What’s Up with “Disinterested Friendship” Anyway?

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. Continue reading

In Response to Wesley Hill on Suffering

Over at the Spiritual Friendship Blog, Wesley Hill, author of Washed And Waiting, has what I think is an excellent post on how our suffering can be united with Christ.  It seems to me to be a very Catholic view of suffering that Wesley Hill has stumbled on, particularly with the line of his I quote below.  For some reason, the powers that be there at Spiritual Friendship have chosen not to post my response, so I’ve posted it here instead, for my blog readers’ consideration.  Check out his post first–it’s quite good, and very exciting to hear such things from a Protestant.  It reminds of the way Elisabeth Elliott views suffering.

I appreciate your post. It seems very much in line with a quote of Thomas Merton that changed my view of living with same sex attraction. I think it resonates with what you wrote above, when you wrote about St. Paul, saying that “he gives his suffering a Christian shape. It becomes his sharing in the passion of Christ. Living out the condition of death is itself for Paul also a sharing in the risen life of Jesus. He dies not because he is “in Adam,” but because he is “in Christ.””

This quote from Thomas Merton says much the same thing:

“Suffering, therefore, must make sense to us not as a vague universal necessity, but as something demanded by our own personal destiny. When I see my trials not as the collision of my life with a blind machine called fate, but as the sacramental gift of Christ’s love, given to me by God the Father along with my identity and my very name, then I can consecrate them and myself with them to God. For then I realize that my suffering is not my own. It is the Passion of Christ, stretching out its tendrils into my life in order to bear rich clusters of grapes, making my soul dizzy with the wine of Christ’s love, and pouring that wine as strong as fire upon the whole world.”

I have found great comfort in Colossians 1:24 as well, in which St. Paul says, “I complete what is lacking in Christ’s affliction.” Of course, that’s not to say that in the Catholic view of suffering that Christ’s death on the Cross was somehow incomplete, but rather that God allows us to participate in his death on the Cross–in a very real sense–in which we actually participate with his redemption of the world (only possible because Christ is in us). For me, it gives a deeper meaning and purpose to suffering than merely being the means by which God strengthens our character.

Something St. Ireneaus wrote long ago has helped me think about this aspect of “joining in Christ’s suffering.” He wrote that in heaven, there “dwell powers and angels and angels and archangels, doing service to God, the Almighty and Maker of all things: not as though He was in need, but that they may not be idle and unprofitable and ineffectual.” Christ’s death certainly is sufficient–but I think, like the angels, God does not need us to join our suffering to His, but He allows that in our loves, out of love for our good. God wants us to willingly choose to join our sufferings with his, which I’m convinced is what it means to become literal “living sacrifices.”

C. S. Lewis’s thoughts on prayer from his poem “Sonnet” also have helped me think about how living with the pain associated with SSA can be joined with Christ’s suffering.

“…if His action lingers
Till men have prayer, and suffers their weak prayers indeed
To move as very muscles His delaying fingers,
Who, in His longanimity and love for our
Small dignities, enfeebles, for a time, His power.”

I have reflected often over the years on what Lewis wrote here, thinking that out of His love for our “small dignities” God might “enfeeble” His power, to allow us to participate in His Will. It seems to be, in some sense, what St. Paul is saying in Colossians 1:24.

Thanks for this post. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Great post!

By the way, I gave a talk on that Merton quote, and how I view it as related to homosexuality, for what it’s worth. If you’re curious, you can view it here:

Also, you may find this letter on suffering by John Paul II fascinating, in light of what you wrote in this post. This too has shaped my view of the redemption of homosexuality in our lives.


Running the Race–It Ain’t Necessarily Easy

Dear Christopher,

Thanks for writing.  It’s great hearing from you, as always.  I’m glad to hear that the new school year is off to a roaring start.  Congratulations for being nominated for the Academic Quiz Team!  You always were a bright guy, and I’m sure you’ll make your school proud.  I had no idea that such things were “lettered” sports events.  Does this mean you can get a jacket?  As far as I’m concerned, high school would have been much better for me if sporting events utilized the brain more than brawn.  I don’t really like our sports obsessed world.  Sometimes I think I would have preferred to have been born in a different century.  Preferably one without ESPN.

The Drama Club should be a lot of fun too.  We didn’t have very many clubs when I was in school, but I sure enjoyed my times in the high school musicals.  Some of my fondest memories of high school come from backstage shenanigans and the fun of hamming it up onstage with friends.  Let me know when you’ll be performing, since I’ll be there, front and center.

The Gay-Straight Alliance that you’re checking out is obviously interesting to me.  I have to say that I agree, in part, with what your advisor said to you all.  Of course, there naturally would be a sense of relief after “coming out” that someone else finally knows, but I don’t necessarily believe it follows that the only way to live a fulfilled, psychologically healthy life is “by admitting to yourself and others that you’re gay,” as she said to your group.  I remember when I was 12 or so, wishing there was someone, somewhere I could tell about this part of my life, and yet I didn’t have anyone I felt comfortable talking to about this.  I do think that teenagers who “come out” in adolescence and high school probably feel a form of relief that I certainly didn’t feel back then in adolescence, since this part of their life now is no longer hidden. In part, I  agree with your advisor.  Middle schoolers and high schoolers shouldn’t keep this a secret—though I think they should be very prudent about who they tell (family or a priest first, and only, in the beginning, methinks). The problem in my mind with high schoolers “coming out” is that it’s a label that sticks and usually causes unforeseen problems in and of itself, and I don’t like the strange ritualized way in which “coming out” has been trumpeted.  I’ve yet to “come out,” and never will–even though lots of people know I like guys.  (But that’s a topic for another email, if you’d like).

Your advisor is right too in saying that the only way to true happiness is to be honest about yourself and who you are.  If we lie to ourselves, that leads to psychological duress and turmoil.  The question, of course, is how do we determine the truth about ourselves and about who we are, which I’ve touched on a bit before.  There have really only ever been two ways of viewing man:  through the eyes of God, or through the eyes of man.  I choose to believe what Pope Paul VI said:  The Church is expert in humanity.  I trust the Church now, more than I do society, including  psychologists who like to think that they’re the experts in humanity.  Did you know that Pope John Paul II wrote an entire encyclical that touches on those two competing views of the truth?  I’ll just quote a quick section, from “The Splendor of Truth,” for you to consider:

In fact, while the behavioural sciences, like all experimental sciences, develop an empirical and statistical concept of “normality”, faith teaches that this normality itself bears the traces of a fall from man’s original situation — in other words, it is affected by sin.  Only Christian faith points out to man the way to return to “the beginning” (cf. Mt 19:8), a way which is often quite different from that of empirical normality. Hence the behavioural sciences, despite the great value of the information which they provide, cannot be considered decisive indications of moral norms. It is the Gospel which reveals the full truth about man and his moral journey, and thus enlightens and admonishes sinners; it proclaims to them God’s mercy, which is constantly at work to preserve them both from despair at their inability fully to know and keep God’s law and from the presumption that they can be saved without merit. God also reminds sinners of the joy of forgiveness, which alone grants the strength to see in the moral law a liberating truth, a grace-filled source of hope, a path of life.

For me, Christopher, I’ve come to view the behavioral sciences like JPII does:  they do great good, but they can also get things wrong about man because of the traces of the fall “from our original situation.”  Much truth certainly exists in psychology.  Heck—I’ve gone to therapists before and benefitted greatly from talking with them. What JPII tells us in this encyclical, though, is that what psychologists teach us about man must be in alignment with what God has revealed about man, in order for it to be considered true and trustworthy.  As for me, I trust the Church more than I do the American Psychological Association, and it’s within the Church’s teaching that I find “liberating truth,” though following it is hard as heck for me sometimes!

Which brings me back to your other question.  Do I truly feel at peace with myself, based on the choice I made to try and embrace the Church’s teaching?  Here’s the honest answer:  I suppose I feel as much peace in my life as a marathon runner does in the middle of a race.  My life isn’t a bed of roses—trying to live by the Church’s teaching is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, because it goes against all of my strongest desires and inclinations.  I wish the world were such that I could live the way I want to live my life, but like a man who’s volunteered for the military, or for a man who chooses to run a marathon, I knew that what I was signing up for wasn’t easy.  But that’s part of the appeal of living the Christian life, don’t you think?  That being said, on a lot of days, I just want to throw in the towel, and give up the race, but then I am reminded of what kind of stuff we’re made of (image of God material), and what we’re made for (following Christ’s example).

In this summer of the Olympics, these words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 9 have been on my mind:

“Do you not realize that, though all the runners in the stadium take part in the race, only one of them gets the prize?  Run like that—to win.  Every athlete concentrates completely on training, and this is to win a wreath that will wither, whereas ours will never wither.  So that is how I run, not without a clear goal; and how I box, not wasting blows on air.  I punish my body and bring it under control, to avoid any risk that, having acted as herald for others, I myself may be disqualified.”

Or consider the words of the writer of Hebrews in chapter 12:

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

See, we’re made for something other than an easy life.  I’m called to a greater dignity than merely living the life I want to live.  We were made to RUN, to work just as hard as athletes do in the Olympics.  We’re not called to be couch potatoes in our spiritual life.  Athletes get up off their butt, and do battle with their will, with a specific goal in mind.  In the midst of the pain of training, they push through the “punishing of the body” because of the goal that they have set before them.  They see the challenge, and rise to it—because they will only be fulfilled when they’re actually in the race!  This kind of challenge is what we’re made for, not the peace and fulfillment that Gay/Straight Alliance Advisors all across the world advocate for people like me.  I’m convinced that’s the peace of the world—which ultimately, in my mind, is a mirage and a bunch of false promises.

When Christ says to us in John 14, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful,” I think most of us want this to mean we’re going to live a life of easy, peaceful tranquility where every bump in the road is leveled out, where we’re happy to get up each day, and our lives are free from difficulty.  This, I’m convinced, is what most people think the “peace that surpasses all understanding” is all about.  I know I once thought this myself.

I’ve come to realize that what I once believed about this is very messed up thinking.  That’s the peace “as the world gives.”  Let’s be honest about the peace that Christ gives:  it’s the peace that led so many of the disciples to be crucified, just like their Lord and Savior.  That’s a strange sense of peace, ain’t it?

When I think about what your advisor told you in your meeting, I think about the life of Christ and how His life exhibited “peace and fulfillment.”  Do you think that your advisor would say that Christ chose the path which led to his peace, at least as she understands the term (and indeed the way most in the APA view the term)?  The.Man.Sweat.Blood.  That’s a crazy kind of peace, I’d say, but that’s the peace of Christ that apparently we are called to live out—at least at times.  And yet, even though Christ sweat blood in the Garden, even though his disciples deserted him in his hour of need, and even though His own Father forsook Him, there’s never been a man more filled with peace than Christ.  Why? Because at all times He was in the middle of the will of His Heavenly Father.  Ultimately, the only place where peace and a fulfilled life can be found is in living out the will of God in our lives, and this means running a race, not sitting at the sidelines eating popcorn.  Or in my case, living a sexually active life.

I hate that this is so.  Certainly, my life doesn’t always exhibit freedom from inner turmoil.  Your advisor is exactly right in thinking that the lives of people who choose to embrace the Church’s teaching on sexuality can be very difficult.  But who cares about that?  Seriously.  We’re not made for Disneyland, for crying out loud!  I think of the words from Hebrews referring to Christ sweating blood in Gethsemane: “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin.”

But remember: there is Godly peace in this path!  A runner who has finally seen the day for which he has trained feels like he’s finally living out what he was made to do.  The painful training that leads up to the day of the race is what he’s made for too.  I would imagine for an Olympic athlete, at the moment when he stands on the Olympic platform, and feels the gold medal hanging around his neck, every agonizing moment of training is forgotten.  He’d do it all over again too!

If your advisor asked me if I felt peace in my life, I’d be honest and say no…and yes.  I’d tell her that I’m trying to run the race of my life, and that I hate how agonizing the journey sometimes is to fight against my passions and desires to be with another man.  I’d tell her that there’s definitely pain involved, but that it’s the “good kind of pain.”  I’d tell her that my life of training is filled with lots of ups and downs, with lots of scraped knees and broken bones, but that the goal in mind is always worth it, even when I’m running against a major headwind, and fighting against sleet and hail as it sometimes feels.  I’d tell her that though sometimes I feel like I’m climbing up the side of a mountain, the occasional vistas make it worthwhile.  I’d tell her that I’m not alone in the journey, and that some of my dearest friends in life are running the same race, and that we spur each other on towards the finish line.  I’d tell her that when one of us falls, there are hands all around, reaching down to pick us back up.  I’d tell her that we all take heart in all those saints who have gone before, and shown that the race can indeed be won.  I’d tell her that it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but there is peace in knowing that I’m at least trying to run the race, and that most of the time, I feel like I’m in last place.  Finally, I’d tell her I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’ll leave you with two quotes that mean the world to me, from two of my favorite writers.  I think about them in terms of living out the Christian ideal of chastity:

G. K. Chesterton wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

And from a favorite author of yours, C. S. Lewis, comes one of my top five favorite quotes of all time:

“If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad.”

A lot of people might think the choice to follow the Church’s teachings on sexuality make life quite intolerable.  On the contrary, I think it assures us that life’s not so bad.

God bless you, and tell me anything—even if some of the stuff I wrote ticked you off.  I want to know.  🙂

You  remain in my prayers,

Your Godfather,