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.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Queer Identity, Part I: To Be, Or To Be?

In the wake of the column of mine published in Crisis recently, and of the comments -- and also of this piece by Brandon Ambrosino at New Republic, which has inspired a rather unpleasant and, in my opinion, unfair backlash; and this very nice and sensible piece by Elizabeth Scalia on First Things, also in response to the Ruse controversy -- I thought I'd do a series on gay identity. Discussions of LGBT rights in the civil sphere, our role in the Church, what language to use, &c., do seem to come back and back to this. Hitherto I haven't talked much about it, except as it was related to other subjects, but it has reasserted itself with such remorseless persistence that there doesn't seem to be anything to do but tackle the matter direct.

Leech Seed probably wouldn't work in this situation anyway, and only fools use Growl. 

The statement "I'm gay" gets a multitude of responses from Christians in my experience (Catholics particularly). "I know" was the most unexpected reply, and rather anticlimactic for me, since I'd spent a couple of days psyching myself up to have the conversation with that person in the first place. "Are you sure you're not just confused?" struck me as the stupidest, though in fairness my reply then was even stupider. "Congratulations" was fairly confusing -- I mean, even without my beliefs, it's never easy to be a member of a minority, sexual or otherwise. "First of all, you're not gay," delivered once in the confessional, was the most exasperating, though I understand the motivation behind it a good deal better now than I did. My favorite was the friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) who said "No you're not," and began arguing with me that I was clearly straight; my second favorite was probably another friend who took a couple of steps away from me and then started making gay jokes within five minutes. Suave, that one.

It's tempting to begin with the terminology, not least because it's the most obviously labyrinthine aspect of the movement (except for the people who are into polyamory). However, I take that to be a false start. There's only so much good to be had out of knowing what to call something if you don't know what the something is -- the only catch being, of course, that you have to call it something in the meantime.

However. I think we can circumvent that for my purposes here. What I'm discussing is, in substance, but in a less formal style, the same thing that Ron Belgau has already written about here on Spiritual Friendship, and a perennial theme of the gay Christian movement: does the word "gay" imply a particular understanding of gayness -- or rather, and more particularly, is gayness inborn, immutable, and part of who someone is so intimately that we are a different kind of thing from straight people? In other words, is the difference between a gay man and a straight man as essential and inseparable from their personhood as the difference between a straight man and a straight woman?

Hopefully with this many symbols we can make it through however many orientations there are.

I don't believe that it is, and I don't really see a case to do so. Here's why.

1. The Catholic Church teaches otherwise. The only essential difference that the Church recognizes among human beings is that between men and women. So far as I know, this teaching has not been given the stamp of infallibility, and it'd surprise me a little if it had -- I mean, the question was chiefly raised within the last several decades; the Church rarely defines anything so rapidly. But I digress. So far as I know, the teaching that sex proper -- i.e., male and female -- is the only part of sexuality that actually constitutes part of a person's intrinsic identity, has not been declared with the Church's full authority. But that doesn't mean we should casually ignore it. Indeed, looking at the matter with detachment, we could just as easily ask whether such a recently coined concept as sexual orientation deserves the place that postmodern Western culture (and it alone) is inclined to bestow upon it. Of course, not all Christians, let alone everyone everywhere, accepts that the Catholic Church is infallible in the first instance; but whatever weight the Church's voice does have falls squarely on the side of regarding gayness as solely an attribute of a person, not as their essence.

2. Sexuality, like many things, can be fluid. Not only do people engage in sexual activity with people not of their preferred gender, and pretty regularly (think of straight men engaging in homosexual sex in prison or, once upon a time, at sea), but there are also people who experience shifts in which gender they prefer, sexually and emotionally. This does not happen to everyone, nor does it necessarily happen for similar reasons in every case; and it is not useful evidence to support the idea that therapeutic or medical techniques can change orientation, because the fact that change can happen doesn't mean it can be compelled -- it doesn't even mean it can be deliberately encouraged. But it does sometimes happen, in one way or another, to one degree or another; and if the idea of gayness being intrinsic were true, it seems as though it ought to be impossible.*

3. It isn't necessary. Ockham's Razor states that "It is vain to do with many entities what can be done with fewer"; or, in a more modern rephrasing, "The simplest explanation is probably the correct one"; or, in my father's rephrasing, "Don't make shit up." The idea that gay people are a different kind of thing from straight people simply isn't needed to explain the facts. All that's needed is a difference in dispositions and sexual interests, and God knows we have no shortage of those. I mean, we're on the internet here.

Where this happens.**

However, being an attribute rather than an essence doesn't mean that something is unimportant. It doesn't even mean that that attribute isn't an authentic expression of your personality, or that it doesn't have a right to be part of your sense of self. Now, sense of self is a little bit different from identity -- it's something more like our picture of ourselves, or the story we tell ourselves about ourselves, where identity is the bedrock reality that we're trying to depict or talk about when we come up with such pictures and stories. There's more (and less) to our sense of self than our identity, because our sense of self is our perspective on who we are, grounded in an identity that we know imperfectly, and bound up with all of the decisions and relationships and external events that make up our own history. Relationships especially. For human beings always exist in relationship to other people. I believe it was Pope Benedict who said that the doctrine of the Trinity is precisely a doctrine that God exists in relationship, and indeed, as relationship.

So I think we can say "I'm gay" as Christians, insofar as we mean, "This is one aspect of my sense of self; this is one of the things that dictates how I relate to people; this is a part of my experience as a human being." The word gay isn't central to such an affirmation, which everyone would have to put in language that was relevant and rational from their own perspective, naturally; I don't care if someone prefers anything from same-sex attracted to androphile.*** I'll deal with that in more detail in my next. 

What is central is dealing honestly with one's experience as a human being. For every other virtue, deprived of honesty, will ultimately fail. Without a commitment to truthfully and authentically facing the facts, the mind and the spirit have nothing to rest on.

*There are probably varieties of "essentialism" (a term I use for lack of knowing a better one) that are willing to make room for these fluctuations in orientation, perhaps by expanding the category of bisexuality, or by appealing to the potential for repression and denial. However, the APA accepts the reality of sexual fluidity even as it actively discourages reparative therapy; and the fluidity of sexual orientation was a commonplace to prominent sexologists of the twentieth century, such as Sigmund Freud and Alfred Kinsey.

**xkcd 262. "Hey, at least I ran out of staples."

***Actually I find the word androphile quite euphonious, and it's more correct linguistically than homosexual, which is compounded of Greek and Latin roots. But of course the suffix makes it a sadly unattractive term.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Music: Florence + the Machine, and Some Other Stuff

I've been getting traffic from some new places since Crisis published my column, so if you're new to Mudblood Catholic, welcome! To get an idea of the place, I recommend any or all of these posts (or you can root through the Warning Labels to your right):

Raw Tact, Part V: Shrieking the Truth in Love, about the problems with some of the ways we as Christians habitually talk to gay-identified people.

An Appendix to Raw Tact, my most-read post, discussing a Catholic view of what homophobia is (and whether it exists in the first place).

Why Not Ex-Gay?, Part II and Part III, discussing the reasons I've taken a gay Catholic approach rather than seeking reparative therapy through NARTH or some such.

And Mudblood Catholic, Mark II, the point at which I kind of reinvented the blog, and in doing so summarized what I chiefly want to do here.

Finally, though it has nothing to do with the above, this song is amazing (and it always makes me think of God):

Friday, January 24, 2014

My Column at Crisis

I don't know if this counts as a reblog, but a week or two ago I wrote a column in the wake of Ruse's first two pieces at Crisis, and the magazine has now published it. I was puzzled and disappointed by the alterations they made to the first paragraph, which ruined a simile and destroyed one of the Scriptural allusions I made; but the substance is unaltered, and that's the important thing. And -- hey, for the first time ever, I am a published author and can convincingly pretend to be a grown-up.

The New Homophiles: An Incomplete Apologia

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Triple Reblog Score!

I have read a little brace of blog posts recently that I found quite excellent and should like to share with you all.

First, there is 10 Things We Wish Our Church Family Knew, from the recently minted blog A Queer Calling, by a celibate couple of my acquaintance. Side B relationships, as they have been nicknamed by the Gay Christian Network, are same-sex partnerships that don't include sex. If that idea breaks your brain, fascinates you, or whatever, read their blog!

Second, I have long been embarrassed by my more or less total ignorance of transgender issues. I don't know what to think, I don't know what the Church thinks, or whether she thinks anything specific as yet -- no formal definitive statements have been made on the subject (though it has been touched on, and naturally the soldiers of the kulturkampf have expressed their views in the strongest possible terms, because the internet). However, Aaron Taylor, a contributor to Spiritual Friendship and Ethika Politika, recently put up this blog post by a transgendered Catholic, discussing exactly the subject of what the Church thinks on this subject. Admittedly the answer is "We're not sure yet," but she puts it way better than that and deals intelligently with objections to that answer -- and, in a rare move for a blogger, cites her sources. Dang.

Third (one of these things is not like the others), there is this delightful rant from Cole Webb Harter, author of The Andalusian Peafowl. (No, I have no idea why it's called that.) He touches on a lot of my own pet peeves about contemporary Christian art, those pet peeves mostly being about how shitty it usually is, in pretty much every medium. When art has to be clean and nice, have a happy ending, have a respectable moral, &c., to be considered Christian, saccharine sentimentalism is more or less bound to trump not only honesty but even good craftsmanship.

Monday, January 20, 2014

To Bear Wrongs Pridefully

A mild sensation seems to be continuing at Crisis, which I have touched on here and here. I'm surprised that a group of people saying things that I had taken to be odd, but essentially unremarkable, have provoked such forceful repudiations from some of the commenters. Anybody would think we were comparing God to an unjust judge or advising men to make friends for themselves by unrighteous mammon.

Of course, it's easy to snark, particularly from the relative safety of my own blog. I am pretty reluctant to suppress comments, and I do have to read them first, but it doesn't seem like most of the more vocal segment of readers there are likely to come and read anything over here, so I doubt I will have to grapple with accusations of narcissism (which are kind of justified) and collusion with Satan (which, I think I can say without undue prejudice, do not seem to me to be altogether justified).

Gay Catholic self-portrait.

But snark, however enjoyable, is also fundamentally unproductive. I mean, you usually only enjoy snark when it's coming from your own side. Insofar as what I want is reconciliation between ... I don't know, I guess I have to call them conservative Catholics even though that term is horribly vague, and the little movement (?) of which I'm a part -- anyway, insofar as I want reconciliation between these two groups, snark is, in the long run, counterproductive. Or at least, that is the risk latent in it.

Because of course the thing that makes snark fun is "scoring" off one's opponents. Which situates it firmly in the conflict paradigm, and I'm not keen on that. There are circumstances in which it can be carried out respectfully and even with mutual enjoyment -- a lot of my friends are people that I can, so to speak, verbally roughhouse with, because we have a fundamental respect for one another that allows us to know that it's only joking. Indeed, I tend to suspect that, at least among most males, the instinct for verbal roughhousing is fundamentally similar to -- if not the same as -- the instinct for physical roughhousing.

But of course the line between roughhousing and fighting can be a fine one, even though they are extremely different, and can be felt from within to be different. Likewise, the line between friendly smartassery and downright quarreling can be a fine one. And friendly smartassery between strangers is next to impossible.

Quarreling with a stranger, however, is easy and fun.

Look how much fun they're having.

It's easy to feel better than a faceless collection of sentences you don't agree with, because you can concoct any explanation you like, and we often do without even realizing it.

Now, this is supposed to be the part where I lecture people about not judging and how we need to make space for gay people in the Church and so forth, and all of that is true. But I can't actually write the lecture, because I keep coming upon layer after layer of self-congratulation for doing it, and that's exactly the kind of pride I was aiming to rebuke in the first place. Hell, I'm congratulating myself for writing this paragraph.* Pride is the hardiest of all sins, because it feeds on our strong points rather than our weak ones, and the good things we do, or attempt to do, or even think of doing, are occasions for it.

In a weird way, I'm kind of glad that my friends and I are being vilified by devout brethren. I'm not glad of it for its own sake, or because of some imagined martyrdom; we're not important enough for the latter, and the former would be grotesque. A number of the things that have been said about me are deserved, but I can take no pleasure and see no justice in the accusations and attacks that have been launched at a group of men and women whose writings and friendship have been to me like water in the desert. Nor, since I consider these attacks to come from a grave misunderstanding and misjudgment of the situation, can I be glad of what I take to be serious flaws in the perspective of the people who are thus maligning us so severely.** But it's situations like this that show us what we're made of. When put to it, can we respond to misunderstanding and even hostility with grace, joy, hope, and patience? Or do we hit back?

My conscience is not altogether clear on that issue. I am committed to pacifism, not just in the sense of refusing to be involved in warfare, but in the sense of maintaining the firm conviction that reconciliation, forgiveness, and (if necessary) bearing the wrongs of others, are better than any kind of hitting back -- whether physical, verbal, or even in the privacy of my own mind. I can't say I've lived up to that in this controversy, and I want to. Unpleasant and even hurtful though they may be to endure, these situations -- which I still hope are predominantly the fruit of misunderstanding, not malice -- give us a chance to find out exactly where we are spiritually, and to try for a higher place. And, more importantly, to pray for the grace needed to get there and like it. Heaven, said C. S. Lewis, is an acquired taste.

*I don't know how much irony it'll take before my ego just collapses in on itself and starts absorbing all matter, energy, and light that comes within a few inches of my head, but it can't be much more than this.

**I ought to clarify here that I am not talking about Mr. Ruse himself. I admit I'm extremely dissatisfied with his take on our writings, and I don't feel that he's made an adequate case for his objections; but he has by no means given us the appalling language that some of the commenters at Crisis have seen fit to use.

Friday, January 17, 2014

John 1.29-34

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, 'After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.' I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel." And John bore witness: "I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God."

But through the water pale and thin
Still shine the unoffending feet
And there above the painter set
The Father and the Paraclete.
-- Mr. Eliot's Sunday Morning Service, ll. 13-16

The mention of the next day here sets up an interesting sequence, extending through the miracle at Cana in the second chapter. Taken with the other mentions of day intervals (vv. 35, 43, 2.1), we get a total of seven days, from the original testimony of St. John the Baptist until the changing of the water into wine. This, like the prologue, suggests the seven days of creation in Genesis 1, and the references here to the Holy Ghost in baptism thus hark back to the mention of the Spirit of God hovering -- or brooding, like a bird -- over the face of the deep. The theme that Jesus is the inaugurator and agent of a new creation is yet another recurring motif in John.

This encounter between Jesus and the Baptist is one of the few events that is addressed in all four Gospels. Unlike the Synoptics, John records a description from the Baptist, rather than describing the event itself. Why this should be so is hard to know for certain. It is possible that the evangelist wanted to focus primarily on outside testimony to Jesus for a little longer, before passing on to those words and actions that would speak for themselves about Him; it is also possible, on analogy with 7.39, the author wanted to emphasize the distinction between Jesus' baptismal anointing and the outpouring of the Spirit upon the Church in general that would succeed it (and, for that matter, the ordination of the Apostles to the ministry of absolution, recorded in 20.21-23).

The phrase "the Lamb of God" is a vital one for understanding not only the Gospel, but the whole Johannine corpus (even if the three letters and the Apocalypse are not by the same author as the Gospel). The lamb was, of course, an eminent sacrificial animal in the Levitical system, though other animals and various vegetable offerings were also employed. Its use in the Passover was older than the Temple or even the Tabernacle, going back to the Exodus itself, the primitive moment of definition for the people of Israel. Saint John the Baptist's use of this phrase, recorded by none of the Synoptics, fits into the evangelist's emphasis upon the significance of the Baptist's ministry: he points beyond himself, and his baptism points beyond itself, to Christ as the one who truly and finally delivers from sin. As we shall see later, the Gospel of John implies that the Crucifixion took place at the very time when the lambs were being slaughtered to provide the meal for the Passover feast.

Man, God is kinda metal sometimes.

The mention that "he was before me," i.e. existed before I did, is rather intriguing. Jesus is never presented as ignorant in the Gospel of John, but most of the other characters are; here, however, we find the only human witness to the eternity of the Son apart from Jesus Himself, or at any rate the only one before the Passion and Resurrection. Every other hint of the Son's Deity comes either from Himself, or from some unwitting double entendre on the part of His disciples, the crowds, or the Pharisees and Sadducees, but this passage suggests that John the Baptist already knew it -- or, rather, recognized it at the descent of the Dove upon Jesus.

The descent of the Spirit here is slightly odd. If Jesus was God, then why did the Spirit need to descend upon Him at all? However, I think this is adequately explained by the same theological fact that explains His decision to be baptized: namely, His deliberate submission to the conditions of full humanity. Saint Paul addresses this in the famous hymn in Philippians 2:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus [other translations read "which was also in Christ Jesus"], who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

The Church after Him would be animated and empowered by the Holy Ghost rather than by its native spiritual faculties; or, to put it more exactly, the Holy Ghost would become the driving force both within and above those faculties ("not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by the taking of the Manhood into God"). Therefore, as our pioneer and example, He chose to submit Himself to the same limitations and to make use of the same economy of the Spirit.

To make use of His Divinity "in His own right," so to speak, would, I think, even have frustrated one of the purposes for which He became incarnate in the first place. He might well have had a human soul, but to perform miracles and prophesy and all the rest through His own divine Person, rather than in the Person of the Spirit, would have drawn too close to the Apollinarian or Eutychian heresies -- the beliefs that He had no human soul but that the divine Logos replaced it, or that His Divine and human natures were so fused as to be a third kind of thing. This may sound like a mere abstraction, but it is dead practical. For in that case, His actual experience of humanity, from a spiritual and psychological perspective, would have been effectively destroyed. Dorothy Sayers addresses the practical challenge of these heresies in her essay, Creed or Chaos?:

God and man at the same time, in every respect and completely; God from eternity to eternity and from the womb to the grave, a man also from the womb to the grave and now.

"That," replies John Doe, "is all very well, but it leaves me cold. Because, if He was God all the time, He must have known that His sufferings and death and so on wouldn't last, and He could have stopped them by a miracle if He had liked, so His pretending to be an ordinary man was nothing but playacting." And Jane Doe adds, "You can't call a person 'altogether man' if He was God and didn't want to do anything wrong. It was easy enough for Him to be good, but it's not at all the same thing for me. How about all that temptation stuff? Playacting again. It doesn't help me to live what you call a Christian life."

John and Jane are now on the way to becoming convinced Apollinarians, a fact which, however interesting to theologians, has a distinct relevance also to the lives of those average men, since they propose, on the strength of it, to dismiss Christian principles as impracticable. There is no help for it. We must insist upon Christ's possession of a reasonable soul as well as human flesh; we must admit the human limitations of knowledge and intellect; we must take a hint from Christ Himself and suggest that miracles belong to the Son of Man as well as to the Son of God; we must posit a human will liable to temptation; and we must be quite firm about "equal to the Father as touching His Godhead and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood." Complicated as the theology is, the average man has walked straight into the heart of the Athanasian Creed, and we are bound to follow.

According to legend, Saint Nicholas here straight-up clocked a dude in the face for teaching heresy. Considering 
that he sneaks into your house every year, this also can be regarded as a truth having practical application.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Two Bits of News

After some thought and prayer, I have elected to change my Trollslaying Policy. I had originally hoped -- though I didn't know whether I'd have the guts to stick to it -- never to ban anyone, but only to suppress individual comments if they seemed too awful. However, I have found through experience that I don't in fact have the guts to carry that out. Negative comments can really get to you, which is funny since they're from strangers and this is after all the internet, and that means expending a lot of energy in processing them; and the brute fact is that I need that energy to do other things, like sleep and not be cripplingly depressed. The updated policy, which I hope I will not resort to again, is already posted on the sidebar.

Also, I recently got the copy of Melinda Selmys' Sexual Authenticity: More Reflections, a follow-up to her first book, and HOLY CRAP YOU GUYS MELINDA SELMYS QUOTED ME IN HER BOOK!

This I'm rather pleased about. Review to follow. Eve Tushnet, whose approach seems to be markedly different from mine or Melinda's -- I loved the first one, which didn't work for her -- has already written a review, which can be found here.

Review to follow when it'll consist of me doing something other than post photos like this one like twenty times.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Felix Culpa

I have been sick as a dog the past two days. It started with a headache Wednesday night, and then suddenly turned into my eyes burning like Saint Lawrence's gridiron and a hacking cough that made my lungs feel like someone was rudely dragging a morningstar through them.

What did I ever do to you, Gogo?

Originally I had been planning to spend the weekend with a friend of mine, but when it started hurting to move, we agreed it was probably better to postpone it. It so happened that he had a number of family and household issues to attend to, and my sister, whom we had been planning to meet up with, couldn't make it this weekend owing to the recent minting of my youngest nephew. The postponement meant he could deal with Things, and my sister would be able to meet with us after all, and I wouldn't infect them both with a cold that apparently thinks I slept with its wife and killed its dog. The timing, therefore, though not perhaps the fact, of my being ill seemed -- if I can say it without sounding like (or being) a Sentimental Christian Blogger (TM) -- providential.

This drew my mind back to the articles (here and here) that Austin Ruse has been writing for Crisis on our little movement; or rather, to the comments. (Related: never read the comments.) Many of the commenters have railed against any and all notion that gayness -- that is, the tendency to be attracted to the same sex rather than the opposite sex -- is in any sense good or even salvageable; that anything worthwhile can be gleaned from it; that any response to it is acceptable other than disgust, concealment, or (at best) pity.

Now, I start from the same premises of Catholic doctrine as the majority of these commenters: namely, that same-sex sexual desire is a misdirected desire (which is what the technical theological term disordered means in the vernacular). The reason I don't have such a totally negative attitude toward homosexuality isn't because I'm wooly about what the Church does and doesn't teach, or because my loyalty to that teaching is less than complete. Indeed, my initial reaction to what seemed to be accusations of heresy and treachery was that if confessed fidelity to the teaching of the Church -- a confession made multiple times by all of us -- is not enough for these critics, I think it bears considering whether it is they who are too stringent with their requirements, rather than we who are too lenient.

But I digress. The latent premise here would seem to be that, if something is bad or messed up or in any way less than ideal, the only thing to do with it is to heap vilifications on it, as a faithful Catholic.

This seems to me to be not only wrong, but positively and specifically un-Catholic. O certe necessarium Adae peccatum, quod Christi morte deletum est! O felix culpa, quae talum ac tantem meruit habere Redemptorem! "O sin of Adam, necessary indeed, that was destroyed by the death of Christ! O happy guilt, that merited such and so great a Redeemer!" Without losing consciousness of the distinction between good and evil, and without falling into the trap of supposing that we may deliberately accomplish good ends through intrinsically evil means, Catholic spirituality has always recognized every shortcoming -- however trivial or however terrible -- as an occasion for grace to operate in a new way, to redeem things rather than destroying them. The Crucifixion itself was the worst thing that ever happened, after all; and the best.

Go forth, O ye daughters of Sion, and 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. -- Canticles 3.11

Is this gay exceptionalism? I don't think so. It applies to everything. For example, one of my nephews has Down Syndrome. Is that a good thing, to be desired for its own sake? No. But when I see him smile, I am not settling for a second best. He is not the dregs of humanity; he is not something to be ashamed of, or hidden from polite society, or discussed only with pity. He is a great joy in my life, and one about which I have no ambivalence. I wouldn't want things to be any other way than they are.

Not only that, but people who are thus on the outside of normalcy, so to speak, not infrequently have something to offer normalcy that normal people can't, or tend not to, obtain for themselves. Theologians have poured out volumes on the subject of the Real Presence, but the best definition I've ever heard was in a story I heard once at a retreat. The speaker talked about a boy with some sort of mental disability (I forget what) being interviewed to determine whether he could be regarded as eligible to receive Communion. The interview, or this part of it, was being conducted in a church, and the boy thought for a moment, then pointed at the Crucifix and said, "That looks like Jesus, but it isn't"; then he pointed toward the Tabernacle and said, "That doesn't look like Jesus, but it is." Theologians rarely rise to such simplicity.

Hence, I have no qualms about supposing that gay people have something special to offer the Church, for the simple reason that I work on the premise that everybody has something special to offer the Church. I don't insist that our peculiar gifts have to do with our gayness; but I don't rule it out, either, and when I contemplate the curious tendency of gay people to involve ourselves in the arts, I feel -- let's call it a hunch; that seems diffident enough for what I mean -- a hunch that, to the extent gay people as gay people have our own special talent, it may well lie there. I don't propose to be dogmatic about that, only to throw it out as a possibility that it might be worthwhile to speculate about.

One thing that I do think we can give the Church right now, not because of anything intrinsic to our gayness but because of our current cultural milieu, is a sense of how she sounds to those outside her. And the brute fact is, that knowledge is essential if the Church is going to communicate effectively. Melinda Selmys (who has a knack for being terribly quotable) said that "We can't talk effectively to gay people if we insist that as a precondition of dialogue they first learn to speak like us." It is we who must take the responsibility of making plain what we mean to the people around us; they can't be expected to do the work for us. It wouldn't be fair, and even if it would, it isn't going to happen. If our charity is real, then we have to swallow our pride -- yes, and our terminological rightness -- and do what it takes to get the message across. But if our response is that this crowd which knoweth not the Law is accursed, I believe we need to ask ourselves whether it is the truth or our sense of superiority that is at stake.

And the point isn't solely that the Church needs to understand how she sounds to gay people (though she does). Gayness is just one example of a group of people that the Church has difficulties in reaching. The particular advantage that attends us is that, regardless of whether we use the word gay (in itself, in my view, a matter of indifference) or agree with gay politics or what have you, we do at any rate have a large swath of shared experience with gay people. That means we can empathize with one category of those outside the Church in a way that a lot of people can't; and, by extension, that habit of empathy can be used to imaginatively sympathize with people outside the Church in general. Not that it's perfect, but nothing is, and it's a good start in understanding how to minister the truth effectively, not just with doctrinal correctness.

Because really, truth, in the abstract, has no value. God Himself is Trinity; that is, He subsists in relationship and as relationship. Truth, abstracted from the personal context that gives it significance, is a resounding gong. And people don't like gongs, especially when they are sounded over and over for no apparent reason. The doctrine of homosexuality, like every doctrine, is in the last resort about living, breathing, drooling people, and it cannot be intelligently discussed except in that personal context.

Of course, there are also those to whom no profession of loyalty to the Catholic religion, and no affirmation of her doctrine, will suffice. Nothing I can say will convince them. I don't propose to waste my time in the attempt. Nevertheless, so as not to end on a total downer, here are some adorable puppies:

Eh, they were probably bred by heretics.

Monday, January 6, 2014


I was considering writing a post this morning, but I couldn't really think of anything, so instead I'm introducing you to this awesome band. Enjoy.