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.

Thoughts on Falling in Love

There is an interesting phenomenon going on in the blogosphere right now amongst those who adhere to the teachings of the Church on human sexuality, and who embrace chastity, and yet label themselves as gay.  These folks collectively accept the moniker of gay or lesbian, embrace a notion of “being queer,” and of celebrating their homosexuality.  Aside from the fact that I think this is opposed to the language the Church uses about man, I think this results in a slippery slope.

I wrote the following in response to a blog entry I read, which had the following paragraph:

“What they don’t realize is that while the homosexual inclination is itself objectively disordered, the overall experience of the homosexual, even including falling in love, is not objectively disordered.”

Surely “falling in love” becomes something other than than the “disinterested friendship” the CCC teaches us about.  I notice on the part of the “gay identity” crowd that there is much parsing of the language of the CCC (in ways which no other section of the CCC is parsed out). Falling in love is not truly friendship, by any stretch of the imagination. It moves outside the very realm of friendship and moves from philia into Eros. I would submit that the only appropriate modes of love between members of the same sex must be confined to “friendships,” and the aspects of love which are appropriate to friendship are forms of storge, philia and agape.

When we fall in love with another person, romantically, we move towards the realm of that which is objectively disordered. I know that you all disagree with this, but when one “falls in love,” it is no longer a disinterested friendship, even if one believes that such a romantic relationship can be ennobled.

In my own life, I have made a conscious decision to avoid becoming close to men for whom I might become romantically drawn towards. I think this is prudent, and I think adheres to the wise counsel of the Church in focusing on “disinterested friendship.”

This comes from a long history of having crushes on other men, and realizing that in embracing these feelings of romance towards other guys, I no longer can see them objectively as merely friends. They become objects of my affection which contaminate those friendships, and besides, they can easily lead to occasions to sin. When one has “fallen in love” with another man, one delights in the memory of him, the coming of him at his next visit, in a way that I believe God has not ordained for same sex friendships. It is not that friends who aren’t romantically attached don’t long for the next visit, but the longing obviously comes from a very different emotional place. I think the totality of the disordered inclination ALSO includes this “falling in love” aspect of relationship, which moves us beyond the realm of “disinterested friendship.” Once we allow ourselves to “fall in love” with a member of the same sex, we have set up a pseudo relationship rooted in Eros, which I believe is counter to our good, and counter to God’s plans for our lives.

What is the fulfillment of a romantic love, felt for another man? If one begins to accept that falling in love with another man is objectively ordered, how does that play itself out? Are you no longer “getting together to hang out,” or are you now “going on a date?” Do you hold hands in the car or in a movie? Do you cuddle on the couch, watching a movie? Do you stare into each other’s eyes over a candle lit dinner in Paris? Do you linger in a hug, in the same way a man and woman linger in a hug? Do you caress the face of your beloved, in the same way a man caresses a woman’s face?

There is a great difference between the joy of friendship, that say, Lewis and Tolkein felt for each other, and the joy of “friendship” I have felt in the past when I’ve had my own “beloved.” Lewis and Tolkein I doubt ever fantasized about the emotional high they felt in each other’s presence. And that’s what romantic love is so often about, particularly in the first stages. Any study of the Inklings showed that their friendship was completely disinterested, which is what made it so rich. They experienced what Lewis calls the “What? You too?” phenomenon, which is very different than the notion of “falling in love.” My views of my friend, where I without a doubt “fell in love with him,” were doomed to disappoint. There is no appropriate method of fulfillment with a romantic love between two men or two women. There IS an appropriate mode of fulfillment between two men and women who love each other, strictly as friends, and that fulfillment is the great gift of the brotherhood of commonality and enjoyment of the person. When romantic love enters into a same sex friendship, at that point, I’m convinced this falls into the rubric of no longer being a disinterested friendship.

So too with a married man or a married woman who become friends, and have a “romantic” relationship with each other, even if it is physically chaste. There is something very self-indulgent when a married person becomes too close to a member of the opposite sex. When these friendships are pursued, they serve one purpose: to make us happy, and for the warm feelings the contemplation of the “beloved” brings. It is self-interested, it is self-motivated, it is self-indulgent. A married man or a married woman can have wonderful, and even close friendships with a member of the opposite sex, but they are wise to understand that the boundary must be the same one which we who are same sex attracted must recognize: it must be disinterested, and devoid of any sort of romantic feelings. Indeed, the canary in the coal mine is the first flush of romantic feelings. In my own life, the joy I felt with certain men when I felt romantically towards them was merely self-indulgent, no matter how ennobled I believed myself to be in my desire to love them “with a Christ like love.” Ultimately, any romantic feelings that I had for another man I think were narcissistically motivated, and I think this is the case for any romantic feelings between the same sex. For me, what this means in my life is that I consciously avoid becoming close to any man for whom I might be tempted to “fall for.” Why? Because I want to see him for the man he is, not as the man of my dreams, or the man who makes me happy when I contemplate him. For me, I have come to realize that my past contemplation of a male beloved are self-indulgent fantasies, escapist in nature, in the very same way that a married man fantasies about another woman to help ease the dissatisfaction he feels in his own marriage. The legitimate, and very real dissatisfaction that a same sex attracted man feels is loneliness, but the wrong path to ameliorate that pain is the path of “falling in love.”

On being “gay and Catholic”

Over at the Spiritual Friendship blog, Ron Belgau applauds one commenter in particular on Joshua Gonnerman’s recent piece at First Things.  I didn’t particularly agree with Ron Belgau’s assessment, and posted my response to Ron on his blog, but it hasn’t appeared yet in print, so I decided to post it here.  I think we are very unwise to embrace a notion of “being gay.”  I believe that adherence to the Church means not merely chastity, but embracing the view of man that She teaches us.  My comments appear below.

(Back to Letters to Christopher tomorrow–telling my story, from the very beginning.)

I have been following the recent pieces on First Things with great interest. I plodded through all of the comments on both of Joshua’s pieces, and even took time to read some of the comments on other blogs that linked to the First Things pieces.

I too have been reflecting on Thomas Sundarman’s comment, and wondering if his comments, in total, would reflect the sort of friendship that “spiritual friendship” demands. What stuck out in my mind was the last paragraph:

“And I for one have no trouble with Josh’s “identity” as a “chaste gay Catholic”, because he is already my brother, I already knew his situation, and I have long since recognized that he is as Catholic as the rest of us in it; perhaps more so, because to be heterosexual and Catholic has no special stigma, but to be gay and yet truly Catholic inspires bile. I hope that you all, brothers and sisters in Christ, will accept your brother for who he is.”

Certainly, in the path of spiritual friendship, all of us who live with homosexual desires need friends who encourage us in our pursuit of chastity. I have a mix of friends who urge me on in this–some who understand my desires and live with them, and then other men and women who have only ever been attracted to the opposite sex. It seems strange, however, to elevate “being gay and Catholic” as somehow more “Catholic” than the rest of us. My own brother has nine children and on vacations with him and his family, I have noticed the judgment that his cavalcade of children brings down on him. Their particular form of “being faithfully Catholic” brings bile, and I would contend that in today’s climate, to argue against contraception and the HHS mandate brings as much bile, if not more, than does the topic of homosexuality. My point is this: to be faithfully Catholic is to be a thorn in the side of the world, and our Savior made it clear that we would be viewed with bile, simply for calling ourselves Christians, and in following him. I don’t think that I am “more Catholic” because I’ve chosen to live chastely, or because I believe what the Church teaches on homosexuality. It’s my particular call of obedience; my friend who broke up with the man she hoped to marry because he wasn’t willing to abide by the annulment process over his divorce is as crazy in the eyes of the world as I am. I am not special or unique in embracing the Church’s teachings. I’m just faithful, like so many others.

But more than this, I wonder about Thomas’s comments, urging us to accept any brother who is “gay, chaste and Catholic,” for “who he is.”

I view myself through an entirely different lens. “Who I am” is not a “gay Catholic,” but rather a “Catholic, who happens to live with same sex attraction.” I would argue, as well, that my brothers and sisters who claim the moniker of “gay Catholic” are actually not embracing the truth about themselves–they have embraced a moniker that is man made, not ordained by God.

An aspect of spiritual friendship, in my eyes, is one that always desires the good of the beloved, and this necessitates that the beloved believe what is true about himself.

Everyone here is probably familiar with the 1986 Letter, in which Ratzinger writes that the Church refuses to call anyone homosexual or heterosexual. Do we not, as faithful Catholics, need to embrace this teaching of the Church about ourselves, even if in our particular field of vision, so consumed as it is with the entire topic of homosexuality, we don’t particularly want to agree with Her, or believe that perhaps She’s wrong?

Blessed John Cardinal Newman’s friendship with Father John Ambrose is often a model of spiritual friendship. If we were to replace Newman as a friend of a man who stated that he was a “gay, chaste, Catholic,” I think that Newman would lovingly question the assertion of “being gay,” in light of what the Church has said on the subject.

As Newman wrote:

“I believe the whole revealed dogma as taught by the Apostles, as committed by the Apostles to the Church, and as declared by the Church to me. I receive it, as it is infallibly interpreted by the authority of whom it is thus committed, and (implicitly) as it shall be, in like manner, further interpreted by the same authority until the end of time. I submit, moreover, to the universally received traditions of the Church, in which lies the matter of those new dogmatic definitions which are from time to time made, and which in all times are the clothing and the illustrations of the Catholic dogma as already defined. And I submit myself to those other decisions of the Holy See, theological or not, through the organs which it has itself appointed, which, waiving the question of their infallibility, on the lowest ground come to me with a claim to be accepted and obeyed.

What is compelling to me is the last sentence. I believe that the claims of the Church about how I should identify myself, and others like me, come with a claim to be accepted and obeyed. It is humbling to admit that I have within me an intrinsically disordered desire, but I thank God that I do! It points me heavenward, and it’s my weakness. I don’t celebrate “being gay,” but rather refuse to refer to myself as anything other than a child of God. I think that true friendship, should be like Thomas writes: yes, we must accept our brothers as they are, but we must also urge them to a more full communion with the Church, to more faithfulness to the Church in accepting the truth of “who we are,” as taught by the Church, not influenced by man. We are in this world, and not of it, and I believe that God desires us to be free from the labels of man. I think faithfulness, in all things, is our challenge, and the goal of true spiritual friendship is to urge our brothers on to the deepest commitment to faithfulness in the Church–especially in the areas most difficult to accept.

God’s blessings on all!