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.
- The night is far spent; the day is at hand. And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.
IX. The Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus Christ upon the Mountain
- Behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elijah: who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish in Jerusalem.
- I have resolved to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.
X. The Institution by the Lord Jesus Christ of the Eucharist
- Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son may also glorify thee: as thou hast given him power over all flesh.
- If then ye have been raised with Christ, set your minds on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.


The Sorrowful Mysteries

XI. The Agony of the Lord Jesus Christ in Gethsemane
- By night I sought him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not.
- Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none on earth I desire but thee.
XII. The Scourging of the Lord Jesus Christ at the Pillar
- My beloved is radiant and red, the chiefest among ten thousand.
- Lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.
XIII. The Crowning of the Lord Jesus Christ with Thorns
- Behold the king with the crown wherewith his mother crowned him on the day of his espousals, and on the day of the gladness of his heart.
- His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself; and he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood.
XIV. The Bearing by the Lord Jesus Christ of the Cross
- Who is this that cometh up out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense?
- Having despoiled principalities and powers, he made a spectacle of them openly, triumphing over them in his cross.
XV. The Crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ and his Death
- I sleep, but my heart is awake.
- As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.


The Glorious Mysteries

XVI. The Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the Dead
- He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto the Father.
- That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us.
XVII. The Ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ into Heaven
- Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ.
- Ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.
XVIII. The Descent of the Holy Paraclete Spirit upon the Cenacle
- He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, rivers of living water shall flow from him.
- I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. At that day ye shall know that I am in the Father, and ye in me, and I in you.
XIX. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven
- The Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.
- The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together, waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.
XX. The Crowning of the Blessed Virgin Mary the Theotokos
- I saw a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars upon her head.
- Christ is all and is in all.

✠ ✠ ✠

[1] Specifically: the Anglican Use (or Divine Worship as it is now officially called) derives from the Book of Common Prayer, the basis of all liturgies of the Church of England. The Book of Common Prayer was itself derived from the Sarum Use, the most illustrious of the several local forms of the Mass in Mediæval England (and which even influenced rites outside the Isles, as far off as Norway and Portugal). The Sarum Use is descended from the Gallican Rite, which is widely conjectured to be of ultimately Eastern antecedents: either directly, according to the once-popular Ephesine theory that it was brought to Lyons by St Irenæus from Ephesus, or indirectly, through the heterogeneous ancestry of the Ambrosian Rite used in Milan. This may sound far-fetched to a modern reader, but Eastern influence on the whole of the Church was far greater in the first few centuries; monasticism was the child of Egypt, yet rapidly spread as far afield as Ireland, and as late as the eighth century there was a long string of Greek and Syriac Popes.
[2] St Theodore was originally from Tarsus in Asia Minor, and served as the Archbishop of Canterbury from 668 to 690.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Compassion-Coäggression

Telling a Suffolk College employee No today when she asked if she could pray for me felt freeing. Now, I spend most of my day talking privately in my head to God, so it’s not like I’m anti-Christian or anti-prayer. But so many times in my life prayer has been used as spiritual manipulation. It’s one element among many that makes communal faith difficult to navigate. I refuse to give up my power to straight Christians. I refuse to be someone who needs condescension from caring Christians to belong.


—Abel Potter [1]

✠ ✠ ✠

Compassion is power. That, I think, is why it is so frequently resented.

Both evil and good qualities can hamstring Christian witness and kindness. Evil—in the forms of rudeness, judgmentalism, scandalous behavior, and whatever else—does so in a fairly straightforward way. But even good qualities can inhibit evangelism, more subtly; and Christians are not always to blame for this, but at any rate we can’t do anything (except pray) for the flaws of others, and flaws of our own we can and should work on.

The assertion that good behavior can be bad evangelism may seem paradoxical: yet paradox or not, it is as old as Christianity. Christ commanded his disciples quite definitely to do whatever the Pharisees said, on the ground that they sat in Moses’ seat. Charles Williams offers a key to the mystery:
The hypothesis was that there was operative within the Church the sacred and eternal reconciliation of all things, which the Church did not and could not deserve. The Church (it was early decided) was not an organization of sinless men but of sinful, not a union of adepts but of less than neophytes, not of illuminati but of those that sat in darkness. Nevertheless, it carried within it an energy not its own, and it knew what it believed about that energy. …

But this was not sufficient; there had to be a new self to go on the new way. … There are always three degrees of consciousness, all infinitely divisible: (i) the old self on the old way; (ii) the old self on the new way; (iii) the new self on the new way. The second group is the largest, at all times and in all places. It is the frequent result of romantic love. It forms, at any one moment, the greatest part of the visibility of the Church, and, at most moments, practically all of oneself that one can know, for the new self does not know itself. … [The old self on the new way] transfers its activities from itself as a center to its belief as a center. It uses its angers on behalf of its religion or its morals, and its greed, and its fear, and its pride. It operates on behalf of its notion of God as it originally operated on behalf of itself. [2]
The problem with the old self on the new way being that the gospel is not about improved behavior, but about a fundamental change in one’s being. Or, to use the word preferred by the Gospels, a change in life. And no amount of good behavior adds up to a fundamental change in being; that is why salvation is by grace, by the gratuitous infusion of the life of the Trinity, whose operations are invisible and do not come by obedience to the law, however good the law remains.

The phrase passive-aggressive is familiar enough, signifying a resentment and resistance that refuses to express itself in a direct, honest mode. The particular vice—or, more clearly, the particular damaging virtue—that I wish to address is what I dub compassion-coäggression. I believe it’s one of the chief temptations of compassion, precisely because compassion is power.

Compassion, i.e. love directed specifically toward those who are enduring some evil, is a very good thing. Where it gets ticklish is in the diversity of evils that people endure. Compassion for pain and suffering is fairly straightforward, and aims to alleviate it, by removing the source of the pain or at least accompanying the sufferer. Compassion for intellectual and moral evils, however, requires a degree of mutual coöperation in its activity, that the simpler forms of compassion need not involve; it is more susceptible to the various lusts for superiority. Even without (immediately) ceasing to be sincerely loving, compassion easily embraces an admixture of self-righteousness, preachiness, condescension—in a word, the desire to control—that is incompatible with love in the end. And control means enjoying something as an extension of oneself.

Christians have shown this ambivalent love for others throughout history; the story of European colonists evangelizing the Americas and Africa, for instance, reads like a nightmare. But Christian-LGBT relations are the example I know best, and a very pertinent one in contemporary culture, so I will use it as a basis for analyzing compassion-coäggression, and leave to you, gentle reader, to apply the pattern to others areas.

The rise of the gay rights movement, lying in the expansion of liberal, revolutionary, and utilitarian ideas of how society and the state should work, has naturally met with a cold reception among most Catholics. Here in North America, and in some other parts of the world, things are less frosty; but a glance at the Church’s support [3] for severely homophobic policies in parts of Africa shows how cruel Catholic responses to LGBT people can be. Yet there in the Catechism, plain as day, is the exhortation to treat LGBTs with respect, compassion, and sensitivity, and to avoid every sign of unjust discrimination. Are this commands simply being ignored?

Yes; and no. Yes, in the sense that anything worth calling respect, compassion, sensitivity, or avoiding discrimination seems markedly absent from the words of men like Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, who referred to homosexuality as ‘a perversion that is repulsive to normal human beings.’ Or Cardinal John Onaiyekan, who applauded a Nigerian bill placing further restrictions on LGBT freedoms, when same-sex intimacy was already illegal throughout the country and punishable by death in some parts of it. Or the illustrious Cardinal Robert Sarah, who compared ‘Western homosexuality’ to Nazism in its hostility to the Church. Or Archbishop Lewis Zeigler, who suggested that the outbreak of Ebola in his country might in part be divine punishment for homosexual behavior.

But no, in the sense that any amount of spiritual love can be practiced toward somebody who’s in the wrong, that doesn’t involve protecting them from any kind of harm. It would, of course, be outrageous and ridiculous to claim that any punishment is suitable for any offense; but without a definitive teaching from the Church on what respect, compassion, sensitivity, and unjust discrimination mean, there are several worlds of room in which to argue that there’s nothing respectful or compassionate about letting people sin, or that sensitivity can’t restrain us from speaking the truth, or that the prohibition on unjust discrimination doesn’t address the question of whether there’s such a thing as just discrimination.

And the problem with this kind of hypocrisy is, to the mind that is formed by it, it is completely plausible. Hypocrites are frequently not conscious frauds. The lie runs far deeper.
Jesus entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand. And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him. And he saith unto the man, that had the withered hand, Stand forth. And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace. And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored as whole as the other. And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him. [4]
If the Catholic doctrine of chastity is to have the slightest credibility with those outside the Church—still more importantly, if Catholics have the slightest desire to love queer people not with words or tongue, but with deeds and in truth—then the rights and dignity of LGBT people must, must, be pushed to the forefront: both in the hearts of those who state that doctrine, and in what they say in stating it. Otherwise, all such statements do is provide a veneer of compassion that conceals and rationalizes brutality.

The silent complicity of many Catholics in homophobic discrimination and even violence, whether here or abroad, is partly due to ignorance. How many people follow which bishops have made what statements on which legal proposals in sub-Saharan Africa? And of course, if you aren’t queer yourself or don’t travel in substantially queer circles, it’s easy to miss a lot of things that we take for granted. Even supposing that you live a life of unimpeachable chastity (you do, don’t you? the Catholic requirements are the same for everybody, it isn’t like it’s unfair), if you are a heterosexual and mostly know others who profess heterosexuality, you don’t need to decide whether to come out. You don’t get lectured about identifying with Christ if you say I’m straight. You don’t risk getting kicked out of the house by your parents and forbidden to be along with your siblings, as happened to a schoolmate of mine last month. You don’t have to deal with Catholic clerics and administrators saying they love straight people with one breath, and explaining that that’s consistent with firing them in the next. Which, in all seriousness, good for you. Because this stuff sucks.

But the silent complicity needs to end, through greater light and greater love. Ignorance is (or can be) an innocent thing, but it’s not a good thing; it is, among other dangerous possibilities, a favorite tool of the tyrant. [5] And not all of this complicity is innocent, nor is it all silent. Complacency, bigotry, fear, and malice form part of it too. Fessing up to that complicity is needed from Catholics, and apologies, too. Better information about LGBT people is needed, information gleaned from sources other than NARTH pamphlets and decades-expired studies. A clearer grasp of Catholic teaching is needed, one that classifies sins according to their real gravity and accents what Scripture and the Catechism actually accent. And above all, what is needed is a deeper love of our neighbor. We’re here, we’re queer: look at us, talk to us, show with your actions that you care about us.

At the evening of life, said St John of the Cross, we will be judged on our love. We’re here. Love.

✠ ✠ ✠

[1] His name and the name of the academic institution in question have been altered.
[2] He Came Down From Heaven, pp. 118-119.
[3] When I speak here of the Church’s support, I am speaking of the endorsement of local Catholics and their hierarchs. The Vatican itself very rarely comments on the laws of particular countries.
[4] Mark 3.1-6.
[5] I’m not calling the Catholic Church a tyrant here. I am much more afraid of the state, that being the body which imposes civil and criminal laws—like sodomy laws, for example.