Somebody asked me the other day why Adoration is the one thing I can hold on to.
Context for the question: I’m a hot mess. Without going into specifics, celibacy1 has not been exactly my forte lately. There was a guy,2 and now there isn’t. And although in some ways it ended extremely well, and although a decade and a half of now done darkness3 taught me how to keep a pretty even keel, there’s a hole in my life now, and the hole bleeds.
Celibacy never quite felt like a gift; or anyway, that’s not how I remember it. It feels good to tell yourself that celibacy is a gift, because that makes up for the wrongness of it. It feels good to say, Well, I’ve been denied one thing, but I’ve been given another. Whether I ever actually felt this way, I can’t be sure. I do know that I sometimes pretended to.
On good days or good months, celibacy felt like a calling. Now it feels like a waste, a shame, like something unnatural. Like something — to make a kind of mean joke that my fellow Catholic celigays will get — disordered.
Catholicism isn’t my favorite thing right now. I don’t like it. I don’t want it. But I absolutely can’t get rid of it. I’ve walked up to the ledge more than once, seeing if I could chuck it over, but I’ve kept finding that if it goes over the ledge, I go with it. It’s my center of gravity. Or, to shift the image, it’s got its hooks in so deep that if I tore it out, I don’t know what would be left of me. It’s not too late to find out, of course. But the thought terrifies me.
But still, I keep finding myself at Adoration. No, that’s giving myself too little credit. I go to Adoration, on purpose. I try to make it through half an hour. I sit, I journal, I read, I seethe, I mutter, I cry, I sometimes even try to be quiet and listen. I can hardly stand to crack open a Bible, I’m just so damn angry. But I can sit.
Listen, I could just go be another kind of Christian. If you want to be a Christian and marry a man, you’ve got options, and more of them every day. What does Catholicism have that thousands of other denominations don’t?
I’ll tell you. The Eucharist. It’s that simple. Where, to whom else3, am I going to go for that?
I feel safe in front of the Blessed Sacrament. To be clear, when I say “safe” I don’t mean “at peace” or “comfortable” or “content” or “optimistic”. No, just that: safe. Safe to feel what I’m feeling, safe to not pretend to be feeling anything else. Safe to be honest. Or maybe it is peace: the kind Jesus meant when he said Not as the world gives do I give you peace. If this is what’s called peace, it’s a funny name for it.
A gay priest told me recently that he sat down in front of the monstrance once and, even though it was habit to say “Jesus, I love you”, found that he couldn’t say it. He didn’t mean it. So instead he said “Jesus, I don’t love you.” He said the same thing every time he sat in front of the Sacrament for the next year and a half. Jesus, I don’t love you. It’s a very good prayer. And after a while, he didn’t have to say it anymore, because it wasn’t true anymore.
This is my prayer at Adoration. Jesus, I’m angry at you. Jesus, I don’t trust you. Jesus, I don’t even know if you like me, and I don’t know if I like you. Jesus, I don’t know who you are.
It’s a good prayer. Maybe it’s not as good as “Jesus, I love you” and “Jesus, I trust you”, but it’s better than saying those things and knowing that, secretly, you don’t mean them at all. That you can’t even imagine what it would be like to mean them. Better honest rage and honest hurt than feigned love. Feigned love always turns to resentment in the end.
I don’t know why I believe in the Real Presence. And I don’t believe in it, not always. That belief flickers in my heart like a lamp with a loose wire. But I believe in it as much as I believe in anything that I can’t see. I believe in it as much as I believe that love is at foundation of the universe; that love is the final reality.
But there’s no reason to believe in the Real Presence if I don’t believe in the Church. And that’s why I do believe that the Church teaches the truth, that she can’t stop teaching the truth, sort of the same way I can’t stop believing her. She has the truth in her heart, and she can’t tear it out, no matter how rotten she becomes with hypocrites and parasites and mediocrities.
It’s a curse and a blessing, this infallibility. If she teaches the truth, we get the good parts along with the unpleasant parts. The comfort and the wonder and the majesty, right along with the parts we don’t want to hear. We get her teachings on sexuality — which, listen, don’t try to tell me those are the good parts, not right now, it’s just not the time — but we also get the Blessed Sacrament.
If the Church is so vocally, definitively, insistently wrong about something as big as human sexuality, then there’s no reason the Church should be right about anything else, or at least no more frequently right than anybody else. If the Church isn’t infallible, then she’s just one among thousands of Christian Churches, good in some ways, bad in others; right for some people, wrong for others.
Sure, she’s got some good art and some stirring music and some quaint ceremonies: blah, blah, blah. So do the Hindus, so do the atheists, so did the Dionysian Mystery Cult, probably. You can find that stuff anywhere there are humans. Maybe the Catholic stuff is better than the other stuff, maybe it isn’t. That’s not the point.
If I follow the teaching of the Church except when I dislike it, if I follow it only when it makes sense to me — if I decide to believe in this doctrine but not in that one — then either I’ve picked the wrong church, or I’m not following Jesus at all. I’m only following myself.
It all hangs together, or it all falls apart.