One of the biggest questions I ever get asked about the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, especially from young people, is about the line “disinterested friendship” found in the Catechism. It always seems to sound to people as being, well, so unfriendly.
Here’s the paragraph in question:
2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.
I’ve written about the topic before, but today, a bit I was reading from C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters gives helpful insights as to what “disinterested” means. Most people believe that it’s a synonym for “uninterested,” but this section from Lewis shows us what “disinterested Love” actually is. (For the uninitiated, Screwtape is a senior devil writing his nephew, Wormwood, a junior devil, about the ins and outs of temptation. In the lexicon of Screwtape, things are turned topsy-turvy: the “Enemy” is God the Father, and “Our Father Below” is Lucifer himself. In the excerpt below, Screwtape is writing about God’s strange love for humans:
The truth is, [in my last letter] I slipped by mere carelessness into saying that the Enemy really loves the humans. That, of course, is an impossibility. He is one being, they are distinct from Him. Their good cannot be His. All His talk about Love must be a disguise for something else – He must have some real motive for creating them and taking so much trouble about them. The reason one comes to talk as if He really had this impossible Love is our utter failure to out that real motive. What does He stand to make out of them? That is the insoluble question. I do not see that it can do any harm to tell you that this very problem was a chief cause of Our Father’s quarrel with the Enemy. When the creation of man was first mooted and when, even at that stage, the Enemy freely confessed that he foresaw a certain episode about a cross, Our Father very naturally sought an interview and asked for an explanation. The Enemy gave no reply except to produce the cock-and-bull story about disinterested love which He has been circulating ever since. This Our Father naturally could not accept. He implored the Enemy to lay His cards on the table, and gave Him every opportunity. He admitted that he felt a real anxiety to know the secret; the Enemy replied “I wish with all my heart that you did”. It was, I imagine, at this stage in the interview that Our Father’s disgust at such an unprovoked lack of confidence caused him to remove himself an infinite distance from the Presence with a suddenness which has given rise to the ridiculous enemy story that he was forcibly thrown out of Heaven. Since then, we have begun to see why our Oppressor was so secretive. His throne depends on the secret. Members of His faction have frequently admitted that if ever we came to understand what He means by Love, the war would be over and we should re-enter Heaven. And there lies the great task. We know that He cannot really love: nobody can: it doesn’t make sense. If we could only find out what He is really up to! Hypothesis after hypothesis has been tried, and still we can’t find out. Yet we must never lose hope; more and more complicated theories, fuller and fuller collections of data, richer rewards for researchers who make progress, more and more terrible punishments for those who fail – all this, pursued and accelerated to the very end of time, cannot, surely, fail to succeed.
The sections in bold give a sense of what “disinterested” means. Christ has, (and had, while he was incarnate), a disinterested love for all of humanity: loving for its own sake, with no sense of trying to get something out of it in return. Disinterested love is true love–but it doesn’t mean a passive, apathetic sort of love. Quite the contrary, it’s the most interested of loves, because it loves the other as “other,” with no need for reciprocation. A disinterested love is Christ-like charity: a selfless, self-giving, life-giving love.
This of course should be the aim of all of us, not merely those who live with same-sex attraction, but I think there is a special need for those of us who do to hear this, as a caution against placing too much of our hope in friendships. I think in our pursuit of relationship and community, we can stretch the good of friendships to the breaking point quite easily.