Some Correspondence on Virtue

Dear Christopher,

Thanks for the note, and I’m sorry it’s taken me a bit to get back to you. I’m happy to correspond with you, and I’d be happy to help you out. It’s hard for me too to live a chaste life, so we’re in this together!

The first thought I have as I read what you wrote is to ask you what a virtue might “feel like.” That’s an interesting question, I think, since as you say, when you long for a warm body next to you in bed, and he’s not there, it doesn’t feel particularly virtuous. In fact, it sorta feels bad NOT having that warm body next to you, right?

But think about all of the other virtues–for the person overweight, for example, not having that pint of ice cream feels bad, when they really want it, and it seems to be the only answer to their emptiness inside. I don’t know if any virtues particularly feel good, as compared to the sort of “feeling good” that we experience when we’re eating that pint of Ben & Jerry’s. But virtues are difficult, and we need to view them in some ways like the pain one feels after working out. The virtues are in service of the most noble expression of man: that means we live in a way that Christ would live, or the way Adam and Eve lived in the garden of Eden before the fall. Everything God made is good, but to be truly human, to live fully in the way we are meant to flourish, we will only use those gifts according to the good use that they bring us. So ice cream is good–in moderation. We wouldn’t feel that not having the full pint when we really want it is painful, if we actually knew how to live in the way that really leads to our human fulfillment. And in that light, the virtuous life wouldn’t be hard.

But since the Fall of Man, our desires loom large within us, totally out of proportion to what is truly human, or truly what would make us happy. So thus, to live in that balance of what is good for man, we are in a heckuva battle. Chastity, especially when we first tackle it, feels hellishly difficult, and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But the more we exercise those muscles, and work on the virtue, the more we realize that chastity is a friend that helps us live the lives we would live if we truly knew who we were, and truly knew what would lead to human fulfillment. But in the trenches, well, it doesn’t feel easy, or always “good.” But exercising the virtues can feel good in the way that we feel good after a long day’s work, where we’re exhausted, but know that the work we did was good. It can feel good in the same way that the muscles feel sore the day after a good work out. We’re doing something that is hard and difficult, but is in service of our true good.

So I don’t ever expect chastity to “feel good” in the way that having a warm body next to me “feels good.” Nor do I expect temperance in food to feel good in the same way that an extra helping of mashed potatoes tastes good to me. In fact, until my desires are more aligned to my true good, I’ll keep looking at those mashed potatoes, wanting to enjoy them, or thinking about having a man in my life to sleep next too. But I know that both are opposed to my ultimate happiness, so then the good I feel in making the choice not to do what I want to do is a much deeper level of “feeling good” than having the warm body next to me ever could. But don’t get me wrong–it’s not a replacement for the warm body! But it makes the lack of the warm body next to me more palatable, and ultimately, I can be grateful that I haven’t bought the lie that tells me that I’ll be happiest only when I have that warm body beside me.

The virtuous life doesn’t always “feel good” but I don’t think that’s what the virtues are about anyway. I think they’re more about experiencing the peace that surpasses all understanding, following the way of Christ, which as we know, didn’t always “feel good.”

I hope this helps a bit.

God bless you,

Dan

Exciting News!

Living the Truth In LoveThe book I’m working on is still in process, but I’m very excited to say that a book that I contributed a chapter towards is soon to be released!

Here’s a link to the book at Ignatius Press.

And here is a link at Amazon. (Get ready for a lot of entertaining one star reviews, once the wolves who dislike Church teaching catch wind of it!)

And for a sample, here’s a link where you can click on some sample pages.

The Straight/Not Straight Trap

I’ve been writing for a while now about how I find the notions of “straight” or “something not straight” opposed to man’s dignity. I find the separation of sexuality into those two camps to be a rather insidious trap that’s been foisted on society, especially for young people.

If, for example, a boy finds some sort of attraction for a guy in his gym class that stirs within him during adolescence, or he finds himself aroused by a movie star oozing masculinity on the big screen, it means that whatever he are, he is something other than “straight.”

I’ve never seen it put that way in any sort of publication until just today.

The Pew Research Center put out a study a few years back on LGBT issues and this line I found intriguing:

The survey finds that 12 is the median age at which lesbian, gay and bisexual adults first felt they might be something other than heterosexual or straight.

The bifurcation of mankind into “straight” or “something other than heterosexual or straight” is something towards which the Church needs to be a sign of contradiction.

As the Compendium on the Social Doctrine of the Church says,

Faced with theories that consider gender identity as merely the cultural and social product of the interaction between the community and the individual, independent of personal sexual identity without any reference to the true meaning of sexuality, the Church does not tire of repeating her teaching: “Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity.”

C. S. Lewis On Overcoming Chronic Temptations

I’m doing a bit of writing for my book, when I find the time to do so. It’s going to take hours and hours of work, and lots of revisions. One of the fun parts however is looking for things to include. I have collected over the years a lot of quotes that I want to put here or there in my book, and as I go along, I continue to find new gems. This is a good one that I think will find its way into my book on overcoming pesky temptations or addictions. This is excellent from C. S. Lewis:

I know all about the despair of overcoming chronic temptations. It is not serious, provided self-offended petulance, annoyance at breaking records, impatience etc. don’t get the upper hand. No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We all shall of course be v. muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes are in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us; it is the v. sign of His presence. . . .

–from a letter to Mary Neylen, 20 January 1942

An Email From 2000

As I’m working on my book, I’m spending a lot of time digging through journals and old emails, piecing together the journey that has led me to where I am now. This one struck me in particular. It was an email I wrote to the pastor of the Christian Reformed Church I was attending at the time. He and I had begun talking together about my desires for men and how best to respond to them. He didn’t force onto me the idea that I needed to try to find women attractive, which I think a lot of people suffered from during the late nineties and early 2000’s. He was rather more concerned with caring for my soul, and its deepest longings. He also believed, as I did, that the path to peace for a man like me rested in Christian teaching on human sexuality.

I have wondered when the seeds of my current thinking were sown, essentially that God allows whatever suffering that happens in our lives for our good and for our sanctification. I suppose those seeds have been strewn along the path most of my life. The message of Good Friday and Easter tells this story as clearly as anything, but to grasp its personal meaning in our life is another thing completely. But I think 2000 was the year I began to at least begin to be able to wrap my head around the concept, though this was still before I had ever been with a man. It wasn’t until really becoming the Prodigal Son that I could see the beauty in the paradoxical notion of suffering as being a gift from God.

I read this now I and I see it as a foreshadow to my arrival back in the arms of the Catholic Church. You’ll notice a reference to St. John Paul II’s encyclical Salvicifi Doloris, which I called “a little pamphlet” on suffering. I also mention the value I received in reading C. S. Lewis’s book The Problem of Pain, plus Peter Kreeft’s reworking of Lewis’s ideas in his book, Making Sense Out of Suffering. I also mention Viktor Frankl’s remarkable book on suffering, Man’s Search For Meaning. All four I think are necessary reading for anyone who lives in situations that are difficult to understand the reasoning behind.

Dear Pastor Dave,

I just thought I’d drop you a quick line on the heels of Sunday’s sermon. Your sermon echoed things I’ve been thinking about lately. I have finally gotten down to reading the books I’ve told you about, and I’ve found them to be quite insightful. Lately I’ve been reading Lewis’ Problem of Pain, a book by Peter Kreeft on suffering, a book called Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl (which has had a profound impact on me) and some other books as well, including a little pamphlet called the Christian Meaning of Suffering by John Paul II which is fantastic. The notion that God is watching over us even in the midst off suffering is quite liberating and assuring for me as you taught on Sunday.

I’m finally seeing the hope that exists in suffering, that good can come out of it. In my situation, I guess the struggle for me has been how to make sense out of the suffering that those who deal with same gender attraction go through. In a lot of the books I’ve been reading, they have spoken of suffering as a way in which we can identify with the sufferings of Christ, and even that, in some mystical, spiritual way, our sufferings can emulate the sufferings of Christ by somehow playing a role in the redemptive aspects of Christ’s suffering. In the book by Frankl, he talks about the fact that suffering needs to have a purpose, and when meaning is found in suffering, suffering can actually be embraced as a gift. I’m beginning to see suffering as something that can be offered up to God on behalf of others, as a part of “taking up our cross daily.” As I read these books, and thought about some of these ideas, my mind turned to Christ’s words which spoke about his burden being easy and his yoke being light. I’ve always struggled with making sense of those words of Christ, because it has always seemed that life is very hard. In light of what I’ve been reading, I wonder if the idea of carrying a burden or yoke on behalf of another is what makes the burden easy and light. This seems to follow Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross–certainly the burden was overwhelming, but he persevered out of his love for us knowing that the sacrifice would free us. For me, I guess I would like to believe that times that are difficult for me as I struggle with my same gender attraction issues, are times that can be offered up as a sacrifice I willingly take on behalf of others I know who battle as well. I’m curious to know your thoughts on these musings of mine, and it seemed that on the heels of your sermon on Sunday, now would be the perfect time for me to write you about these thoughts.

I also covet your prayers. I find myself at times having burgeoning desires to “find someone.” It seems to me as I desire to be free of these issues, it just becomes more and more clear to me how strong these issues are within me. I do believe that God has the power to change my desires, i.e. a possible future of marriage and a family, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. It has been somewhat sobering to me of late that I have felt something akin to romantic flutters a couple of times when talking to different guys. This is something new to me–historically my feelings were non-existent towards guys in person, and any thoughts/feelings were relegated simply to fantasy, guys on the net, or plain old lust. This is something new to deal with and contend with. I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me–there certainly is a huge part of me which would like to “have a relationship,” though in my most sober moments, that scares me to death. Yet the desire is there, and I flirt with it in my mind, so I shouldn’t be surprised that I’ve felt this way. Anyway, I would appreciate your prayers. In the part of my mind which tries to analyze such things through rational thought, I view these desires of mine as ways in which I have daily opportunities to deny myself in obedience to Christ, that “taking up my cross” in some sense means not fulfilling those desires. In that light, I view those who struggle with homosexuality having a unique opportunity within human experience to obey Christ’s call to sacrifice the desires of the flesh out of obedience to him, which of course fits in with the notion of sacrificial and redemptive suffering on behalf of others. It’s all well and good to sit and ponder such noble possibilities, but living them out is another thing altogether, and I guess that’s why I’d appreciate your prayers.

Thanks so much for your time, and giving me the O.K. to email you. I appreciate it immensely. God bless you–I thank God for you and for bringing me to your church–I know it’s where God wants me right now.

Take care,

Dan