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I admit I used to pray that my SSA would be taken away. I guess I still do, occasionally, though not with great conviction. I reckon that if He wanted to take it away, He would have by now, and it’s not something I should worry about too much.

Besides, in one sense, I doubt He could do it. God can do anything, but as Dorothy Sayers pointed out, some propositions aren’t “things” at all. That’s why the old business with can-he-make-a-rock-so-heavy-he-can’t-lift-it, is nonsense. It’s like saying, “Oh yeah? If God’s so powerful, can He make a point that oranges a square?”

The reason I doubt He could do it is this. My SSA isn’t my essence, but it’s deep inside me, and it’s tied to everything else. I have a beautiful children’s book by Jean Vanier. In one of the illustrations, Jesus is carefully untangling a sheep that’s gotten caught in the thorns. I think that for God to suddenly undo my SSA would be like yanking the sheep out of those thorns. What else would come away with it?

Speaking of thorns: not long ago at Mass we had the parable of the wheat and the tares, a story that seemed perverse to me when I was younger (why not just yank out all the weeds NOW?), but which I understand better now. Things are mixed now, they are tangled and unclear; that is the nature of the world. We can’t just yank out the parts that don’t suit us, because we don’t know what they’re for, and because we don’t know what they’re attached to: “while you are pulling up the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them.”

What would it be like if tomorrow I woke up straight? What would I be like? I can’t imagine. Would I be attracted to women but still desire men emotionally? That would be an impossible situation, and I wouldn’t be any more suited for marriage than I am now. Then would I suddenly not want intimacy with men?

First of all, that would be just as unnatural as wanting the wrong kind. People are made for intimacy with people, and all men, straight or gay, are meant for friendship. It’s also true, though, that the specific kind of desire I have for men — the romantic kind — isn’t natural and isn’t good.1 But that’s the reason it’s not the kind of thing God takes away.

I mean this: He doesn’t take away my SSA for the same reason that He won’t magically make me unselfish, or courageous; he won’t zap away my laziness or my self-indulgence. These are things that, by their nature, take work. If I was the kind of person who actually wanted to get out of bed at 6AM every morning, or who just naturally felt cheerful all the time, that wouldn’t mean I was virtuous. It would just mean I was lucky.

Where would I be if I had been born without clear and obvious flaws? I’d be arrogant as all get out, for one. The fact that I can still manage to be arrogant now, even after seeing myself be petty and selfish on innumerable occasions, is pretty astonishing.

Imagine how screwed I’d be if there were nothing wrong with me?

1 I know that even a lot of Christians will disagree with me here. That’s fine with me. I do hold that, though the desire in itself isn’t natural or good, it’s based on something that is natural and good.

23 thoughts on “Thorns

  1. Mandi @ Catholic Newlywed

    Wow. That makes so much sense, yet it is certainly not something I’ve ever thought of before (and I probably would have never come up with myself). I often pray that God will take away my imperfections, but never understood that taking them away would also take away the good that I get from them (like self-control and perseverance). And I really love your connection to the wheat and the weeds – I also struggled for years to understand that one!

    Reply
  2. Theresa

    You just gave me something beautiful to pray with, thank you. Like Mandi, I had never thought of it in this way before and that makes so much sense. I love the imagery of the Shepherd and the sheep (I have a great devotion to the Good Shepherd and the Lamb); it really just tied it all together for me. Excellent :)

    Reply
  3. Joe

    “I do hold that, though the desire in itself isn’t natural or good, it’s based on something that is natural and good.”

    This, I believe, is very correct.

    Reply
  4. R

    Hi SG,

    You must be referring to 2 Cor 7-10:

    And lest the greatness of the revelations should exalt me, there was given me a sting (thorn) of my flesh, an angel of Satan, to buffet me. For which thing, thrice I besought the Lord that it might depart from me. And he said to me: My grace is sufficient for you: for power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. For which cause I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I am weak, then am I powerful.

    Still, that does not mean that we should be complacent and give in to our weaknesses and faults right?

    I don’t know if you’ve written about this, but what do you think is the vocation of people who suffer from SSA?

    It seems that this topic has not been dealt with in depth, at least not from my knowledge.

    Blessings,
    R

    Reply
    1. Steve Gershom

      Yeah R, that’s the one! St. Paul usually says something that sums up what I mean, except holier and more succinct.

      About vocations — funny you should mention it. I’ve been thinking about that quite a bit over the last few days. I hope eventually I’ll have an idea clear enough to post about. Do you have any ideas about it? I’d love to hear them.

      Reply
  5. viego pobre

    i think for many there is a process of accepting one’s SSA that is similar to Kubler Ross’s stages of accepting death. It is a good paradigm that can help one find some direction. we can go through a long period of denial, but finally the truth starts to be obvious, so then we go through these stages of bargaining (if i am a good chaste boy God will change me?), depression and self pity (look at this terrible cross i have to bear), anger (why did this happen to me…so i go back to self pity or rebellion), and finally if i don’t get stuck in one of these stages, i come to real deep acceptance. and not just acceptance of SSA but of my whole self as a person that can accept myself as pure gift and grace, and enter into the great journey of being engaged in life as a human being and not some label (SAA, Gay, homosexual etc).
    it is only if we get to this point of grateful acceptance that we can finally be free to enter into the joy, mystery and grace of life. and it is only at this point that we really enter into the incredible excitement of the spiritual life.
    IMHO of a viego probre

    Reply
  6. Nathaniel

    Recently a priest explained that the weaknesses we experience and the temptations are part of “the natural growth” of a person, just as a seed must break and the plant must push itself up through hard soil only to be buffeted by wind and rain and eaten by animals. It is not good for the plant, but it is part of the natural growth. The rain is good (that something good that is there) but sometimes it’s too heavy (the desire which you said was itself bad/unhealthy).

    Reply
  7. Ron

    Viego’s idea of the stages of accepting one’s SSA, much like Kubler-Ross’s stages of the dying process really hit home for me. I went through a similar process when I was in my teens and 20s. I finally emerged accepting myself as a man with SSA, but so much more than that…a man with talents, sinful tendencies, and more. The big change for me was when I stopped asking “Why me?”. Why not me? Thanks, everybody, for your prayers and support…I promise you mine.

    Reply
  8. John D. Shea

    Great post, as usual, Steve :) It’s funny that you should post this now, I actually had a similar insight regarding my own struggles and temptations just a couple of days ago. The moral of the story, though, was captured by St. Francis many hundreds of years ago: ‎”No one ought to consider himself a true servant of God who is not tried by many temptations and trials. Temptations overcome are a sort of betrothal ring God gives the soul.” – St. Francis of Assisi

    If you’re curious, here’s how I stumbled to the same conclusion:
    http://jdshea.wordpress.com/2011/08/13/the-struggle-is-the-sacrifice/

    God bless you Steve! Keep up the fight, brother.

    Reply
  9. Peter

    Thanks for this post, Steve. I don’t know if it was God’s will that I have SSA, but I do know that He wants to make me a better person by it. Thanks to everyone who commented, too; prayers all around.

    Reply
  10. R

    It’s really cool to see others who share the same struggles while wanting to be faithful to the Lord :)

    Btw, the right scripture citation is 2 Cor 12:7-10.

    I’ve been thinking about my vocation for a while, but have not quite found it yet. Out of the three possible states of life (single, married or religious) it seems that only single and (potentially) religious life is open for someone who is struggling with SSA.

    The religious path can be broken down further to the priesthood/deaconate (for men) and other forms of religious life. For the priesthood/deaconate, there is a Church document that at least discourages (and likely prohibits) the ordination of men with SSA (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccatheduc/documents/rc_con_ccatheduc_doc_20051104_istruzione_en.html). There is arguably room for interpretation for the term “deep-seated homosexual tendencies”, but that’s not a subject I’d like to get into now :)

    Assuming for the sake of argument that the priesthood is closed, that leaves other forms of religious life such as religious sisters/brothers/monks/nuns, etc. Such forms of life may be suitable but may present challenges as one will be living in close proximity with members of the same sex.

    That leaves us with the last path: the single, celibate life, aka the bachelor for life. Unfortunately, this particular vocation is seldom talked about and carries a negative connotation in society. Furthermore, there seems to be very few network of support for people who are actually living this life. It seems to me to be a very difficult vocation indeed!

    Anyways, these are my brief and unorganized thoughts for now. I wish I can write as well as you someday, SG.

    Peace,
    R

    Reply
  11. Christopher

    Hey Steve, Another great post. I’m really enjoying your writing; I’m continually impressed by it.

    What you said in this post reminds me of a quote by Fr. Giussani (are you familiar with him?) that I was talking about with a couple friends just last night:

    “Expect a journey, not a miracle that doges your responsibilities, that eliminates your toil, that makes your freedom mechanical. No! Don’t expect this.”

    Thank God for the journey! I think it’s the only way to be changed while staying myself. Or maybe better, I think it’s the only way to be changed and become more myself.

    Thanks again.

    Reply
  12. Justin

    I’ve recently come to the realization that I need to accept certain imperfections (likely including this one) instead of “kicking against the goad” and wondering why God hasn’t fixed me yet despite my prayers. It’s very hard when you want to be chaste and holy and so much in your imperfections militates against it — you’d think that if God called us to holiness, he’d make it at least possible, but then I suppose my definition of “holy” may not be the right one. I have a tendency to say “Oh a disgusting thought went through my head and I was attracted to it” and consider that to be a sign of lack of holiness. There is a lot of humility involved here (cf. St. Paul’s thorn in his flesh). I think there was an element of pride in thinking I was “too good” for these imperfections; now I just need to accept that I’m a broken person. Every day I pray for the grace to accept the imperfections the Lord wills me to have, and I offer up for healing the imperfections he does not will me to have. Sort of like the Serenity Prayer (“Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the strength to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”).

    Reply
  13. eaucoin

    When I had the experience of God that started my conversion, I was under the impression that He would make me special, which would certainly be better than normal–the goal which I had always aspired to (back when I thought normalcy was a kind of holiness–I have Aspergers). I was upset when I found out He was going to work with me just the way I am. Which led me on one occasion to ask the Holy Spirit, “What does God do with fools like me?” (I pictured God expressing the same kind of frustration my mother had). And the still small voice of the Holy Spirit told me, “He just loves them.”

    Reply
  14. Melissa

    You will undoubtedly scoff at the idea, but when I read your posts, I think that you have the makings of a modern day saint! Really, you are an amazing inspiration. God bless you!

    Reply
  15. Anne

    This is so helpful! I struggle with depression and have been fighting against it for years. The thought just occurred to me recently that maybe my depression isn’t such a curse but rather it’s God’s will for me for reasons I will never understand. This post hits that nail on the head. Thank you for helping me to realize that if I would just accept my moodiness, constant tears and fatigue, God will use those ugly parts of my personality to glorify His name somehow. Now it’s time to stop focusing on the negative and enjoy all of the wonderful blessings God has placed in my life.

    Reply
  16. Steubie Grad '03

    Steve – this post is so profound. Reading your stuff has inspired me to begin to go back to Adoration and really get back to trying harder to know Christ.

    Thanks.

    Reply
  17. Andrew

    For years, I also prayed that God would fix me, and make me straight. I alternated between being angry at God for allowing me to have SSA in the first place, and blaming myself for not being man enough to be attracted to women.

    Its only been in the last three or four years, that I stopped praying this. Instead, I am now praying that God would help me with what I feel is a sexual addiction. And amazingly, this prayer seems to be being answered. I’m becoming much more self-controlled in my sexual life, which is awesome, because its also dealing with all the negative emotion that went with sex for me.

    I’ve said it a few times already, but I’m going to say it again: thank you for your work, you speak deeply to me, and it is encouraging to me to know that others are sharing my battle, and overcoming it!

    Reply

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