Tag Archives: scripture

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

Lorde

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.

Well, dear readers, I have been in a funk. I like the word “funk” because it doesn’t allow me to take it too seriously. DEPRESSION is something medical and serious, it’s a CONDITION. A funk, on the other hand, passes and then you go about your business. Just something that happens, like a summer cold.

Here’s a snippet from George MacDonald1 that sums things up:

They had a feeling, or a feeling had them, till another feeling came and took its place. When a feeling was there, they felt as if it would never go; when it was gone they felt as if it had never been; when it returned, they felt as if it had never gone.2

That’s the way, isn’t it? Moods come and go, and it’s foolish to take any one of them for the way life is. This is true of happy moods as well as sad ones.

Not that all joy is temporary; but all states of mind are temporary. The trick is having a solid foundation, something that lets you hold on to peace even in the middle of an emotional storm; so that, no matter how bad it gets, the bottom never drops out. That’s why the Psalmist is always calling God a rock: something solid, something that isn’t dislodged even when the sea is angry.

I was about to quote St. Paul about “the peace which surpasses all understanding”, but when I looked it up I found that the passage is even more relevant than I remembered:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.3

Rejoice! All the time! St. Paul isn’t saying “be in a happy mood all the time.” If he were, he would be asking the impossible. Telling a depressed person, “Cut it out and be happy!” is about as helpful as telling a poor person, “Be warm! Get fed!”4

But he isn’t doing that. There’s a kind of rejoicing which can be done in the middle of depression, and a kind of peace that lasts through storms.

It has something to do with “prayer and petition, with thanksgiving” — maybe especially the last part. Giving thanks for all of it: the good and the bad, the puppies and the fleas, the light and the shadow. If you can’t think of anything else, give thanks that you have toes and that the sky is blue. Once you get rolling, it gets easier.

Well. Easy enough to say. I’m working on it. Time for my evening prayers.

1 Do you know about George MacDonald?? My parents read me The Golden Key when I was very young, and it left a bigger impression on my imagination than any other 30 pages I can think of. It’s in the public domain, and the full text is here if you want it.
2 From George MacDonald: An Anthology, edited by my other hero, C. S. Lewis. It’s on Google Books here.
3 Philippians 4:4-7.
4 I’m thinking of James 2:16.

I remember what it was like, being terrifyingly, nightmarishly depressed. I remember one morning in college in particular. I was 19, and had just fallen for someone, call him M., harder than I’ve ever fallen for anyone before or since. I remember waking up, and feeling the freedom of that split second before you remember everything, before the heaviness settles down. I remember thinking: This can’t go on. And then feeling it go on.

It sounds melodramatic now. Certainly, it was. A little unrequited love, and here I’m walking around like the firing squad is arriving at dawn. A well-meaning friend, playing the comforter, told me I needed to just “get over this pseudo-obsession with M.” and move on.1

Score 10 for common sense and 0 for compassion. I couldn’t get over it. I knew M. didn’t have SSA, and I knew he would never be my boyfriend. But we could be friends! Not just any friends: epic friends, Biblical friends, Gilgamesh and Enkidu, David and Jonathan. You who’ve been there, you know what I mean. It was the dream of the Best Friend, my soul’s twin, who would understand everything, fill every hole in my heart.

It’s not that he wasn’t interested in me; it’s that he wasn’t obsessed with me. There was no reason we should have been friends, we were nothing alike, but I was ready to remake my whole personality, like what he liked and laugh at what he laughed at. Seeing him talking and laughing with other guys hurt me almost physically. Not knowing where he was for a night put me in a panic, because he might be secretly be becoming Best Friends with somebody else.

That was hell. Melodramatic or not, it’s the truth. I’ve never hurt worse, or for longer.

I wish I could tell you exactly how I got out. Every time I pray Psalm 86 in Compline, I think of that time:

I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart
and glorify your name for ever;
for your love to me has been great:
you have saved me from the depths of the grave.

At the time it felt like I was carrying the heaviest of it. I was the one who had to decide to let go of my David-and-Jonathan ideal, to acknowledge that no man (or woman!) could ever fit that God-shaped hole.2 I was the one who had to decide not to see him every chance I got; not to avoid him, but not to seek him out either. I had to let the friendship die. It never was one anyway.

But there was Father T alongside me, on the phone or in person, helping me not to give up, and there was Jesus in the chapel, with words of healing if I could stop my clamoring long enough to hear them.

So the hurt died down, day by day, until it was gone, and peace came. It didn’t come easy and it didn’t come quick, but it came. The year after that I met Sal. The only reason I knew how to be friends with him, without trying to make him my everything, without destroying myself, was what I had learned from M.

Will you believe me if I say I’m grateful for every second of it? The Lord heals, and sometimes only fire will do the trick.

1 Holy crap, folks, if that was pseudo-obsession I hope I never meet the real thing.
2 q.v. “Mofo“, from when U2 still made music that anybody cared about. Still a freaking great song, even if (Thank God) it isn’t me anymore.