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One of the dangers of a life like mine — being single, living alone, working a job that mainly involves staring at glowing rectangles all day — is that your faults tend to get hidden from you.

When I was a teacher, It was impossible to avoid my faults: how little it takes to make me lose patience, how I have it in me to be casually cruel even to a sixth-grader if I’m short on sleep, how prone I am to sulking when my free time gets hijacked.

Living with the community in Peru, even for just a few months, was the same. I remember doing chores with Brother Pedro one day, sweeping the floors but avoiding his eyes because just looking at him made me furious; muttering Hail Marys under my breath like they were curses, because it was either pray for his wretched, pedantic soul or beat him to death with the broom. All this because — I honestly can’t remember; probably something about the tone of voice he kept using, or this way he had of sniffing and lifting an eyebrow.1

It’s lucky I come from a big family, and that nearly everyone in my family has a big family. I’m surrounded by role models.

Caleb works overtime every week, sometimes six or seven days in a row, just to make ends meet, and all he wants to do with his time off is give that time away to his family. Caleb comes particularly to mind because I’m housesitting for him this weekend, and noticing how all I can think of is how far of a drive it is from my place to his, and how his stupid dog won’t quit licking me.

But it’s not just Caleb. I could say the same about my other married brothers and sisters. Sacrifice isn’t just something they do from time to time, when they quit watching TV and get around to it. It’s how they live.

People keep telling me how wonderful I am for, well, just not having sex with anybody. And believe me, I snap up those compliments like my brother’s stupid dog snaps up doggie treats.2 And frankly, yes, it’s hard work remaining chaste and celibate.3 It’s difficult, and it causes me pain.

But I have less and less patience with this question: “How can the Church require homosexuals to be celibate? How can she impose such a heavy cross?”

Why do people think that living a good life is supposed to be easy? Readers, whoever you are — gay, straight, married, single, relatively healthy or inflicted with any one of a billion possible debilitating pathologies — you will be asked to carry a cross. It’s going to be hard, and it’s not going to be fair.

This is a world where evil is real, and where the only real antidote is love — not medicine, not political change, not advanced anti-suffering technology, but love. And love always costs.

Suffering and self-denial aren’t extraordinary; they’re par for the course. What did you expect?

1 Yep, I was an expert on the shades of emotional inflection in a language I could barely even speak and a culture I knew nothing about.
2 And rawhide strips, and shoes, and newspapers, and toys, and the cat’s food (but not her own), and bugs, and cigarette butts…I think I’ve lost sight of my original simile.
3 Not a redundancy. Celibacy means refraining from sexual activity. Chastity means integrating your sexuality with the rest of your personality, in a way that’s appropriate to your station in life. The former is required of some people; the latter is required of everybody.

39 thoughts on “What Did You Expect?

  1. Ron

    I get the same kind of reaction from people about the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, which often leads to a diatribe about divorce and/pr women priests…My view is similar to yours, Steve. Every life, every vocation demands sacrifice, demands a cross. It’s a participation in the Lord’s redemptive mission. I often say if my cross was not life with ssa, it would be something else. Being married or in a long-term relationship is not the answer, either. There are plenty of married people who commit adultery, or are at least tempted to do so.

    In my work as a hospice nurse, I see heroes every day: my patients and their families. Living with terminal illness, facing one’s mistakes as you approach the end of life, trying to reconcile with God or family: these are truly sharing in the Cross. It makes my ssa look like a light cross, indeed.

    Mary, Health of the Sick, pray for us!
    Saint Joseph, Patron of the Dying, pray for us!

    Reply
  2. Sarah

    Reading this post reminded me strongly of one of my favorite George MacDonald quotes, which I’ve kept close to my heart for several years–it’s heartening to be reminded we do not suffer alone, or in vain. Thanks for your thoughts and honesty and the effort involved in sharing both. Christ’s peace to you.

    “…the face of him who was bearing and was yet to bear their griefs and carry their sorrows, who is now bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows; the face of the Son of God, who, instead of accepting the sacrifice of one of his creatures to satisfy his justice or support his dignity, gave himself utterly unto them, and therein to the Father by doing his lovely will; who suffered unto the death, not that men might not suffer, but that their suffering might be like his, and lead them up to his perfection…”
    “The Consuming Fire,” Unspoken Sermons

    Reply
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  4. Christi

    Steve,
    I have only just discovered your blog (thanks to Jennifer Fulwiler’s awesome blogs awards), but after reading a few posts I have to say I am already so thankful for your dedication to writing. This post was a good reminder for me today, as I’m not always great at putting suffering and self-denial in perspective…very humbling to read your insights. I’m excited to read more, your gift as a writer is a blessing to many! Thank you!

    Reply
  5. Dorothy Vining

    Hi,Steve. Thank you to Jennifer for turning me on to you. Fifty years ago my best friend was a gay guy and I’ve been studying homosexuality ever since. My opinions pop up in my blog and I’d appreciate your take on what I have to say. The latest was: http://www.musingsat85.com/myblog/?p=5394
    I will be praying for you and for anyone who has to rein in their sexual urges — God bless you and keep up the good work.

    Reply
  6. Steve

    Steve, great post.
    I have two boys, one of whom has multiple disabilities. For me, the key to being able to sacrifice freely, without bitterness or resentment, is my belief that sacrifice is a privilege to be grateful for.

    This hit me square in the face when Zach was born. He had some birth defects, and doctors told us that he was going to be severely mentally and physically disabled. I said, “I can’t have a disabled baby. I can’t do it.” A few hours later, doctors told us that Zach was dying. Immediately, I knew that if God gave me the privilege of being Zach’s mom, I would sacrifice gladly to care for him.

    Zach is now 18 years old, and he is a wonderful young man. Life hasn’t been easy to be sure, but it has been happier than I ever thought it could be, because I know what could have been. And I am so grateful.

    Reply
  7. Sylvie

    Hi everyone,

    I am expecting a BIG miracle for my sister who is now living with her girlfriend (they are a “couple”).

    Please pray for J and D.

    Blessings,

    Reply
  8. Mamazee

    Beautiful post! So true, and as a mom to seven children, i love the evidence that they can turn out thoughtful, faithful and articulate :). You’re so right that we all have a cross to bear, and i don’t want to swap with anyone. God knows…

    Reply
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  11. Annette

    Steve-

    Thank you, first of all god your courage, and your clarity. I appreciate them and think the Church and the world need more.

    Secondly, thank you for your truthfulness. It helps me feel a little more… I am not sure, validated, maybe? Marriage sure isn’t easy, but the Church calls me to remain chaste in it. Also, not popular.

    Lastly, hang in there! You’re a fantastic role model! You might not want to be, but you are.

    Reply
  12. Luca

    I’m a Catholic.
    I read your blog.

    I remain very puzzled.

    Being gay is a cross?

    Condemned to live no love,
    condemned to live not the affection,

    Then God is crazy!
    but
    God is not neutral.

    Jesus came to bring a new commandment
    a commandment that improves the old law of Moses.

    Jesus came not to put weight on the shoulders of men.

    Jesus gave very clear answers to the Pharisees, the priests, the Sadducees, men of the religious institution.

    Before the human person of every law.

    A serious theological research, is made by James Allison.

    Reply
  13. Paul

    I want to say that I admire greatly your courageous witness. You do a valuable service to others dealing with the same issue.

    However, I’d like to point out that you have a small error in one of your footnotes. It is correct that in colloquial English that celibacy means “abstinence from sexual relations”, but in the Church, it more properly means a permanent state of singleness incurred by either a vow or a promise.

    Continence is the term which means the abstinence from sexual relations. A person with same sex attraction who has decided not to enter marriage (because that is still a possibility for such a person) is required to be continent, just as all single or celibate persons are required to be continent, in order to be chaste.

    Sorry for the minor correction! Your post is excellent.

    Reply
  14. M Corderi

    God loves you fully for who you are – your sexuality is an expression of the love in your soul and heart and God does not require that you repress it unless you really want that (i.e. as a monk) …brother you are trying to be accepted by the church but the true acceptance comes from God – the church’s reasons to oppose gay love are history, fear, self-repression and bigotry–the church has got it wrong and in time will correct it – in the meantime gay people are rejected and treated as half people – please promise you will try to talk to somebody more open – perhaps Jesuits- please realize God made you as you are and loves you—-another Gay Catholic who is a practicing Catholic and has a loving partner.

    Reply
  15. Heloise

    Bless you, Steve! Your words really struck a chord. I’m a late twenties woman and struggled since I was quite young with a sexual compulsion. Well meaning people repeatedly told me I was wrong feeling guilty when I tried to share the pain and isolation that arose from this, even tried to imply that I only felt guilty as a result of the Church’s teachings, that I would be free if I just “let” myself be more sexually expressive. (Whatever that means…) It was only after speaking frankly with a priest and beginning regular reconciliation that I have begun to live, I feel at last, free. It’s the terrible lie of our age (at least) that w e can live any kind of life without responsibilities or burdens, that only such a life is “free.” Only the truth, in the person of Christ, can set us free. Only He can give us the strength to pick up (again and again) our burdens and not flee again into the darkness, but walk in the light of his love. Thank you for sharing. Your example is a source of hope to folks like me.

    Reply
    1. Jenna

      Great response to an excellent post!! Yes Jesus came to save us from our sins and give a new commandment of LOVe. But what is love? Anything that feels good, or is easy, convenient, fun, exciting, gratifying…. our culture today would say “yes that’s it!” and when it’s hard or causes you pain or inconveniences you or it’s not fun anymore – “you’ve fallen out of love and it’s time to move on… you owe it to yourself.”

      Which is why people who post things like this are so rare and so good. The road rough, the gate is narrow. Chastity in America today is a CHALLENGE! My coworkers don’t understand, hell my family doesn’t even understand: virgin at 26!!??!! They fashion me some sort of prudish, hermit, alien that has been brainwashed by the crazy Catholic Church to live a life out of touch with reality. And yet it is they who are blind, they who are missing out on the higher things in life. I wait for my husband, along with countless other women. It can be lonely, but I know that the deep longing in my heart can only be filled by Him who has Created me and Loves me fiercely and tenderly. And so I wait for Heaven with inexpressible joy! Thank you Jesus giving us natural law, reason, Truth, revelation. Lord I love your commands – because you gave them to me and they free me!

      Reply
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  17. Anonymous wife of 25 years

    I love your post…for a few reasons…

    First, I love the title “What did you expect?”. My husband lives as if he really expected life to be endlessly fun and trouble free. And what from the history of all humanity made you think that was a reasonable expectation? I could go on for quite a while but I will spare you.

    Your observations about the sacrifices of your siblings is refreshing. Yes, they have the opportunity to have sex…and the fruits of the sex they have create a welcome but serious responsibility that requires the “working 7 days a week to make ends meet” life that they wouldnt trade but come with great sacrifice.

    I just posted about one of the great crosses in my marriage on Simcha Fishers blog. Ive had that cross for 25 years, so its not like it is going to get better or go away, it simply is and I am called in love to endure. That is so counter cultural – no entirely unlike your lifestyle.

    God Bless

    Reply
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  19. Joyful Heart

    To Steve and All,
    I do not have a problem with anyone’s opinion’s or beliefs concerning same sex issues. Why? Because that is my personal concern between myself and God. While The Church does not recognize same sex marriage—they do recognize the taking of a vow–as in marriage. So—if two people, no matter the combination—make a vow to each other and to God in front of a community of witnesses, that they will be faithful, honor, love and in fidelity care for only each other for their entire lives—who has anything to say about it? Certainly not you–your neighbor, family, or a community–or even The Church. It was between my partner, myself and God—and that was 15 years ago, and we have been through the same joys and heartaches as any married couple, though without children. Gay people do nothing differently sexually than straight people—nothing—except the gender whom they do it with. I will not engage in debate or theology–The issue has been settled–My vow is between God and myself–and no one else. But I do not call myself married–or have a wife. Why would I want to identify my blessed and unique sexuality with terms used for heterosexual marriage?
    The acceptance of the Church, or it’s members does not interest or affect me in any way—I am used to persecution, ridicule, and rejection–but I still come to the altar, and watch in amazement The Lord held up for ALL during The Eucharistic Celebration of God’s Love, and His sacrifice for love, obedience and integrity in living out the purpose of God’s Will.
    I am not ashamed. And I will not turn, nor run from the truth—I am a lesbian, but my sexuality is only one facet of myself, and not a main identifier. In the end—God will judge us much more harshly because of our hatred, unkindnesses, and unacceptance of our brothers and sisters—than any sexual act, or cultural interpretations of what family or marriage may be.
    You may find it interesting that We are currently celibate–but because of illness. In the end it really dosen’t matter—like children–we tolerate behaviors until they may be ready to grow, or some that have need, may be accepted as the child of God they are—
    In other words—this is a foolish subject to waste a life, and heart on—just live your life, try the best you can–and trust The Holy Spirit of God will lead you–not blogs, other people’s beliefs and opinions–nor any Church who, in truth, does not personally know–or understand you.

    We complicate God’s World Too Much…..

    May God Bless All Here….Today, and Always….

    Reply
  20. zaidagal

    Hi everyone! Im so interested in this whole topic. I am an “almost catholic”. For most of my life, I have not had one single issue with same sex relations. Like the poster above I believe it is between the people concerned and God. At the same time, now that Im thinking of “going Rome” Im trying to understand the Church’s teachings and come into line with the teachings – but Im not there yet! Steve – do you have ongoing conversation with gay/lesbian men/women who choose to be in same sex – sexual relationships? Are you and they able to discuss/debate/explore these issues in a loving way? What type of advice do you give them?

    Reply
  21. Alexis

    Hi Steve and everyone else reading, I don’t know too much about Catholicism, as I believe I would be identified as one following Protestantism in a politically correct environment. However, I am a passionate follower of Jesus Christ and I thank you for this blog… I am always intrigued by Homosexuality and the Cross. It is very interesting and quite helpful hearing of your experience as a follower of Christ as well and then also hearing your testimony as you carry your cross which seems to be chaste/celibacy with a SSA. This is powerful… and it applies to me in which I too have a cross to bear just as you pointed out. I like how you reveal this big struggle with SSA as a cross because that’s exactly what it is, especially for those who fully accept the true teachings of Christ. SS desires along with any other natural craving,lust, passion from our carnal or natural nature MUST be filtered through the cross. My cross may not be specifically SSA, but I can tell you that it is in accordance with Christ’s teaching to deny myself as he boldly states in His word. Denying myself has since meant, sacrificing sleep when I want sleep, abstaining from food when I want food, abstaining from sex when I want sex, speaking up when I want to be silent, being silent when I want to speak and the list goes on. A true Christian’s heart is not to bash persons with SSA, but to show them that Christ calls them to Himself (His glory) and asks them to carry their cross, which happens to be denying the desires to engage in SS relations through sexual intercourse. I do not doubt at all that people can have SSA; from time to time I’ve even had SSA… but I’ve always, as one committed to Jesus in my heart, had to filter those things through the cross. The thing for me is, how can I communicate and explain this cross to those who are lost and have SSA and act on them and think that God hates them and will not receive them when the Truth is, He will receive them and all the rest of us too, if only we embrace the cross. This is well explained and I look forward to visiting the blog again in the future.

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  22. Catholic Salmon

    This is so inspirational. It brings me comfort.One of our children came out a year ago and the pain for us as parents has been unbearable (our cross…) Our hearts are dented with the pain of our son refusing the Eucharist and turning away from all we hold dear. We pray for him, we love him so much.
    Your blog is like a ray of sunshine. Thank you.

    Reply
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  24. Mark

    Just stumbled across this, and wanted to say thanks for realizing that marriage can be a cross, too! It also requires self-denial in an immense way. Not just in practicing NFP, where periods of continence are required, but also in the minutia of everyday life. I admire you and your faith. Sending up prayers for you.

    Reply
  25. Su

    So. true.

    Virtue requires you to be seriously badass and it is just really tough (but really worth it) to get there!!

    Thanks for another great post. Keepin’ you in my prayers!

    Reply
  26. Dylan

    Steve,

    Thanks again for your honest insight. The realization dawned on me that I have been following your blog for over a year now. You have been such an inspiration and an example. As a new Catholic, I am learning the value of uniting my suffering with the Cross of our Lord. He refused to deny the suffering and pain for our sake, so how could I deny my suffering for His sake?

    He said He would use the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. He was right. He always is.

    Peace,
    Dylan

    Reply
  27. Paul Delgadillo

    Now I have a place where I know that we do not have to suffer living with SSA alone. I find this blog much more helpful than when I joined the online Courage chat room.

    Reply

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