Sed Contra

 

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Thursday, March 20, 2003

Sadly muddled at Georgetown
 
Jon Soucy, a graduate of Georgetown University in 1999 and, while on campus, holder of several key “officially Catholic” offices, including one in favor of returning crucifixes to the Georgetown University classroom, has written a piece in the The Hoya, Georgetown University’s student-run newspaper in which he self-identifies as a “gay man.”

There are a number of things in Mr. Soucy’s piece that need comment.

First, Soucy wrote:

Not that I ever told anybody I was gay at Georgetown, except for a couple of my dearest friends, and then only in hushed tones, as if confessing to a crime. How could a Defender of the Faith be gay? Perhaps I became a Defender of the Faith because I was terrified of my sexuality. Who knows?

I understand that in many social circles to be known as living with a degree of Same Sex Attraction can be embarrassing and alienating, but it doesn’t have to be. The toxicity of living a life where you are ashamed of some particular part of yourself (e.g. “the closet”) is one of the only things about which gay activists and I generally agree. But coming to terms with the fact that one lives with a degree of same sex attraction, and letting a few close, faithful, Catholic friends know about it, does not mean defining yourself by those attractions or coming to the conclusion that acting on them sexually would be a good thing to do.

Further, I would prefer to hope that someone would defend the Faith because it is worth defending and, even more important, because of the relationship they have with the God who lives at the center of that Faith. But it’s in the following paragraph that Mr. Soucy gets really muddled:

I don’t think many people know what it’s like to be gay and Catholic — except those of us who are. Let me describe to you the feeling. It’s having your Church say to you that it’s disordered to be attracted to those of the same sex. It is not sinful, though. It’s only sinful if you act on it. By acting on it, my Church means being intimate with someone of the same sex. So, essentially, a gay Catholic is “supposed to” It means that, even if I am in an exclusive, monogamous, loving relationship with another man, I am doing evil by showing my love for him.

Mr. Soucy is correct to note that the Church makes a distinction between the action and the temptations and that she describes the temptation as a disorder. But the Church has never said, and will not say, that anyone is meant to live a life devoid of the love and intimacy for which each of us long.

It’s a common confusion in our culture to confuse intimacy with sexual activity and the Church does say that homosexual activity is gravely sinful. But one can does not have to have sex in order to cultivate intimacy in one’s life – and in fact in many cases (if not all) the presence of same sex sexual activity actually hampers or precludes real intimacy and connection. Sadly, the experience of all too many same sex or heterosexual one-night stands, where one party leans over to the other in the morning to ask “what was your name again?” indicates that mere sexual expression and opportunity is not guarantee of intimacy. Heck, long-term loveless marriages indicate that even relationships where there has presumably been sexual activity carry no guarantee of intimacy.

I will admit that intimacy is hard to build. It requires honesty and maturity and risk-taking and growth – but it’s certainly possible in a non-sexual context and Mr. Soucy betrayed his poverty of vision or understanding when he suggested the Church bans it because she recognizes same sex sexual activity to be sinful.

Mr. Soucy also erred when he characterized acting out with a same sex partner as showing my love for him. Real love wants not what is merely convenient, or feels good, or suits our desires. Real love requires that we wish and act out what is best for the beloved, and I am sorry but no one yet has drafted a case for sodomy being best for anybody.

When I was a gay activist I lived in sexually active relationship for seven years, until I realized how much I genuinely loved him – and took the relationship chaste. The friendship has continued a decade past that point, easily the most intimate, well-known and genuinely loving relationship in my life thus far, and is completely chaste and much more intimate that it was when we shared a bed. Real love wants what is best for the other, and what can be better than heaven or worse than sin?

Mr. Soucy also wrote about loneliness and this deserves attention.

I lived this lie for many years, “bearing my cross” and committing myself to a life of loneliness and despair. The loneliness is hard to describe to straight people. It’s the loneliness of seeing straight couples together, and knowing you’ll never know the love of another human being because it’s forbidden. It’s the loneliness of seeing your best friends pair off with their girlfriends to leave you alone to contemplate your solitude.

Loneliness is hard, no doubt. But a degree of loneliness is part of the human condition. Love alone does not remedy it. Sexual activity cannot either. We feel lonely because we are not made for here. We are made for intimacy with Christ and to see Him Face to Face, and until that happens we are going to feel the lack - and mourn it. Heck, loneliness is such a part of the human condition that Christ suffered it as part of his Passion, the abandonment of friends and even the feeling of being abandoned on the Cross. Nobody gets out of feeling lonely from time to time.

But that doesn’t mean we have to concede to it or live lonely lives. This may sound harsh, but if we are lonely it is largely up to us to look at how we whether we have structured our lives and our growth to foster deeper friendships and intimacy. Turning to romance will not and cannot remove our need to do this crucial work. Fostering deeper friendships is tremendously important and it’s not easy, but it’s vital and it’s worth our effort to do it.

And loneliness is not something restricted to same sex attracted men and women. I don’t where Mr. Soucy hears Mass, but the parishes where I participate I see a fair number of people who are my age (40), as well as younger and older, who are alone - for any number of reasons. Maybe a marriage failed, maybe a spouse died, maybe a parents’ marriage was so bad that chased them off the idea of marriage. Who knows? The point is that same sex attracted men and women are not the only adult Catholics who find themselves building single lives –whether that would have been their ideal of life or not.

But all these details miss the point. We are more than the sum of our temptations, desires or even our loves. The Gospel’s most profound message to everyone, no matter their temptation, is twofold. First that we are created in the image of God and, second, that God loves us. God’s love is not something we can earn more of by being extra good and it’s not something He withdraws from us when we sin. God’s love is only something we must choose to accept or reject. Acceptance of God’s love means accepting the hard, maturing work of becoming ever more the people He meant us to be. Rejection means taking the apparently easy road off on our own. Acceptance means eventual sainthood and heaven, rejection means hell – not I must note by God’s desire but by our own.

So much confusion reigns about what the Church teaches about same-sex attraction that I urge every homosexually attracted person to forget what they think the Church teaches or what they have heard she teaches and learn instead what she really teaches. Just a couple of weeks ago I got a letter from a twenty-eight year old man who felt strongly his love for his same-sex partner with whom he was sexually active. Why, he wanted to know, couldn’t the Church recognize he and his partner’s love for one another and bless it? I answered that the Church already recognizes the parts of our relationships and friendships that truly love, and are truly wholesome and life giving. All those things are counted among the virtues to which all Christians are called. There is nothing wrong with them. The Church and the Saints celebrate them. But that’s not the same as sex, he said, why can’t the Church celebrate the sexual side of their love since he and his partner would “never” give up having sex. Rarely before has so much been won or lost in the power of one little word!

I don't believe love sets limits on the lover or on the beloved. I came to realize that I couldn't claim to love my partner only as long as he had sex with me. Real love seeks what is best for the beloved, and respects them fully and loves them fully. What did Jesus say about love so memorably? No greater love has any man than he lay down his life for his friends. I think people living with same sex attraction were created to love and to be loved without limits, loved for who they are and not what they can or will do.

I don't think it’s helpful to fall into the trap of saying "guy-guy bad, girl-guy good." I don’t think it matters nearly as much who one loves as how one loves. I suspect it’s much more fruitful to look what is being called Love in whatever relationship being discussed, no matter the sexual attractions of the people involved. Heterosexual people don't necessarily get it right either.

Most people don’t recognize, or want to recognize, the aspect of Love that is least like a Hallmark Card. Love can be awful. Love can be self-sacrifice and pain on the part of the Lover for the Beloved's good. After all, the greatest symbol of love on earth is not the Valentines Day heart, but Good Friday’s Cross. God, who is Infinite and Mighty, before whom every knee will bend one day and every tongue confess, and in whose presence the very stones of Jerusalem would have cried out if no one else had – that God crossed eternity to let himself be beaten, spit upon, nailed to a Cross and tortured to death so that men and women, no matter their sexual temptations or inclinations, could one day stand before Him face to face. That’s Love.

Christ’s ennobling and terrifying message for people living with same sex attraction is that we are created, loved and responsible. It ennobles us because it sees in us the reality of our Creation as human beings in God’s image. It terrifies us because it puts the ball firmly into our court. Christians who may not know the Gospel might try to tell us that God doesn’t love us because of our same-sex attraction, but we know that’s not true. God doesn’t base his love on what temptations we have or don’t have. Others might try to tell us that acting out our sexual desires, particularly with someone we feel we love, is also not wrong, but we know that’s not true either. Love doesn’t give itself away in half-measures or objectify its subjects. No, the hard truth is that love dies to self and gives itself away. Love is the Cross.

Mr. Soucy ends his piece by urging readers to read Andrew Sullivan’s Virtually Normal. I will end mine by asking Soucy to read my book, Beyond Gay and, if he is in the Washington D.C. area, getting in touch with me. There are more sides to this story than one short essay can present.

Monday, March 17, 2003

War soon
 
Well, it looks like we will be a war soon, and I have to admit that I feel sad and full of prayer for the people who this war will kill, people who almost certainly don't deserve to be killed. As I drove home tonight from the gym the Marketplace program from Public Radio International was reporting on the ordinary citizens of Baghdad and what they are doing to try to get ready for the impending holocaust. The story reported that there is thriving trade in boats at the shores of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which meander through the city. People remember in the last Gulf War that U.S. bombs and missiles took out the cities many bridges and figure they will need a boat to get around in the wake of this war as well. Folks are paying five times their monthly salary for little row boats, just so they could have a way to get around.

The story was not tendentious or partisan, it was just interviewing ordinary men and women about what they are doing, how they are laying up stores and trying to get fuel and trying to find a safe place to hide. And I got mad and sad as I drove along. I thought of what I would do if I were them, if I had to scurry around to try to get ready for some man-made calamity that was not my fault and about which I could do nothing but try to survive. It's always the smallest, the weakest, the oldest, the most vulnerable who get hurt in wars - those who least deserve it and can least afford to pay the butcher's bill, but they are nonetheless the ones who have to pay it. History will judge later whether the U.S. has really been justified in presenting that bill. I hope for the sake of us all that they are.

May God bless and have mercy on our troops, on the Iraqi troops and on all the Iraqi citizens. And if this war brings us all things from which we will need to repent, may God please grant us speedily the grace to do so.


Sunday, March 16, 2003

A revolting image
 
Andrew Sullivan rightly decries the image used in a New Oxford Review advertisement that, apparently, did not disturb the publishers of the Weekly Standard enough to pull it or edit it. Sullivan writes about the image the advertisement uses:

[It] descends into the most vicious anti-gay stereotypes - the limp wrists, the foppish clothes, the clerical cape. If the equivalent kind of image of a black person - huge lips, Afro hair, bongo drums, etc. - or of a Jew - hook-nosed, money-counting, devious - were presented to a respectable publication, it would never see the light of day.

I have to agree. Priests who live with some degree of Same Sex Attraction, even if they, erroneously, self-define as gay, still remain human beings, Children of God, and still remain priests. The Church's history is sadly crammed full of priests and religious who fall from their vows and promises and lose their way in the world and amongst the temptations of the world, whether those temptations are to money, sex or power. But joyfully there are those priests and religious who, like all of us can, find their way back from the morass of sin to the arms of their Father in heaven and for whose repentance, I am convinced, the trumpets of heaven blow every bit as loudly as they do for everyone else. The image the New Oxford Review used in its advertisement belongs in other publications and from other times, publications who cannot and did not claim to find their roots in the Cross but in far deeper, dangerous and erroneous places. The Standard should not have run it, and the New Oxford Review should retract it.

Faith: Old Teaching New
 
Faith: Old Teaching New

One of the New Testament’s themes is the foolishness of trying to fit new ideas into old models, new wine into old wineskins. But today’s readings teach us that, in matters of faith, the old often have something worth teaching to the new.

In the first reading, from the older scriptures, God asks from Abram a great test of faith. He is to take his son, his only son, whom he loves (Jewish commentators remark on the fact that God’s identification of Isaac is three-fold, making it absolutely clear to Abram, and to us, whom He means.) and sacrifice him on a place God will show him. Now this idea would not have been completely alien to Abram because that region of the world at the time had several significant religions that required the occasional sacrifice of children from their devotees and, despite a heavy heart, Abram does what God asks and thus because Abraham, the father of the multitude and our Father in faith.

Abraham’s faith stands in contrast to the lack of Faith shown in the Gospel reading, where Christ takes Peter, James and John to the top of a high place and is Transfigured there to demonstrate to these three who He was. Even then Peter doesn’t get it and has to actually be instructed by God “this is my beloved son, listen to him.”

Now, to be fair, Abram’s instruction and encounter with God fit a lot more with his expectations. God had already asked some pretty significant sacrifices of him, like moving what must have seemed, at the time, half a world away on the strength of a promise. By contrast the Disciples had to deal with a God who moved among them, who ate with them, got tired and dusty and frustrated with them. They were among the first to find the Incarnation a stumbling block, and in a way it’s almost shocking that Judas was the only one among their number for whom it proved an insurmountable hurdle. But still, even without Christ walking with Him, feeding the multitudes out of some saltines and a few sardines and making the crippled to walk and the blind to see etc, Abram still came through – even though what God asked of him must have hurt and caused grave doubt and confusion.

Everyone faces much the same challenge Abram and the Disciples face. God, whether He allows Himself to be seen moving among us or not, asks of us the same questions, makes the same requests. How tied are we to the things, the people, who move with us in the world? How ready are we to let Him use even our deepest relationships and friendships to our greater good and His greater glory? It’s not an easy question and there is no final answer. When I answer the question in one sphere of my life, I find it crops up again in another. But we often find as well that as we say yes in one area it becomes easier to say yes in others. For all we know, Abram’s setting off with Isaac that day would not have even been possible had he not first picked up and moved and, ironically, not first believed that Isaac’s birth would have been possible in the first place. One good theme of this year’s Lent might be to inventory our hearts and our lives for those places where decisions are being asked, of have been asked of us, and look anew with prayerful eyes and hearts at how we have answered them.

About the War...
 
Yes, I am still ambivalent and maybe a little frustrated with myself about remaining so. I am still not convinced that the situation can only be resolved by means to the two extremes, that our only courses of action are either taking Saddam out by force of arms at the cost of perhaps tens of thousands of usually the youngest, oldest and weakest of lives or letting him go to make whatever deadly mischief he has a mind to make. Is that really the best choice our leaders have, with all the incredible technology and expertise at our disposal?

But with that said, I am almost of the opinion that if we are going to go, we should go. Hold the vote in the Security Council. Don't let France off easy. Make them cast their veto and, if people in Iraq really do greet American troops with flowers and cheers, let them reap the ignominy.

But, with that said, I am not anti-French. I think the whole brouhaha over french vs. freedom fries and french versus freedom toast only makes us look like ignorant buffoons. That our so-called leaders in the legislature are taking part in the farce only makes it worse. For the record I have no french cheese in the house (although I find it very good) because its not on my diet or my budget. I do have, however, a wine rack with some pretty good bottles of french wine, both of the "country" variety and even a couple with appellation that I am not going dump down the toilet.

Another observation about the French in this however. I wish some of the peacenik camp would stop trying to laminate the gold of virtue onto French actions in all this. According to Harpers Magazine, French companies hold 60% of Iraq's trillion dollars in oil contracts - most of which, it is reasonable to assume, were cut in terms favorable to the French firms. I think it is perfectly reasonable to suppose that with the current regime in Baghdad gone, the next regime, whatever that would be, will not be willing to cut new contracts with the same terms. So, if the no-war crowd is going to charge that the U.S. is going to war for oil, I think they also have to admit that the French are supporting a bloodthirsty tyrant for the sake of oil as well. The oil slick of greed washes up on everybody's beaches, so to speak.

On final note, I am really sad to note how many of my Catholic friends have seen fit to almost become America First Catholics and to take the Church to task for opposing this war. Did they really expect, and do they really want, the Church to cheerlead the fighting - or would they just like her to shut up and not keep bothering their consciences with all those tiresome admonitions from her Founder about peace? I am not for peace at any price, but like I wrote earlier, I am not convinced that war is the only reasonable option.
Back again
 
Yes, I know that my last post here was on February 22, 2003. I have no excuse at all. Busyness intrudes along with doubt about the presumption of putting anything up that anyone else would want to read anyway. The only Person in the universe who consistently, regularly, reliably and sincerely wants to hear what I have to say is God - and I only believe that after He drums it into my head that it is so.

There have been some things of note since my last posting. Probably the most fun is that my buddy Mike and I went backpacking on the weekend of March 7-9. In an odd way it felt like, for this region at least, we hiked through the change of seasons - that we travelled across the last weekend of winter and the first of spring at the same time. It was very, very cool to backpack having gotten in much better shape. Usually when my buddy Mike and I have gone trekking in the past he has always been way ahead of me on the trail. He is taller than I am, has a longer stride and has been in better shape. But this trip, I was right there with him most of the time, and then when I was behind him it was by only like two or three minutes, not the twenty or thirty it has been on other trips.

The second cool aspect of this was just being smaller, having more room in the tent and in my sleeping bag. That was terrific.

The third neat thing was the new equipment I had. A while back some friends gave me a set of trekking poles. They look a bit like ski poles but they are hardier and lighter. They helped so much, especially on the downhill sections when my footing was a little bit unstable. They helped me keep balance, keep up my speed and have more confidence on some rough ground. I don’t know how I used to backpack without them!

Another buddy gave me a set of really good thermal underwear for Christmas and that definitely came in handy since we were kind of of hiking through the last weekend of winter and the first weekend of spring at the same time, like I said. Even in snow up to mid-thigh, I stayed warm and dry at the skin.

We arrived at the start of the trail at about 7:45 AM on Friday morning and were on the trail by 8:00. The air was in the upper teens to low twenties and the roughly six inches of snow underfoot was frozen. We knew pretty soon that it was probably going to be a good trip because we arrived at the top of the ridge line in only thirty minutes, when Mike had budgeted about an hour, and we made our first milestone, he big rock outcropping known as Big Schloss (about two miles and a rise of 1,500 feet) in under an hour. We kept that pace for the rest of the morning, and arrived at the end of the first segment of trail, about six miles, before noon.

That’s where things started to bog down. We had planned to turn onto another trail at that point, but the warmer afternoon temperatures and slightly lower elevation meant we broke through the snow on the new trail instead of standing on top of it. And there was a lot more snow to break though too. We began sinking in to the depth of our knees, or more.

Since we couldn't’t make the pace we needed to keep to our original plan, we pulled out the maps and decided on another route. We chose a trail that on the map ran near water and set out down that one to get to a camp site, but that was slow going too, about a mile an hour, if that! We kept breaking through the snow, me to mid –thigh on a number of times and Mike at least knee deep. We finally got to a nice camp site , but man that was work.

The next morning was cold and clear and it made all the difference. We didn’t break through at all and were able to cover the same ground that seemed to take us hours of hard labor the day before, in about thirty minutes.

Anyway, I am back safe and sound. It was a good trip and I am really glad I was able to go.