On Depression, Same-Sex Attraction, and Advent

Last week I was on the phone with a man who lives with same-sex attraction. He told me the worst part of the day was getting up. The best part: going to bed. Each day is drudgery for him. He loves God, yet every day he wishes God would call him home. Just getting through each day feels like the greatest act of love he can give to God right now.

Another friend wrote me this past weekend, telling me she is experiencing bone-crushing loneliness. She too lives with same-sex attraction, lives alone, and is doing her best to be faithful to the call of chastity. Yet she is weary of living alone, always coming home to an empty house.

A man who lives on the other side of the world told me just after Thanksgiving that he has sex with men so he won’t feel so alone. His favorite part of being with a man, he says, is being held by the man he is with, after the deed is done. The sex is the key that unlocks the door for sharing intimate moments with a man who he can pretend, for a moment, loves him. He is profoundly lonely too.

ansel-adams-clearing-winter-storm-yosemite-national-park-california

Ansel Adams, Clearing Winter Storm

In the cold of winter, as the days grow shorter, and the clouds fill the sky with dreary monochrome, loneliness can freeze over the soul. Advent, we’ve always been told, is a season of waiting–but waiting for what, exactly? The life of the single person often feels like a perpetual Advent, a life filled with waiting, watching, and hoping that somehow, someway, someday, “life” will finally begin. The single life can seem like the waiting room to happiness, especially in one’s twenties and early thirties, as friend after friend gets married and starts a family, while the question one fears to ask grows like a thundercloud, (felt so heavily in Advent, with each Christmas card received, featuring pictures of smiling, happy families, next to a Christmas tree): “What about me, dear God? What Joy to the World is there for me? ‘No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground?’ Bah, Humbug!”

This is not an essay where I will turn the corner from the thorns and sorrows, to visions of verdant and green pastures. Part of Advent is painful. It’s a time for sorrow. For waiting. For recognizing that we live in a valley of tears, “in a dry and weary land, where there is no water.” This is a post for the lonely, the heartbroken, the tired and the hopeless. I won’t offer here something to take away the pain, except to say that this Advent, I desire to enter into people’s loneliness, and carry it with them, since I know how heavy a burden it is. Sometimes, the wisest thing we can do is to sit in silent waiting, alongside those who are in profound pain and suffering, just like the friends of Job did. This, I’m convinced, is part of what we are called to do while we wait for the coming of Our Lord.

Pray for lonely people this Advent. Pray for single people. Pray for the divorced. Pray for the widow. Pray for women who wished to be married and have a family, but are still single, with no hope of ever being a mother now. Pray for men and women with same-sex attraction who dread the specter of living alone. Pray for the misunderstood, the betrayed, the abused, the sick and the dying and the bereft. Seek them out. Sit with them. Walk with them. Perhaps most of all, think of them as if they were Mary and Joseph, with no place to lay their heads, and in the painful and cold waiting of Advent, invite the lonely and heartbroken into your home.

Perhaps what they have been waiting for is you.

 

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What do you do when you’re attracted to a friend?

I haven’t kept up with my blog that much since I began writing my book, so this little corner of the web has remained a bit dusty but I hope to start posting here more often, particularly responses to correspondence I receive. The emails I receive I think often reflect the experience of a lot of people, and so today I thought I’d post an email I sent to a young man who recently wrote me, asking me how to respond to a close friend he’s become attracted to, and when I do, I’ll adopt “Christopher” as the recipient of the email. The key here is the Catechism’s discussion of disinterested friendship:

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.

Dear Christopher,

It seems to me that the great fear you are living under right now is the growing attraction you have for your close friend, and what that might mean to your friendship with him and perhaps with others with whom you will grow close to over the years. This has certainly been something that I have had to contend with over the years–and it is a real battle to keep things in perspective. I’m happy to say that these sorts of conflicts don’t really happen to me anymore. I only share that with you to give you hope that it’s very much worth battling for your friendships, and that life will not always be like this.

What do I mean by battling for your friendships? The key here is to moderate our passions by reason and our intellect, and by the help of prayer, the sacraments, and good advice from people we love and can trust. It is very easy for someone who lives with same-sex attractions to “fall for” a close friend. I write extensively in my book about one such situation in my life. We can easily find in a close friend the hoped for answer to all of our loneliness and deepest longings. For me, I found myself fantasizing about time spent with my friend. Not in a sexual aspect at all, but a dream-world friendship where he became the answer to all of my loneliness and desires for deep intimacy.

The key with your good friend is to honor the distance between the two of you. He is he, not who you want him to be. This is the value of what the Catechism says is “disinterested friendship.” Now, that’s not an “uninterested love.” Far from it: Christ had disinterested love for us, and it is the most free of love, for it gives with no requirement of return…yet it hopes for the love given to be returned. In a healthy friendship, two men stand side by side each other, not gazing at each other, like lovers do. For the younger me, I wanted a quasi-spousal friendship, but just with a guy. I wanted to think about him all the time, and be with him because of the warm feelings it gave me to just be beside him, in much the same way you might see lovers walking ridiculously close to each other on a city sidewalk. This placed unhealthy demands particularly on this friendship, and it sadly dwindled away.

But that’s not the automatic future for those of us with SSA! The key is growing in the virtue of friendship–it is a lost art, and one of the keys to a healthy relationship with other men for men with same-sex attraction is learning what friendship really is and means. A few books I’d recommend you buy and read are these:

The Feast of Friendship by Paul D. O’Callaghan.

Also this one:

These could even be great studies to do with Catholic groups, including your own closest male friends. They long for deep and healthy friendships too, but so often we settle for mediocrity even in our closest friendships. I once knew two mutual friends whose sole relationship consisted of their ability to recall and share Simpsons quotes with each other. It was the only thing they had in common, really, but sadly, it seemed to suffice for them. That’s not enough for me!

I would add this too: usually our friendships disappoint us at some point or another. They always will–thanks be to God. It is a gift from God that no earthly relationship will ever so fully satisfy us that we don’t feel a deep longing for more intimacy, and of course that unscratched itch for intimacy can only ever be filled by God the Father. Many marriages end because the two spouses expected each other to be the answer for the deepest longings of the human heart, but since the deepest longings of the human heart for God himself, no man or woman can ever make us ultimately happy.

Recognizing this truth gives us freedom in our friendships. Just yesterday friends and I had plans to get together to talk about my trip to Italy. One of my friends texted me and said, “I can’t get together–I’ve got a project I’ve got to finish today.” I was angry and irritated–what project is so important that plans with friends are put on the shelf, especially with a friend who has been overseas for two weeks? I was angry, but of course my anger was motivated ultimately because I was disappointed and sad and hurt that a project was more important than our friendship–at least on that day.

So how is one to respond? It’s a battle again–I choose to love him, and to give him the freedom of autonomy, to choose not to get together with me and my other friends (who were also bummed about him not getting together with us.) But in choosing to love him, precisely because he’s a friend, and respecting the distance between us, I can continue to grow deeper into friendship with him, without resentments getting in the way. This is a very small example, but it’s current in my mind, so I thought it worthwhile writing about. (Now, as an aside, part of being a good friend also involves being able to talk about things such as this, in a loving manner, to share honestly sometimes when one feels hurt, but that’s a topic for another post.)

When you feel attracted to a close friend, don’t beat yourself up! 🙂 St. Frances de Sales said that above all else, we must be gentle with ourselves. Acknowledge the attraction, but then with your will, say, “I choose to see him for who he is, as a beloved son of God, not as an object of pleasure to me.” I find many friends and acquaintances attractive. How can we not? God made men and women in his likeness, and God is Beauty itself. The key is how we will respond to that attraction, and this is where our will must enter into the picture. There are certain men I’ve known in my life who were extremely handsome to me and because I wanted to be friends with them more than I wanted to see them as a sexual object, I had to really work to nip in the bud any thoughts that tended towards a romantic or erotic fantasy. These exercises of the will are like any exercises–the muscles of our will grow stronger as we exercise them. And of course, having some others who understand what’s going has been helpful, such as speaking with a good counselor, priest, or my local Courage group about any attractions I might have for friends. Thankfully, this really does work. We can take control of our passions by exercising our will. That’s what virtue does, and the virtue of friendship helps moderate our passions so we can love our friends disinterestedly.

Don’t be afraid of this friendship–rather, I would say to view it as a gift from God, and an opportunity for you to grow in the virtue of friendship, to learn what true and deep friendship with men looks like. If you find yourself attracted to him, have a sense of humor about it with yourself, and be gentle with yourself, but precisely because you love him, make your attractions to him a “living sacrifice” that you put on the altar, and say to God, “Thy will be done, not mine–help me to see him as you see him.” God will honor that, and be pleased with you, and he certainly knows the importance of a close male friendship. John, the Beloved Disciple, reclined at table with Jesus, resting his head on Jesus. Ask Jesus in you to see your friends the way Jesus saw his Beloved Disciple, and he will surely come to your assistance.

Write more when you can.

God bless you!

Dan

SSA, Humility, God’s Will, and Marriage

I made a new acquaintance recently, a man who turned out to be Catholic and who attends the parish where I received the sacrament of Confirmation in 2010. We found we had a lot of connections, and as conversations such as these always tend to go, I found out he was a married man with six children, the oldest in college, the youngest still in elementary school. He then asked me, “So how about you? Married? Have any children?”

This is the moment in conversations that many people who identify as gay find awkward. The situation often causes an internal monologue of stressful questions: “How do I tell the person I’m single, because I’m gay, and seeking after God, and so thus I’m living a chaste life, which means I’m probably going to be single the rest of my life?”

I understand the awkwardness of the question–it’s awkward and uncomfortable for people like me too, who reject LGBT labels, yet experience predominantly same-sex attractions. I remember this awkwardness particularly from when I was younger, when people my age were regularly getting married and starting families. The question was often asked of me at weddings, “So Dan, when are you going to find yourself a wife and get married?” It’s a challenging question, and it gets asked often of people in their mid to late twenties. So what’s the answer to give in those situations? The key here is to be truly honest.

Now, some people who identify as gay, and yet are still committed to Church teaching on sexual abstinence outside of marriage also argue that any commitment to virtue requires an honest answer, where “being honest” is defined as being forthright in saying, “Well, marriage probably isn’t in the cards for me, since I’m gay, and am committed to the Church’s teaching, so that’s why I’m not married, or won’t be. But thanks for asking!” I find this sort of answer strange, and actually opposed to honesty.

Central to my way of thinking here is the Catechism’s discussion of sexual identity:

2333 Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out.

2334 “In creating men ‘male and female,’ God gives man and woman an equal personal dignity.” “Man is a person, man and woman equally so, since both were created in the image and likeness of the personal God.”

the-marriage-of-adam-and-eveThe “gay” identity is no identity at all in the Church’s teaching about the human person. Humility before my God, as a created being, allows me to accept and acknowledge the truth of my created nature: I am a created being, created by God, as a man, with an innate sexual orientation towards my sexual complement given to me by God in my created nature. My sexual identity is not as a “gay” man, but rather, simply as a man, who is created for sexual union with a woman. Humility before my God, and total abandonment to divine Providence thus makes me open to the possibility that God’s will for me may one day be to realize my innate sexual orientation in marriage with a woman.

Having followed the teaching of the Church in accepting and acknowledging my sexual identity as a man, it would dishonest of me to say that the reason I’m not married is “because I’m gay.” No, there I see a confused understanding of “who I am” getting in the way of God’s potential will for me in my life. I cannot know what God, in his Divine Wisdom has in store for me, and I refuse to close the door to the possibility that he may will for me to marry a woman, by adopting a false identity, manufactured by the world, which by its very nature argues that for me to be married to a woman would be lying about my true sexual nature and orientation. *

So what is one to do in such a situation, when one accepts and acknowledges his true sexual identity, and yet realizes that there is a very real obstacle in the path towards marriage, because he doesn’t particularly find many women sexually desirable at all?

Here the key is total abandonment to Divine Providence, with an accompanying humility and docility to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. What I say in such situations where new acquaintances ask about my personal life is exactly what I said to this new friend I met recently:

“Well, I’m still single and it seems that it’s God’s will for me at this time that I be single, but I’m open to being married if it’s Gods will. I decided to stop looking for a wife long ago, since dating is really just a drag, but I’m reminded of what we read in Genesis: God brought Eve to Adam. So I say to God, ‘Look, Lord, if you want me to be married, you’re just going to have to bring me my Eve, because I’m not interested in looking for her’. In the meantime, I’m content being single, for it seems that it’s God’s will for me.”

The line about “God will have to just bring my Eve” always gets a laugh, and no one ever thinks anything more about it. Saying that you trust God’s will for your life more than your own hopes, dreams and desires is the most sane–and most honest–response a man like me can ever give to questions of why I’m single.

*Key for me here in knowing that it may be God’s will for me to be married is that I would say of a woman God brought to into my life the same words Adam said of Eve, “Here at last is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh!” This is a very different view from “sexual orientation change efforts”. I find the notion of such things as “sexual orientation change” based on a faulty premise: that man is the sort of creature with a plurality of sexual orientations–no, our sexual orientation is innate and built-in to us, but due to man’s fallen nature, this true sexual orientation can be impeded. Yet God is not limited by man’s fallen nature, and there are too many examples of men who once lived life as “gay men” and are now married to doubt that God’s will for many men with SSA is for them to be married. But that is beyond the scope of this post.

A Few Speaking Engagements

I’m going on the road a few times this fall to do a couple of speaking engagements. The first is this week, at the Catholic High School Formation Summit in Atlanta.

The second will be in early November at the University of Mary, in Bismarck, South Dakota. You can see the link here, but the info is below. If you’re in the area, please come and say hello.

BISMARCK, ND — Nationally recognized speaker and writer Daniel Mattson visits the University of Mary to explain the Catholic Church’s teaching on same-sex attraction.

Mattson will address “The Church’s Teaching on Homosexuality as Good News: One Man’s Story” at Grounds for Belief, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, 8 p.m., in Butler Auditorium, Gary Tharaldson School of Business. Grounds for Belief is the Thursday night speaker series sponsored by University Ministry.

“Dan Mattson offers a positive message on a topic that many people find difficult,” says Ed Konieczka, assistant director of University Ministry at the University of Mary. “His presentation will enlighten us as a way to tear down the walls that divide people on this issue. Mattson clarifies Catholic teaching with great fidelity to the Church and at the same time encourages us to support each other as brothers and sisters.”

A convert to Catholicism and a professional musician, Daniel Mattson is a representative of Courage, an international apostolate of the Catholic Church dedicated to ministering to persons with same-sex attractions. His writings have appeared in periodicals such as “First Things” and “Crisis” magazine, and he is a regular guest on Catholic radio and EWTN television.

Mattson’s talk on campus is sponsored by the Saint John Paul II Center for University Ministry at University of Mary. All talks are free and open to the public. For more information, contact (701) 355-8102 or umin@umary.edu.

From Stones to Men

I was reading something tonight from St. John Chyrsostom that recalled to mind the story of the Prodigal Son we heard in the Gospel reading for today. The Parable of the Prodigal Son always moves me when its read at Mass, for within its tale I see my own journey: I left my Father’s house, believing I would find happiness my own way, but found myself in the swine pits of the world’s view of happiness. Just as the Gospel says of the Prodigal Son, when I realized I was suffering in the swine pit, I finally “came to my senses,” and then made the journey back home to my Father.

When one is caught in a life filled with sexual pleasures, it’s nigh on impossible to see clearly. As C. S. Lewis once said, indulgence brings fog. This is something the Church Fathers always said too: sexual pleasures cloud the mind from seeing things rightly. This clouded vision is so hard to penetrate that it seems that God’s usual tool in such things is to bring suffering as a severe mercy into a person’s life.

As I read this bit from St. John Chrysostom tonight, I thought of all of the parents who I’ve met, who ask me what they should do after their child came out as a gay man or woman and left the Church behind. Usually, parents want to somehow find some sort of plan or program that will bring their child back home, and quickly. What I always tell them is to focus on loving their child, and to wait on the Lord.

We’re told by St. Paul that “love is patient.” Usually we interpret that as being understanding of our friends and family, to forbear with their particular shortcomings. But I think part of the patience of love is waiting. We see this in Christ’s patient pursuit of us:

 Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

Icons and paintings of this scene always tend to picture a door with no handle. The door Jesus knocks upon, the door of the human heart, only opens up from within. He never forces himself upon us. He invites, he knocks, he woos, he loves.

And he waits.

stand-at-the-door-and-knock

The passage I read from St. John Chyrsostom today resonated with this patient call of love:

So then let us also deal with the heathen sort: with condescension, with love. For love is a great teacher, and able both to withdraw men from error, and to reform the character, and to lead them by the hand unto self-denial, and out of stones to make men.

Love: out of stones, it makes men. Love is what brought me home to my Heavenly Father. In the fullness of time, God helped me “come to my senses” through the chastisement he brought into my life. Just before Jesus says he knocks at the door, the Lover of our Soul says,

Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent.

It was suffering that caused me to heed his knock. It was love that shattered the hard rocks of my heart that prevented the seed of his love to grow. It was the loving chisel of his hand that made me a man from the stone of my heart, hardened as it was to the core by sexual immorality.

Parents, be patient. Be loving, be not afraid, and as the Psalmist says, wait for the Lord, and pray that by your love, their stony hearts will be broken, and so that they will come home.

Why I Don’t Call Myself A Gay Christian

A few years back I wrote an essay for First Things magazine with the title, “Why I Don’t Call Myself A Gay Christian.” I suppose that was the spark that started my public engagement on faith and sexuality, and it’s been a fun and exciting ride ever since.

I’ve been a bit silent on the blog here, since starting my book, as well as doing some writing for other outlets, but tonight I stumbled on another blog of a fellow who published a post with the same title, so I thought I’d link to it here.