Tag Archives: the cross

Will I ever get married?

At 19, I would’ve called myself a 6 on the Kinsey scale; at 29, I’m more like a 4.5. Does that mean I’m basically heterosexual with severe homosexual tendencies? Or basically homosexual1 with slight heterosexual tendencies?

Could I ever get married to a woman if I were only, say, 35% attracted to her? Or what if it were somehow 90%? Would I want to get married, even then? Who has time for that? And is the priesthood really off the table, or do I still need to think about that?

What’s the difference between a cross and an obstacle?

Is there any difference? Do some things remain crosses until they are overcome, at which point they turn out to have been obstacles? Do you miss the point of a cross by thinking of it as an obstacle? Or do you miss the chance to overcome obstacles if you only think of them as crosses? How do you divide your energy between improving the quality of your life — therapy, exercise, support groups, self-help books — and just plain living?

Or do you just stop thinking about it and do the best you can?

What’s the deal with Catholic guilt?

Is it something that shows up in people who would’ve been neurotic anyway, or is there something about Catholicism that actually produces neurosis? And if so, is that what Vatican II was supposed to fix? And if so, did it work? Or is it something else?

What if Catholic guilt is just an occupational hazard of having something as strange and wonderful as the Sacraments, which God decided was worth it even if it’d make us a little nuts, just like He decided it was worth it to give us the book of Revelation, even though He knew what kind of crazies would get ahold of it?

What does it mean to be a Gershom?

Which parts of me are me and which parts are my family? Does that question even make any sense? Could I have had the good bits of Gershomhood without all the crazy bits, or are they so closely intertwined that you can’t uproot one without killing the other, like wheat and tares?

Just what the hell is going on here?

Is it because it’s Lent and all manner of forces are at large, within and without my poor embattled brain? Is it because I’m doing something wrong? Is it because I’m doing something right? Do I need more sleep? Less exercise? More omega-3? Less TV? More prayer? How long has it been like this, and how long will it continue?

Or am I doing just fine?

1 Is that even a thing?

And I said “Help me, help me, help me, help me–
Thank you! I’d no idea that you were there.”1

A few weeks ago, when things were worst, I was having one of those very anguished prayer times where you are yelling so loudly for help that it’s hard to notice when it comes. I finally asked: “Just tell me something, Lord; tell me something I need to hear, and I’ll try to be quiet so I can hear it.”

So he said, “This is not a punishment.”

Which you wouldn’t think he would have to tell somebody like me who (allegedly) believes that God is loving and merciful. But we do sometimes get ourselves all twisted up.

My dear friend R. was telling me recently about something called the “Just World Bias”: we innately believe that the world is fair, so when we see somebody undergoing horrific suffering, if we’re unable to help them, we will often seek comfort by saying to ourselves, consciously or unconsciously: They had it coming, they brought it on themselves.

We do this because it’s easier to swallow the idea that all suffering is some sort of comeuppance than to swallow the idea that inexplicably horrific things happen to innocent people.2

And those of us who are predisposed to self-loathing tend to apply this damning logic to ourselves. We say: God is just, God is loving, and therefore the only conceivable reason I would feel like this way is that I’ve done something horrible. So I must thinkandthinkandthink until I figure out what it is.

But it ain’t so. The mystery of suffering is a mystery because there aren’t simple answers. And it’s important to remember that God is not only merciful (which I tend to think of in very abstract terms), but also very nice (which is much easier to wrap my head around), so he is quite aware of our blindness, even when it is wilful, and doesn’t ask us to put ourselves on the rack.

That is to say: even supposing that God would be quite within His rights to put us on the rack — or on the cross!3 — that is simply not the sort of thing he does.

Like Calvin says to Hobbes after breaking his father’s binoculars: “There’s no situation so bad that it can’t be made worse by adding guilt.” And the converse is true: when you remove the guilt, ordinary pain becomes tolerable.

Because really, there are things much worse than pain.

1 Paul Simon — “Rewrite”, from the surprisingly good (if understated and somewhat mawkishly titled) album So Beautiful Or So What.
2 Conversely, someone else has answered the age-old question (“Why do bad things happen to good people?”) by saying: There are no good people. This is true, strictly speaking (cf. Romans 3:10 and Psalm 14:1), but since it is true in a way that is too high for most of us to understand most of the time, it is not particularly helpful to think about when you are thrashing around in pain. In fact, if you meditate on this truth during such times, you are guaranteed to misunderstand it. So cut it out.
3 Is this, maybe possibly, what the Cross means? Because we really do deserve much worse than we think we deserve, but at the same time we’re incapable of realizing it?

“Oh Steve,” laughed my friend Hilda on the phone, “you think God wants you to be lonely, don’t you?”

This was a couple of years ago, in Dallas. I was visiting UD over spring break and savoring the feeling of being surrounded by old friends, and had been wondering out loud whether it might not be good to live in a place where I actually knew people.

Hilda has a very wry way of being compassionate. She laughed at me because she is very familiar with the brand of short-sightedness that we both share: it’s easy to forget that God wants you to be happy, especially when you are used to thinking of yourself as a martyr.

Well, there’s martyrs and there’s martyrs. The readings at Mass these past few days, from Maccabees, have been full of them.1 Yesterday there was the woman who watches her seven sons die in front of her, exhorting the youngest: “Do not be afraid of this executioner, but be worthy of your brothers and accept death, so that in the time of mercy I may receive you again with them.”

Today there was Mattathias, who defies the king to his face, overturns the pagan altar, and runs through the city shouting, “Let everyone who is zealous for the law and who stands by the covenant follow after me!”

These people have something in common, besides their fidelity to God’s commandments even in the face of death. It is this: they are extremely badass.2 Badassery is one of the most overlooked characteristics of martyrs. Sure, there’s the self-abnegation and the discipline and the years of stolid persistence in the way of the Lord, but there’s also the ┬íViva Cristo Rey! of Miguel Pro in front of the firing squad, and St. Lawrence’s hard-to-top “Turn me over, I’m done on this side” while the Romans roasted him.

My point isn’t that every second of the Christian life is packed with swashbuckling and romance.3 It’s this: God wants real men, not a bunch of sallow-faced nicelings.4

Celibacy is a kind of martyrdom, no mistake — just ask the woman whose husband runs off with another woman (or man), leaving her to deal with the fact that they are still married and always will be — but being a martyr doesn’t mean sitting around and working up a good head of self-pity, the better to offer up your oh-so-poignant-pain. It means courage, fire, zeal, and not a little chutzpah.

That courage can be a challenge for men with SSA, because many of us are easily cowed by the thought of rejection. Will I stay in and watch TV by myself, or will I call a friend, even if he might be busy? Will I accept the invitation to play basketball after work, or will I make up an excuse so I don’t have to risk the embarrassment? When I hear the guys next door making a ruckus, will I knock on their door with a couple of beers or will I go to bed and feel sorry for myself?

Whichever I choose on any given day, this is always true: SSA is a cross, but cowardice is not. Some things are meant to be endured, and some things are meant to be overcome. Like the alcoholics say: Lord, grant us the wisdom to know the difference.

1 I mean the second kind.
2 For some reason I think Marc Barnes, of the Bad Catholic blog, would appreciate this paragraph.
3 Although, really, the more the better.
4 That’s a real word because I say so.

No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?1

It was bad, dear readers, very bad. I spent last night in the lowest parts of the pit, and all day today the black dog gnawed at my leg, and only gnawed harder when I tried to kick his face in. That’ll teach me to boast about how well I’m doing, how fine I am, and how out I’ve got everything figured.2

Crying didn’t help, and neither did yelling. Talking to myself, talking to God; I didn’t have any answers, and neither did he. Came home, cried some more, tried not to punch anything. Finally settled down, after Compline, enough to be able to write something. I won’t even look at it today, just going to delete the whole thing. You think you know maudlin? Baby, you ain’t seen maudlin ’till you’ve seen me blog in the middle of a good old-fashioned funk.

A good night’s sleep didn’t clear it up, so tonight after the gym and a quick dinner, I got out the cigarettes and the kleenex and called Father T. I told him about my frustration, my anger, my depression. My feeling that I had failed, again, to be the man I wanted to be. How I don’t usually feel this bad but I never feel all that good, either; how feeling bad was a kind of relief, because at least I was feeling something, and maybe that something was closer to the truth.

Answer me, tell me I’m doing something wrong; tell me I feel this way because I’m living the wrong way. Tell me that everything is okay, and that I just can’t see it because I’m not wise enough, tell me that everything will be fine, and that I just can’t get there because I’m not strong enough. Tell me, tell me. I can take it.

That wasn’t what he told me.

FT: What you want is something real. We’re all wired for it. It’s just that your wires are pointing in the wrong direction.
SG: Yes…
FT: We’re all meant for love and for fulfillment. It’s the fulfillment that a man finds in marriage.
SG: Yes…
FT: Do you get what I’m saying?
SG: Yes, yes, I get it. Sure. But what I don’t get is why I’m meant for something that I never get to have.
FT: Yes.
SG:
FT: I don’t have an answer. I wish I had an answer. There is no answer.

That was the right answer.

Fr. T, if you had told me that I was wrong to feel how I feel, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you had told me that God was good and the world was beautiful, I might have believed you, but I would have hung up.

Instead, you gave me the truth that so many people think is too hard for me and for those like me. You respected me and trusted me, as they do not. You told me that I am called to a kind of martyrdom. That the world is difficult, and that there is no answer, not here, to the question of man’s woundedness. That my SSA is not fair, any more than Down Syndrome is fair, or poverty is fair.

That those who cry “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace, are lying. I am not okay, the world is not okay, none of us is okay. If you’ve never noticed it, then you’re not paying attention.

Being a secularist means believing that there is nothing wrong with the world or with us — or anyway, nothing that can’t be fixed by politics and technology. Thank God I’m a Christian. We don’t lie to ourselves; we know the world is broken, and all of us are broken with it. We know evil is real. And we know where to take it. We take it to the cross, we take it to the altar.

So I’m not okay, not today. But you’d be surprised how good I feel about it.

1 The whole thing is here.
2 Here in the writing business we call that “parallelism.” Not to be confused with its close cousin, “poor sentence construction.”

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.

Ever hear that story about the guy who gets to choose his cross? Wish I could find a link to it, but googling “man choose cross heavy Jesus” didn’t narrow it down much.


Anyway, so: a man is complaining about his lot in life, how his problems are worse than other people’s. He prays about it and has a vision: the Lord arrives and says Okay, let’s go, I’ll show you all the different crosses that people have, and you can pick the one you like the best.

So they go and look at all the crosses — I always imagine them wandering through some hangar-sized, dusty storage room, fluorescently lit maybe. The man looks at one cross after another: some of them are covered in spikes or barbed wire, one’s ten feet long and made of iron, one’s as hot as a stove. He can’t imagine carrying any of them around every day. Some of them he can’t imagine carrying for even one day. This goes on for hours, every cross he sees belonging to a real person, none of them seeming even close to bearable.

Finally he sees one that isn’t too bad, that he feels like he can handle. It’s got a few splinters but nothing that’ll really gouge; it’s pretty heavy but he can heft it. He says, I’ll take that one. And Jesus says, That’s the one you’ve already got.

I think it must be like that, no? I know a lot of people whose life I could never ever handle, and there are some people who think my life is terribly hard. I wish I could tell all the people who accuse the Church of laying heavy burdens on gay men how happy I am with my life. Although, on the occasions when I’ve done just that, they haven’t taken my word for it. They don’t seem to have heard me at all.

Some crosses truly are worse than others, but whatever yours is, you get to know it. You know the shape of it, how to balance it without tripping too often, where the biggest splinters are. It’s never going to be comfortable, but it won’t kill you, and it might save you.