“I think,” says Fr. John from behind the confessional screen, “that we tend to see our sexuality as a burden, instead of a gift.” He laughs to himself a little, maybe thinking You and me both, buddy; you know as well as I do that celibacy is no joke.

“It feels like a burden because it’s so powerful,” he continues, “and so hard to control. But make this your penance: ask that the grace of this sacrament will help you to see your sexuality in a positive way. As a gift.”

Phew boy, okay. I’ll try. A couple of thoughts flit through my head — about fatherhood as an expression of masculinity and therefore of sexuality, about how all men, even (especially?) the celibate, are called to be fathers in one way or another — but mostly I put the question aside and hope I’ll remember to pray about it.

While Fr. John is still talking, I glance up at the screen. Usually I go face-to-face, because I like Fr. John and he knows all about me and it’s nice to visit with him and confess at the same time. But the screen’s good, too. You can’t see the face of the priest, so it’s a little easier to realize that it is in fact Jesus behind there, and that the kindness and humanity of Fr. John is at least equal to the kindness and humanity of the One he represents and makes present.

More than equal, of course. But I make allowances for my weakness of imagination. When I picture Heaven, I stop short of the Beatific Vision and just picture a place where there are always friends to go exploring1 with. When I imagine Jesus, picturing somebody more or less like Fr. John is a lot easier, and a lot more effective, than trying to conjure up an image of perfect love, and ending up with some saccharine2 unreality.

I’ve been nursing a grudge against the Lord, because I still don’t understand what to make of the hell I went through earlier this year, the hell He didn’t save me from; I’m still trying to learn what trusting Him could mean. But while I imagine Jesus behind the screen, listening to my silly little selfishnesses, the grudge melts for a moment, and I whisper, too soft for Fr. John to hear: How do you put up with this shit?

I don’t mean to swear at the Lord, and I hope he takes it the way I mean it: as a squalid little cri de coeur instead of a sign of irreverence; as a way of saying, I’m confused and angry and grateful and in love all at the same time, and I don’t know what to do with any of it because, like Philip, even after keeping your company all this time, I still don’t know you. I hope he takes it the way he must have taken it when his earthly friends slipped up and let fly with the occasional oath.

They were, after all, a bunch of fishermen and whores.

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31 thoughts on “Fishermen and Whores

  1. justanothermusician

    It’s interesting that you put everything the way you did, most specifically the part about the slip-ups of His earthly friends. I visited some friends out of town over the weekend and went to mass far too early in the morning, but there must have been a reason I did because the priest’s homily was pretty awesome. He talked about how Jesus was probably both a touch angry but mostly laughing at the Apostles in this week’s Gospel because they just didn’t get it. They heard that the Master would not always be with them, so they immediately started trying to figure out who would be His successor.

    The only little bit that I’ll add to that is to remember that Jesus chose Peter to be the head of His Church. Peter, who in one breath swears allegiance to Christ, even if it means his own death, and in the next denies even knowing the man. He did not choose John, the one who actually did stay to the end and whom was his beloved disciple. He chose the consummate screw-up, because (at least in part, I like to think) Jesus knew there was more in him than Peter realized himself.

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  2. Nayhee

    I love this piece. It’s really, really good. I’m like you–I like to sit behind the screen so I can NOT be distracted and actually remember that the words spoken are really from the mouth of Jesus. It’s just beautiful to have that conversation with Him.

    Well done, great post.

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  3. SCAATY

    He didn’t spare you from the hell you went through, Steve, but he did save you — you’re not still in it; by his grace, it ended. (Something I personally learned over the last year and a half since my wife died: the one good thing you can say about the worst day of your life is that is does, finally, end. We take our blessings where we can find them.)

    One of things that must make Jesus shake his head and laugh over us is that we receive his miracles easily enough, but we fuss and complain about his sense of timing!

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  4. Christine

    I know what it’s like to have a grudge against the Lord because of suffering through your own personal hell without any sense of relief. I went through over a year of deep depression and still, over six years later, I can’t get by without antidepressants and still occasionally need a medication change when that hell threatens to come back. The worst of it is over, for now. It took over three years for me to come to terms with the worst year of the depression and see God’s hand in it and make peace with God for allowing it. I still am not quite back where I used to be in my relationship with God, but I no longer hold it against Him. So, I guess this is a long way of saying, have patience with yourself and with God. In time, it’s quite possible that you’ll come to make peace with the hell you went through and perhaps even embrace that time in your life as a time of great growth. You may not see it now, but I’ve found that often the worst times in our lives result in the greatest growth and healing. Not always, but often. And I hope that’s the case for you.

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  5. Gabriel

    Excellent work. I particularly liked that, the moment you said something about exploring with friends, my mind went to the Calvin and Hobbes strip, before I even saw that you were in fact referencing it.

    Your line about being “confused and angry and grateful and in love all at the same time” is spot on. The conflicting emotions are about as exhausting as the force of one’s sexuality, in my experience. Or maybe the line between those two realities — sexuality and one’s emotions in general — is rather finer than I had been allowing for.

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  6. Steves

    Some gifts are not meant to be opened before a certain date. Just know that you have a gift waiting for you when the date arrives. I know, I hate surprises too!

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  7. Devra

    Wow, I almost always go behind the screen, but never before thought of it as a way to remember Who’s really there. I think I will from now on, though–thanks!
    Also the cri de coeur part reminded me of one I sent up yesterday, when we were doing an especially crummy in-the-car family rosary, interrupted by more than the usual bickering and other idiocy–I was just hoping he laughs fondly at our pathetic attempts at trying to be good instead of sharing my disgust.

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  8. dave

    Stumbled across this blog. Well written. And glad to see an (openly) gay Catholic. Even as a straight, conservative, raised in the South male, I never have understood the church’s position on its gay members. This really hit home for me after having children – I can’t conceive of loving my kids any less because of their orientation, and know in my heart God feels the same way.

    Reply
    1. Steve Gershom

      Oh dear, I hope you haven’t misunderstood. I fully support the church’s position on its gay members, and I don’t feel myself to be loved any less by the Church or by God because of my orientation.

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  9. Mark from PA

    It can be confusing at times though, Steve. Depending on where you live, the Church has different positions on its gay members. Some bishops are supportive and feel that gay people should be treated with respect and compassion and not discriminated against. Other bishops are hostile to gay people. In many dioceses, gay people are just not mentioned, it is kind of don’t ask, don’t tell; out of sight, out of mind.

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    1. Steve Gershom

      By “position,” I meant the Church’s unchangeable teachings on the subject. I support those, and those don’t change from place to place. But you’re right, Mark, people’s individual approach to individual gay people does change from person to person.

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  10. Mark from PA

    Steve, we didn’t even have a word for homosexuality until the 19th Century so the Church’s teachings on this matter have been recent and one can’t really call them unchangeable. As we learn more about homosexual orientation I think Church teaching on this subject will evolve. Some Catholics, (most I hope) believe that gay people should be treated with respect and compassion. However, a minority feel that gay people have no place in the Church and that gays should be purged from the Church.

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    1. Steve Gershom

      Mark, you’re 100% right that some people in the Church need to learn compassion for gay folks. But do you mean to say that one day the Church might decide that gay sex is OK? It’s true that the word “homosexual” is relatively new, but the concept of sodomy (and of non-procreative “sex” in general) isn’t. That’s been around forever.

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  11. Mark from PA

    Steve, I don’t know if one day the Church might decide that “gay sex” is OK. However, I think that they might one day recognize that gay relationships are OK and that it is not sinful for someone to love someone of the same sex. Many people today have come to understand the beauty of the love and commitment that some people of the same sex have for one another.

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  12. Mark from PA

    Steve, non-procreative sex covers a lot of territory. It is not only contraceptive sex but also sex during periods of infertility, sex between people who are not capable of procreating such as sex between older people, types of sexual activity that do not lead to pregnancy and so forth.

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  13. Mark from PA

    Steve, I think some in the Church believe that the feelings of love and commitment that gay people have for each other is sinful but some do not. Some in the Church have a strong dislike for gay people and this is troubling to me.

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  14. jason taylor

    Steve, you do know how he puts up with it? If your cat got a splinter and you had to pull the splinter out would you break your cats neck for hissing and scratching while you do that? Of course not. The same love for your cat that makes you take out the splinter makes you refuse to be angry with the cat who cannot understand why you are doing that to him.

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  15. jason taylor

    Well, Steve, I have often felt a grudge against God for celibacy myself. Not that I have SSA but that I am economically poor, and socially awkward and generally not in a position to think about girls(I can think of one or two I thought I was in love with but never had a chance to do anything about it). I also have to live in a world with way to much secondhand porn(I do wish they would at least put that stuff away somewhere where you have to actually want to find it).

    Am I saying I am as bad off as you are because I have to be celibate too. Not really, no. I don’t know who is worse about what and I am not sure that matters. I am saying that in this particular area I know how it feels. Celibacy feels awful frankly, and if it is a gift, the upside to it is hard to find. Perhaps one upside is that I am capable of relating to females as friends in a way I might have felt awkward if I was in a relationship. Be that as it may you have my sympathy and my regards as a brother in Christ.

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  16. Zach

    This post speaks to my experience in so many ways. God bless you Steve!
    Btw laughed out loud at the last line.
    Also some of my most sincere prayers have involved quite a bit of colorful language. Not at Him, but just in the way of expressing myself, well, earnestly.
    May you be immersed in the joy of the Spirit this day.

    Reply

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