A New First Things Piece

Here’s my new piece about identity, up at First Things.

The essence of my piece can be summed up in this paragraph:

Since I am Catholic, the sexual identity I am called to embrace is my maleness; my true orientation is towards women, my true sexual complement. Insofar as I am attracted to men rather than women, I do not discover a different essential orientation within myself, but rather a disorientation of my sexual attractions. A homosexual “orientation,” no matter how strongly it is subjectively experienced within our person, does not exist within God’s blueprint for humanity. We know this based on the authority of the Church, the custodian and interpreter of revelation.

Elizabeth Scalia and “Intrinsic Disorder”

I think Elizabeth Scalia is a particularly gifted and insightful writer.  She’s the sort of writer who eloquently says the sorts of things that I tend to agree with, but perhaps never thought about in the way she writes about them.  I think this is one of the gifts of each of us being unique and unrepeatable image bearers of God: seeing God and the world in a way that the world has never seen or will see.  Good writers like Scalia are able to share their particular angle of looking at God with others, which is why I tend to enjoy and appreciate her writing.

That being said, I have disagreed with some of the things Elizabeth Scalia has written about homosexuality in the past.  For example, I don’t like her notion of someone like me exhibiting an “exceptional otherness.”  In her recent piece, however, I really like what she wrote about the term that so many people have found so offensive in the Catholic doctrine about same sex attraction:  intrinsically disordered.

What she wrote here about her love of food is the same reason I don’t take any offense at the use of the phrase intrinsically disordered about my desires, and rather find in the phrase freedom:

We are told that the phrase “intrinsically disordered” is hurtful or hateful, and yet I find the words ironically healing; they give me precisely the hook into that transcendent understanding (and into notions of original sin and even idolatry) that I have been missing. Far from taking any offense at the idea that I am “intrinsically disordered,” I am actually consoled.

For Scalia, her “intrinsic disorder” is a love of food.  For me, it’s same sex attraction–plus a love for food too.  But of course, the difference between the two is important, I think.  One must eat, and so our passion for food can become ordered rightly through the virtue of temperance.  Same sex attraction doesn’t have an outlet that is proper and good for man–it can never become rightly ordered, thus the need for the label “intrinsic.”

I left this in response:

Fantastic stuff.  It resonates with my experience living with same sex attraction.  Because of this in my life, I have a keen and daily awareness of my need for God.  I cling to a phrase of Blessed Columba Marmion who wrote, “Jesus is our holiness.”  I now have come to thank God I live with this particularly intrinsic disorder, because I know he’s allowed it for my good and for my sanctification, and it leads me to the humble reality that apart from Christ, I can do nothing.  The battles and defeats aren’t viewed in terms of shame by me–though I am certainly saddened when they occur.  I do view them as a weakness in me, but this becomes Christ revealing his strength in my life, in ways similar to Wesley Hill’s views of the subject.

The following from Blessed Columba Marmion’s is an example of how this sort of thinking has helped make sense of my same sex attraction, (as well as my inordinate love for dessert!):

“Let us no longer be disheartened by our miseries, by the imperfections we deplore.  They do not impede the flowering of grace, for God knows of what mud we are formed, He ‘knows what we are made of’, and our miseries and imperfections are the price to be paid for our human nature and are a fruitful root of humility.  Let us have patience with ourselves in this search for perfection, unending though it may be.  The Christian life has about it nothing of the fretful or anxious; its development within us is perfectly reconcilable with our miseries, our servitudes, our weaknesses.  For it is in the midst of those weaknesses that we feel dwelling within us the triumphant strength of Christ: ‘that the power of Christ may dwell in me.’”

One important caveat, however to Scalia’s post:  none of us are intrinsically disordered, so I it’s false to say, as she said about herself, “I am ‘intrinsically disordered'”.  Too often the critics of Catholic teaching on homosexuality conflate the Catechism’s description of the desire as being intrinsically disordered with the person being disordered, which is usually where the offense takes place and why it is seen as hateful and hurtful.

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.