Tag Archives: scripture

Today’s Gospel1 starts with Jesus going off to hide and be alone so he can process the death of his friend and cousin. But he arrives at his prayer-place — maybe it was his favorite spot, maybe it was where he always went in times of deep distress, to be alone with the Father — to find it overrun with people clamoring for his attention: heal us, help us, give us what you’ve got, we’re so hungry.

They’re so desperate, so needy, so pathetic, that they’ve got to his favorite spot before he did. What an invasion of privacy, what an imposition!

Any human being in this situation would tend to react with selfishness: what about me, what about my needs? I say “selfishness”, but this reaction wouldn’t be blameworthy: it’s not blameworthy to want time by yourself, especially when you really are hurting or overwhelmed, as Jesus must have been. Jesus has, as we like to say, “needs”.

But instead his heart is moved with pity for them. He heals them and feeds them. If he’s frustrated, or impatient, or has to wrench his heart away from his own self-concern, we don’t see it.

As when we see Jesus do anything, there are two models for us here. The first is a model of how God is, in relation to us; the second is a model of how we must be, in relation to one another.

In the first place: when we come to him, ragged and limping and demanding his attention, it’s not an imposition. We don’t have to worry about whether he’s got better things to do. Tending to our whingeing, de-whinge-ifying us, is one of the reasons he came.

And in the second place: when others come to us for healing, we must do as he did. Yes, we have to maintain proper boundaries; we have to make time for ourselves; and we have to know our limits. But we can’t always wait to help people until we’re sure we’ve got the resources.

Matthew 14 is a proto-Eucharist, a foreshadowing of the Last Supper, where Jesus gives us the very substance of himself, his very flesh and blood. He gives us his heart. He gives it, not from a place of personal fullness, but from a place of his own personal hurt and grief and need.

Do this in memory of me, he says. He wasn’t just talking about the Consecration, and he wasn’t just talking to priests. Give yourself, he says, as I have given myself. Give your heart.

A friend tells me that she once sat and meditated for an hour and half, only to discover at the end that what she had been meditating on, scene by scene, was Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

There is a moment in prayer when you really do achieve emptiness: you actually manage to rid yourself of all the things that typically consume and distract you, every last worry and earworm and grievance. And in that emptiness you find, not some vast chamber humming with the solemn grandeur of God’s presence, but — nothing at all.

It’s dreadful. Suddenly you are a bag of meat and bones. Your butt hurts from sitting on the floor. Little thoughts about food and sex buzz around halfheartedly, get swatted, and buzz around again. This is all you’ve got: bones and hunger. You can’t think about the grandeur of love or the infinity of God. Your brain is about three inches deep. You can’t remember why beauty was interesting. There is nothing but time: tick, tick, tick, never slower or faster, inching along with nothing before or behind. When will it be over?

This isn’t what prayer aims at. I think it might be where prayer starts. I think this is what they mean when they talk about being aware of our own nakedness, emptiness, smallness, dependency. I’m a stupid bag of bones who can’t even think about anything worthwhile unless it is given to me, fed with a spoon. Everything good comes from something besides me.

I am empty, says the soul. That is when John 15:5 actually begins to make sense. Now the soul can say to God: fill me!

As with prayer, so with life. We are terrified of that emptiness, so we fill it with whatever we can: vodka, Beethoven, Marlboros, text messages, kale smoothies, tattoos, X-Men, even Kung Fu.

All of these things are good, but we stuff them into the wrong places. We stuff them into that emptiness, that inner chamber: our little interior desert, our little Poustinia, the silent chamber in our innermost heart, our Holy of Holies, where we alone may go. Where we go to meet God.

Guess what you guys! We interrupt our regular schedule of not-posting-on-Thursdays to bring you this post over on Catholic Exchange. It’s really nice to be writing publicly as Joseph Prever again; I mean, it’s really nice for there to be only one of me.

It’s also nice to write stuff that isn’t about gayness in particular. Anyway, here’s an excerpt.

Is it safe to expose children to such dark images? I think so, or as safe as any real poetry can be; poetry is no tame lion. At that age, I had no categories in my mind for real darkness, and so the darkness couldn’t get in to do me damage. But the image stayed; which meant that when the reality showed up years later, I was not defenseless.

Maybe you could go over there and leave comments, so they’ll think I’m awesome and post my stuff all the time. Peace.

1 – Excuse #1

I didn’t write anything last week because I spent most of the day at [a high school] in Rhode Island, a Catholic all-boys’ school where I was invited as a guest speaker to four theology classes, all composed of juniors and seniors. It was great fun to put my teaching hat back on — teaching, I maintain, is a branch of performance art — and I was impressed by the spirit I saw in the students. There were lots of good questions, too. I’d love to have another chance like that.

2 – Excuse #2

I’m not writing anything this week because I’m sitting in a coffee shop and reading Evangelii Gaudium, and it’s nearly Christmas, and I’m tired, and I’ve got writer’s block, which as usual is not because I’ve got too little to say but too much. I don’t know how I’ll ever get it all out, and I can’t find a channel for it at the moment. All of my normal ones seem to be blocked up. Maybe I need more fiber. Mean time, I’m trying to redesign this site, too; details to follow, eventually.

3 – No News

I don’t have much to say about the Duck Dynasty guy. I don’t think he spoke out of bigotry, just out of ignorance. What he said doesn’t strike me as nearly as poisonous or bigoted as the response he got from A&E. So somebody said something ignorant about gay people. (1) This is news? (2) Why should we care? Most of the people I know have crazier opinions than his, but it’s not national news.

4 – By Attraction

I’ve been thinking a lot about evangelization and why I suck at it. My gut reaction, when I consider trying to evangelize a secular friend, is somewhere between discomfort and fear. I’d rather just let him be. Why is that?

Is it because proselytizing is one of the greatest 21st Century Sins? Is it because I’m afraid, Grand-Inquisitor-like, that teaching him about the Gospel will also be teaching him about sin, and sin means guilt? Is it because my own faith is too intellectual, and I’m afraid he doesn’t have the requisite 30 years it’ll take to transform all of his opinions into orthodox ones — even though that isn’t the point? I blame Pope Francis for making me think about these things.

5 – Two Masters

I’m going through Clean Of Heart. Again. This time I mean it. At one point the program requires you to compile a list of the typical lies that you tend to hear and believe re: sins of impurity. Things like It’s only natural (so is rubella) and It’s inevitable (so is death) and It’s not the end of the world (neither is herpes). The lie du jour seems to be something like: “God and sin can both live in your heart. Just make a lot of room for God and little room for sin.” But unfortunately there is Matthew 6:24 to contend with.

6 – Human Heresies

Here’s a half-baked thought for you. Some forms of religion are horrible and stupid because they are anti-human: because they abandon our best instincts and invent new, nonsensical ones instead. Like Puritanism, which is essentially anti-joy; or like Fundamentalism,1 which is essentially anti-reason. Both joy and reason are fundamentally human and fundamentally good, but somebody got it in their head that they had to be treated like Lies Of the Devil. Result? Miserable people.

7 – Diamond In the Flesh


Has anybody else been listening to Lorde? This is a very strange and world-weary way to be for somebody who is seventeen. Where did she come from? Does she dress so frumpily and dance so twitchily because she is countercultural or because she is, in fact, uncool?

She is really good at skewering the club scene (“I’m kind of over being told to throw my hands up in the air”) and clearly thinks it isn’t worth her time, but what is worth her time? Is it, The XX-style, just the usual adolescent romanticism but with a moodier aesthetic, or are those waters as deep as they sound?

I dunno, but Pure Heroine is a super solid album, deserving of at least a week’s obsession. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

1 By “Fundamentalism”, I mean the idea that we must take Scripture at absolute face value, without consideration of cultural or textual context; as though subjecting the Word of God to the tools of reason were somehow impious.

“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.

1 Like this.
2 Like this.

That God exists and that He is good, I have no doubt. But I don’t know what His goodness means.

Some time ago, my old friend R. left the Church. She left because, she said, the pressure of trying to make her everyday experience, all things manifold and strange and painful and joyful and contradictory, fit within the structure of Catholicism, was making her crazy. So she stopped trying to make it fit. I don’t know if she’s happier now, but I suspect she’s closer to sanity than she was before.

That’s not a recommendation for leaving the Church. I don’t think that the thing she left behind was Catholicism, per se; I think it was neurotic guilt over Catholicism. Somebody said1 that whoever runs away from what is hateful is running towards Christ, even if the thing they are running away from is (apparently) Christ too.

So the girl who leaves Catholicism because the only Catholicism she knows is her father’s ultra-conservative, more-Catholic-than-the-Magisterium brand, a Catholicism that is only a mask for misogyny, puritanism, sexual confusion, and the desire for control2 — isn’t she right to run? Won’t she be more likely to find Christ elsewhere, at least for a time; a Christ that won’t call her a whore for wearing pants?3

But isn’t it possible to do what R. did — to run away from what is hateful, untenable, crazy-making — but without leaving? It is good to run from what is toxic. But it is better still to run away from toxic people and toxic ideas while remaining connected to the lifelines of the Church, those streams of cool, healing water that flow ceaselessly from the Sacraments. Healing water that, better than anything else, can wash all the toxicity away.

Towards the end of my four-month ordeal of intense, 24/7 depression, I stopped trying to make sense of it. I stopped asking why God allowed me to experience such pain, and what it meant — whether he was inflicting it on me somehow (whom God loves, he also disciplines) or just allowing it, whether it was a punishment or a purgation or just an inevitability, whether it was my fault or somebody else’s; what I was meant to learn from it, and whether I was failing or succeeding in learning that lesson.

When I stopped trying to figure it out, it wasn’t a decision so much as a submission. I suppose I could have decided to set my teeth and keep wrestling, to try to wring some answer from the Lord. I could have devised some theorem as to how my daily experience — from waking up crying, to choking out the words of a Rosary on the way home from work, to collapsing exhausted by sadness but still unable to sleep at the end of the day — fit with the God of Psalm 23, the God who provides rest and cool water and oil, the God who restores and comforts.

But I couldn’t do it. Whenever I piously told myself that God rescues us from all our troubles, I knew I was lying. Where was God in Auschwitz? Where was God for the 5th-grader who, when I was a teacher, showed me the bruises on legs and throat that his father had given him — showed me casually and with a strange smile, because he didn’t know that normal fathers don’t do this? Where was God for me?

I couldn’t make it fit. And this was a mercy: because belief in a God who never lets his children suffer is belief in a lie. If we believe in such a God, the atheists are right to mock us for it.

The overthrow of a tyrant is a great and dangerous time in the life of a nation. Great, because there is a chance that the next regime will be better than the last. Dangerous, because there is a chance that the next regime will be much, much worse. As with a tyrant, so with an idea or an idol; as with a nation, so with a man.

When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walks through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, I will return unto my house from which I came out. And when he comes, he finds it swept and in order. Then he goes, and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.4

I am grateful that my false god is dead. I was tired of being disappointed in him, making excuses for him, calling it mercy when all I felt was abandonment, calling it presence when all I felt was absence.

But for the moment I find myself in a power vacuum. I am cautious of all my ideas of God, for fear of setting up another false idol. I want no more tyrants. I want the King to return…

Show me, Lord, finally:

Who are you?

What are you like?

So I cling to the Sacraments, to the Mass, to the word of God, to the wise and holy men and women in my life. I read, and I pray, and I seek counsel, and I wait.

1 Anyone know what quotation I’m thinking of, or who said it?
2 I’m not talking about my R.’s father here. Unfortunately, I am talking about several other real people.
3 Yeah, no joke. That isn’t Catholicism, that’s insanity.
4 Matthew 12:43-45.

It’s amazing how telling people about your SSA changes your perspective on the matter.

I just reconnected with my old friend J. I called because he had just broken off his engagement and I thought he might be a mess about it. Turned out he was more or less okay; eventually the conversation turned, like they usually do with J. (even when he is not engaged, he tends to have marriage on the brain) to my romantic prospects. “Anybody in your life right now?” he wanted to know.

“Meh,” I thought, and said: “Yeah, not really. I’m gay, J.”

Pause. “I’m — not sure if you’re joking or not right now.”

“No, it’s true,” I laugh, “no joking here. I’m gay.” Man, this is easier than it used to be.

So we talked about that for a little while and then went on to other stuff. That “meh,” as a prelude to telling what used to be my Deep Dark Secret, felt good. Experience has shown me over and over that my SSA just doesn’t matter to the people that I consider friends.

A recent email from a reader1 made me think back to an earlier time and an earlier attitude. The reader, who also has SSA, was considering telling a relative about it, but he wasn’t sure if he should. He said he had to consider his motives carefully, and whether he would only be telling his relative out of a desire for consolation.

I don’t know this reader’s whole story, and I can’t judge his situation. I don’t blame him for feeling as he does, because I remember feeling that way. Besides, the reason he gave for not telling is probably only one of seventy, each of which needs consideration. In other words, I pray that neither he nor anybody else takes what I am about to say as a judgment on them.

But of all the reasons to tell or not to tell, I think this is a very bad one.

One of the first people I ever told was my friend Hilda in college. I remember standing with her in a secluded corner of the campus, wrestling with the decision, knowing she was watching me wrestle without knowing what I was wrestling with. I remember saying, with the intense gravity that characterized almost every second of my life at that time: “It’s just that I wouldn’t want to burden you with this.”

“Steve,” she said. “Don’t you know that you would be giving me a gift?”

You men and women with SSA, if you are wondering whether this knowledge will be a burden to your friends, think of this: how did you feel the last time a friend of yours told you about something awful they were going through? Did you wish he hadn’t? Or did you feel honored? Was it a burden or a gift?

Or maybe you don’t have friends who confide in you. Are you glad that nobody burdens you with the knowledge of what they carry? Or do you wish they would?

Many of us grew up carrying heavy things all by ourselves, usually out of emotional necessity: we just weren’t able to believe that people wouldn’t run away screaming or retching. We were so disgusted with ourselves that we thought everybody else would be, too.

But carrying heavy things by ourselves can habituate us to the notion that we are charged with a unique and terrible cross, that it is our job to suffer in a special way, that suffering is even our calling. Many of us, probably without realizing it, even come to believe that God wants us to suffer, actively desires it.

Not true. Not true, not true, not true. Whatever God is like, He’s not like that. Carefully read Lamentations 3: “The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to anyone who seeks help from him…He does not willingly bring suffering or grief to anyone.”

Jesus didn’t tell the woman with the hemorrhage that it was her job to suffer, and he didn’t tell it to the thousands of other people who came to him all day long for healing. What makes us any different?

I’m not saying to run out and tell everybody everything all the time. Sometimes it’s not their business, and sometimes your motives might really be bad. But consider this: asking help is an act of trust and an act of love; it can sometimes be a greater act of love than giving help. And wanting help, wanting consolation — that’s not bad. That’s human. That’s good.

I don’t know about you, but I need all the help I can get.

1 I did ask the reader in question whether it was okay to write this post. I hope he’s not regretting saying yes.

When I was young I asked my mother: How come God is the one who’s God, instead of somebody else?

I don’t remember what she said, and I still don’t know the answer, unless the answer is “That’s the wrong question.” Or: God is not the kind of being who might have been otherwise. Or: God isn’t any kind of being, He’s just Being, full stop.

I often find myself still asking the same question, but in a different form: Who is God? Not what is He — infinite Being, thought-thinking-thought, I AM — but who? The question arises when I suddenly come to myself and remember that Christianity is meant to be, at bottom, a love affair rather than a legal case.

But with whom am I in love?

If he is perfect, must he not be somehow scrubbed clean of idiosyncracies? If he is infinite, then he must somehow be all-things, and if he is all-things, what can be special about him? When we like somebody, don’t we like them for the shape of their nose, or the oddness of their voice, or their particular raucous laugh?

Then how can we like God?

Now of course liking is not loving. “Love your enemies” doesn’t imply liking them (although liking sometimes follows from loving: let the will lead, Fr. T often tells me, and the heart will follow). But wouldn’t a perfect love include liking as well? Agape is all very well, but — well, I’d be disappointed if my eternal love affair with God turned out not have any eros in it.

Two answers suggest themselves, and neither is complete.

The first is, of course, Jesus. Nobody who has read the New Testament with any real attention, engaging their imagination as well as their intellect, would call Jesus bland or featureless. His manner of speech is as peculiar and particular as the smell of cilantro or pipe tobacco. How can the Infinite have a personality? I don’t know, but there He is. And when we see Jesus in all his particularity — we are seeing the Father.

The second answer is harder to define. It involves a knowledge of God that is a kind of knowledge-by-longing. I can only say that when I hear this:

As the deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?

…then, Oh, I know who that is. Who is God? He’s the one that I want. He is the one who is wanted. He is the one for whom Wanting was made. He is — He.

“I was not in love as yet, but I was in love with love; and, from a hidden hunger, I hated myself for not feeling more intensely a sense of hunger. I was looking for something to love, for I was in love with loving, and I hated security and a smooth way, free from snares.”1

Not in love, but in love with loving! Not desiring, but desiring to desire! People are not simple.2

It’s been said that the only thing necessary to become a saint is to want to be one. But there’s the trick: how many people want to be saints? Wanting to be a saint is simple, but simple doesn’t mean easy. And the little steps along the way to sainthood require desire, too. St. Augustine famously prayed: Lord, give me chastity — but not yet.

Do we want chastity, do we want sanctity, do we want God? Honestly: probably not.

We assume that we have no control over what we desire, only over what we do. Is this true? In any given moment, it is true. But of our lives as a whole, it is not.

How else could the church at Ephesus be chastised for “forsaking the love [they] had at first,” or the church at Laodicea for being lukewarm?3 They are not rebuked for what they have done or failed to do — “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance” — but, it seems, for what they have desired and not desired.

Desire is one of the things we most admire in others. Haven’t you ever met someone who seems filled with it — desire for joy, for experience, for life? Is there anything more beautiful? And is there anything sadder than someone who has lost all of his desires?

If desire is really beyond our control, then it makes no sense to admire someone who is a “man of desires”;4 it only makes sense to envy him, the way we envy someone who is born stronger or more beautiful than we are. And if it’s beyond our control, it makes no sense to blame ourselves if we experience a lack of desire.

But we do admire such men, and we do blame ourselves. And we are right to do so.

We are right to blame ourselves because, even though desire itself is beyond our control, the desire for desire is not. We may desire the wrong things, we may lack desire for the right things, but it is always in our power to desire to desire.5

Desire is a chain. The desire we feel consciously is only the very last link. The first link lies in the roots of our will. The first link is under our control; the rest follow from it.

Do you find desires in yourself that are beneath you, that are not worthy of you (you, the child of a King)? You may not have the strength to stop desiring them — but you can desire to stop desiring them, and bring this desire to God. Bring it repeatedly and earnestly; bring it to Confession and the Eucharist. God will dry up your evil desires like a poisoned well.

Or do you lack desire? Maybe you know with your mind that purity is good, but you can’t find anything in yourself that doesn’t want to go out and sin. Maybe you know that sainthood is your destiny, but every part of you wants only to serve yourself. Maybe you lament your lack of adventurousness, but can only find in yourself a desire for comfort.

Then, if you can’t desire these things, desire to desire them, and bring this lack to God. Bring it over and over again, bring it to the Mass, put it on the altar with the bread and chalice. He will fill you with his living water, which not only quenches thirst but awakes it. Whenever he gives us himself, we want more of him. Our desire grows with every drink.

Desire may be beyond our control, but the secret root of desire is always ours. It is our hand at that rudder — not the hand of chance, or passion, or chemistry, or fate. If our hand is not strong enough to turn that rudder, the Lord’s hand will cover ours, if we ask Him daily and persistently. And slowly, slowly, the ship will begin to turn.

Happy, happy Gaudete Sunday. May the Lord make us men and women of great desire. May we be forever restless, until we rest in Him.

1 The Confessions of St. Augustine, Book 3, Chapter 1.
2 Litotes!
3 See Revelation 2:4 and 2:16, respectively.
4 See Daniel 10:11.
5 Not a typo. And while I am footnoting: To the reader whose email inspired this post, thank you! God bless you!

So I come home from Kung Fu this afternoon and read this in my daily meditation: “Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for battle and my fingers for war.”

Being a Catholic is just so freaking cool.

Hello to all the new visitors from Young and Catholic and elsewhere! It’s wonderful to meet you, and thank you for the emails. Answers forthcoming as soon as may be.