Monthly Archives: February 2012

…goes to Simcha Fisher’s post this morning on choice and suffering. Excerpt:

She has had her face pushed against the wall of horror which is mortality. She does not like the choices presented to her: either suffer this way, or suffer that way. What is her answer? “There ought to be another choice.” Choice after choice after choice. The modern person confronts pain and slices it thinner and thinner, hoping to put an end to it. This does not work. It simply makes the pain, like a knife, sharper.

Read the whole thing here.

It’s like Jesus is coming to dinner and you want to make him something delicious to eat, something that will really wow him, so you get to work putting it together. And you think you’re concentrating pretty hard on the meal until you look into the mixing bowl and it turns out to be a kind of porridge of yogurt and scrambled eggs and wilted lettuce and coffee grounds.

Or it’s like you have an audience with the king, and finally you will get to tell him everything — all about how you’ve been mistreated, but how you’re a good subject anyway, and you’re wondering when he’s going to fix the roads, and also you want to tell him what a beautiful house he has. You’ve been thinking about this all year, making mental notes of things to mention when you finally get see him. Except when you actually get in there all you can think of to say is, “Oh, hi. Well, my lower back hurts. Um, how are you?”


[source]1

1 No, you really should check out the source. “Imagination shouldn’t disqualify anyone from serving in the Minnesota state legislature!” Sorry, I’m not sure what that had to do with anything; I just did a google image search for “nonplussed.”

Lent really snuck up on me this year, the way Christmas never does. Of course there’s no real reason for the culture at large to get all geared up for Lent, since Lent usually means people buying less, not more. I doubt most people notice Lent at all, except for wondering about the black smudges.

Still, that’s not a very good excuse for (1) eating a triple-size meal for Ash Wednesday dinner even if I technically sort of fasted the rest of the day — American Catholics (I mean me) are such wimps, srsly — (2) commemorating the first Friday of the season with significant quantities of beer, and (3) ignoring the blog for a full week. Oops, oops, oops. Feeling like Jill and Eustace in The Silver Chair: it hasn’t been Lent very long, but I already seem to be doing rather badly.

No, I’m not wallowing in the famous Catholic Guilt, but it’s clear that I need some balance, especially socially. My lack of blogging is mainly due to me being very social lately, and that part is good; but my social life tends to be either feast or fast, either spending the whole weekend alone or running myself ragged seeing everybody.

Or maybe that’s normal. If that word means anything. Makes me think of that bit in Punch-Drunk Love: “I don’t know if there is anything wrong, because I don’t know how other people are.”

Father T. had some good words on the subject in our conversation last week, but I’ve got to let them percolate a little more before I start talking about it. I know I’ve got to pray more, or pray better, or pray differently: to stop treating prayer as one more task to check off the to-do list, and start treating it like a conversation.

Anyway. Plenty to think and pray about. How’s your Lent going?

So I am stretching before class and listening to my classmates talk about Jedis and The Force and Padawans and the Dark Side and even about how Jedis have to be celibate (although I hear the Council has come under fire for this lately) and all of this stuff and thinking, If only they knew that all this stuff was real, and called, more or less, Catholicism.

I was thinking about writing a post about that, but it turns out Marc Barnes already has it covered. Excerpt:

In her sacraments (Power-ups), her catechesis (+HP), her sacramentals (Items), her abundance of spiritualities (fighting styles), her challenges (Bosses), in confession (restart at last saved point), and in her call to of us to win this race (game). I hold with all my heart that if ever a man wants to understand why the Catholic delights in the ritual and rule of his Church, he must first understand why children play Pokemon.

Which reminds me of J. B. Toner’s similarly themed Life Is an RPG:

Consider the fact that you voluntarily play RPGs for fun, in order to be entertained. Well: we know that our daily lives are holy, that God walks among the pots and pans; but I call your attention, sir or madam, to the fact that our daily lives are also tremendously entertaining if we simply perceive that we ourselves are heroes….Each day we have optional side quests. Give five bucks or your sandwich to the homeless guy. Ching: you’ve gained XP (or grace points, as I like to call them). Read some G.K. Chesterton. Ching: +2 bonus to your Wisdom rating.

Ching! Okay, carry on being heroes now.

Can you guess the reason that I’ve got a keyboard gathering dust in my parents’ attic, a drum set doing the same in their spare room, a fiddle languishing in my closet, and a duduk slowly drying in my dresser?

I’ll give you a hint — it’s the same reason I can read the Cyrillic alphabet but can’t speak a word of Russian, can pronounce German passably but couldn’t conjugate sein to save my life, and have no fewer than three half-begun short stories, not to mention the half-conceptualized novels, sitting in my desk drawer.

Answer: it’s so thrilling to start something! But continuing, Not so much.

It’s like setting out on a hike. At the end there’s the clearing and the vista, everything spread out in front of you. At the beginning you have the sense of adventure, freshness, anticipation. At both beginning and end you have access, somehow, to the true nature of the thing: you see into the joy at the heart of it.

But in the middle: slogging past one damn tree after another. Forget adventure, a soft bed will do. What was this for, again?

So, yes, adventure is difficult — which is to say, life is difficult — but not only in the sense of involving strenuous effort. Any strenuous thing is easy if you have enough love in your heart; and love is easy, too, when you have vision, when you are able to see plainly the beauty of the beloved.

But there is a moment in every love when you suddenly look around and say: What was this for? Why bother?

This happened to me during Kung Fu the other night, right when the stretching stopped and the kicking was about to start. What was I doing? Why should I care about perfect form, or strength, or grace? Why did I think it was worth it to stretch and stretch and stretch my body just so I could — what? Kick myself in the forehead?

What kind of an idiot aspires to be able to kick himself in the forehead?

Or: what kind of an idiot follows a God who’s invisible and unhearable? Or: what kind of an idiot stays with a husband she can’t stand? Or: what kind of an idiot struggles to renounce, and keep renouncing, something most of the world wouldn’t even blink at?

Like any temptation worth its salt, this one disguises itself as plainest reality. You will seem to yourself to have woken up, to have seen past the sentiment and the romance to the plain reality of the thing: my wife, my vocation, my God — none of these are worth loving. Tricked again, and life is boring after all — and most boring here, right at the heart of what I thought was It, the very Thing Itself, my marriage, my vocation, my faith.

Lies! We, not truth, are changeable. We can only see the light of truth the way we see the sun through the trees on a windy day. Like Jill and Eustace, we see the truth plainly enough while we are speaking with Aslan — but when we descend into the world, the vision becomes a fool’s dream.

Because life is the opposite of a mirage: ordinary daily things are always more real, more alive, than they look up close. Seen from far off, life blazes; approached, it cools and fades.

But not always. There are the 99 times when we go before the Blessed Sacrament and seem to ourselves to be, O foolishness, kneeling down before a piece of bread. But the 100th time, we know that we are prostrating ourselves before the beating heart of a God, the heart of life, the heart of song.

And this 100th time is enough to carry us through the next 99, if we remember. The remembering is called faith.

For now we see in a mirror dimly; but then, face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

Woohoo! My post is up over at Catholic Exchange, under the title The Truth About Same Sex Attraction. The truth, imagine!

I’m grateful to have been given the chance to extend my audience a little bit — and for everyone who came over here from over there, welcome! Glad to have you and I hope you’ll stick around.

Still, a small disclaimer: the dude in the picture over at CE is emphatically not me. I would never make such poor style choices.

[Edit: The pic has been replaced — thanks, CE.]

This from Father Peter West of Human Life International. I stole it off his [public] facebook page, so there’s no link.

A woman visited her doctor. “Doctor,” she said, “I have a perfectly functioning circulatory system.”

“That’s good,” the doctor replied.

“Well,” she said, “I was wondering if you could give me a drug to make it stop functioning the way that it is supposed to.”

“That’s crazy!” the doctor replied. “Why would I give you something to make your circulatory system stop functioning well?”

“Ok,” the woman replied, “but how about my respiratory system. It seems to be working fine. Could you give me something to mess it up?”

The doctor was shocked. “Of course not! No doctor in their right mind would intentionally give you a drug to mess up a healthy respiratory system.”

“Well, how about my reproductive system?” asked the woman. “Can you give me something to make it stop functioning the way that it is supposed to?”

“Certainly,” the doctor replied. “We have all kinds of medicines to do that.”

Zing!

Hey, but unrelatedly, I’m pretty excited to be working on a post for Catholic Exchange. It’s the standard “Hey, guess what! I’m gay — BUT ALSO CATHOLIC!” but I think it turned out pretty well. Will let you know when it goes up.

Is there anything more beautiful than the human face? Beautiful because it manifests the mystery of incarnation: meat made more than meat, flesh quickened by spirit, the breath of God made visible; the way the wind is made visible when it moves the trees.

Faces show love, show what it looks like, a visible image of the invisible. Think of Jesus’ face in Mark 10:21: “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” The loving is in the looking.

It is said1 that, just as the Son is the Word of the Father, so the Holy Spirit is the Look of love that the Father exchanges with the Son.

Or look again at the face of Charles de Foucauld: impossible to say where that Look resides: the mouth? the eyes? somewhere between? Wherever it is, the man’s face is lit from the inside.

But faces show other things besides love. Someone has said that, by the time he is forty, a man has the face he deserves;2 which is to say, our faces sometimes reveal things we would rather keep hidden. I have often noted that the wounded, those who have been particularly marked by suffering, wear a certain look, as definite and unmistakable as a taste on the tongue.

I’ve seen it in friends, I’ve seen it in family, I see it sometimes in a stranger walking down the street — a quick flash of something permeable, something naked, something crying for healing. I’ve even seen it in those who have made it their business to hide it. Nobody wants that kind of pain to be visible, but pain will out.3

I don’t mean that people’s souls are open books to me, far from it, but still: I know what I know.4 When you’ve known a particular pain from the inside, you can recognize it in others, the way Jadis descries the mark of a magician (however faint) in the face of Uncle Andrew in The Magician’s Nephew.

I wonder if this is part of the secret to “gaydar.” Not every man with SSA wears the look of the wounded — and not everyone who wears the look has SSA — but it’s there often enough.

And even those who don’t know what it means sometimes react to it. Think of the face of the awkward boy in seventh grade, the one nobody liked, the one whose eyes always pleaded with you to laugh at his horrible, false jokes — and think of how you couldn’t bear that look, had to avert your eyes. It’s a look that can generate hatred as easily as compassion.

Looks of love, looks of pain. I wonder if the truly holy have the power to see the true looks behind all of our contrived ones, the way Curdie had the power to feel the true shape of a man’s hand in The Princess and Curdie.

And all of our looks, true and false, loving and pleading — I wonder how they look to God.

1 But by whom? Wish I could remember. Sounds like Von Balthasar, maybe.
2 I don’t know if that’s quite fair — and can’t remember who said this one either — but there’s something in it nevertheless.
3 People pushing harder / Up against themselves / Make their baggage sharper / Than their faces tell. Name the song — no googling!
3 And I’ll sing what I’ve said! (Name the song again.)

I just wanna say how I feeling —
Things about not have sex, or something like that.
Is Wes Welker a Jew?
Am I gay if I like Patsy Cline?

Celibacy is just not my thing;
I want to masturbate, but…Catholic.
I want to know about Leon Bloy.

Black Plague soup,
Chicken soup of the death,
Oriented, scented bath oil,
Gay apes, fury bananas…

Who is Steve Gershom?
Doursonofagun —
Gay, fine, and Catholic!
He’s not deserve that kind of man.

Poor commenters: they leave a few perfectly innocent(ish) remarks buried deep in the combox, and I resurrect them for A WHOLE POST. Sorry. But not very.

Commenter 1 says:

This does not mean that every time a person has sex he has to intend to make babies and nothing else. He may just think his wife looks ravishing that Thursday night. It Does mean that when he does have sex, though, he has to do it appropriately; that is, by ejaculating inside of her vagina.

Commenter 2 responds:

As a non-Catholic, I have always considered this to be a very queer and partial formulation of the purpose of sex. As expressed, it also seems disharmonious with Catholic beliefs […] it doesn’t matter if someone’s decision to have sex is purely carnal so long as it follows a strict mechanical formula of ejaculation within a vagina?

[…]

From my own perspective, what you are describing is a particular physical activity that can be successfully performed given the capacity and a particular configuration of genitals, but is by no means the only legitimate activity or exclusive purpose for sex. Each human being is a complex and unique organism with their own emotional and psychological needs, wants and preferences, and has a body which is capable of experiencing pleasure in a number of different ways. In this context, sex can mean a number of things to any one person. Reducing this complexity to a single “correct” act doesn’t really make sense without very powerful moral assumptions.

Allow me to transpose these comments into a different key.

This does not mean that every time a person eats he must think of nutrition and nothing else. He may just think the pizza looks ravishing that Thursday night. It does mean that when he does eat, though, he has to do it appropriately; that is, by digesting the food inside his belly.”

And the response, only lightly changed:

As a non-Catholic, I have always considered this to be a very queer and partial formulation of the purpose of eating. As expressed, it also seems disharmonious with Catholic beliefs […] it doesn’t matter if someone’s decision to eat is purely because they’re hungry, so long as it follows a strict mechanical formula of putting food in your actual mouth?

From my own perspective, what you are describing is a particular physical activity that can be successfully performed given the capacity and a particular configuration of mouth and stomach, but is by no means the only legitimate activity or exclusive purpose for eating. Each human being is a complex and unique organism with their own emotional and psychological needs, wants and preferences…In this context, food can mean a number of things to any one person. Reducing this complexity to a single “correct” act doesn’t really make sense without very powerful moral assumptions.

Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that wives are meat (or pizza) to be consumed by their husbands. I’m suggesting that to say “There is an appropriate way and an inappropriate way to perform a particular bodily activity” is perfectly compatible with believing that there’s a deeper meaning for that activity.

Not only are the two perfectly compatible, but saying the latter (that there is a deeper meaning) implies the former (that there is a right and a wrong way to do it). That’s the reason there’s a right and a wrong way to do it: because it has a meaning.

There’s no right and wrong way to put on your socks in the morning, because putting on your socks isn’t a very meaningful activity. Do it upside down and backwards, use your teeth, do it while wearing lubricated latex gloves — who cares?

But the life-giving act of union with another human? Yes, that’s important enough to be able to be done wrong.