Accompanying Youth with SSA: Commodifying Love Part 3

Accompanying Youth with SSA: Commodifying Love Part 3 November 5, 2017

Religion teachers often dread teaching about the topic of sexual morality. It forces us to become the judgmental “enemy,” provided we have not already been dubbed the title. Major props to teachers who teach year-long Theology of the Body courses. God has a special place in heaven reserved for you. 

“May the Lord bless and protect the Evert family and all of their endeavors”

A few weeks ago, I taught a lesson on how sexual complementarity in marriage is an expression of the human person’s thirst for alterity, or “otherness.” One of my students who experiences same sex attractions (and publicly identifies as gay) asked me in what sounded like a mix of frustration and desperation, “why won’t the Church let me fall in love like straight people can? Why can’t I have someone to comfort me when I come home and to fill my loneliness? Why can’t I have someone to call my own?”

Well, frankly, I thought, who are you to call anyone “your own.” No one has the “right” to possess or use another human being, even if it’s consensual. And no one exists for the sake of filling up your loneliness…other than Christ, that is. To use another person to gratify our need for comfort is to reduce their dignity to the status of a mere object. Not only that, but our infinite desire for perfect happiness would never find satisfaction in romantic love from a limited, sinful, and imperfect human being.

“What does it really mean to love someone?”  I asked him. “What do you really desire when you look at someone you like? Who is he? What does he exist for?” It was clear that no one had ever asked him these questions before. As I mentioned in my previous post, “Why Romance Doesn’t Satisfy,” our contemporary culture presents love as an experience devoid of reason. It’s emotional, sentimental, and removed from the search for truth and the “ultimate answers”.

So how can I possibly blame my student for being scandalized by the Church’s teachings? He’s immersed in a culture where “real love” is presented as an advertisement-ready image of people using each other to gratify their emotional needs. The U.S. government itself perpetuates this reduction of love in the landmark Obergefell vs. Hodges case, stating that: “Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there.” If that’s the case, then why do so many married people complain about feeling lonely even after getting married? Perhaps because the purpose of human relationships transcends the unrealistic ideal of seeking the satisfaction of one’s desires in another human being.

When my student asked these questions, I was once again confronted with the juxtaposition of two different paradigms of love between which I flip-flop back and forth: love as consumption and mutual use, which seeks satisfaction from the other person versus love as service and offering which is lived “within the ambit of a Greater Love,” in which we seek our satisfaction.

Christianity works within the second paradigm, viewing the human person as a mystery in herself, beyond use or possession, and defined by her relationship with the ultimate Mystery from which her being proceeds.  In this paradigm, marriage acts as a sign and sacrament of that Greater Love which transcends itself. Marriage, then, is complementary by nature because it involves the total gift of one’s body to the other. Part of the reason why homosexual relations are not regarded as a marriage is that the sameness of the partners’ bodies diminishes that gratuity and alterity of their gift to each other.

Nevertheless, many filter the Church’s teachings through the lens of love as mutual use and gratification. Through this lens, the Church’s invitation to a life-long, complementary, monogamous union and Its exclusion of same sex (sexual) partnerships can be perceived as a double standard. But once we shift to speaking about the Church’s teachings on its own terms (that is, within the paradigm of love as gift), it becomes much easier to talk about same sex love. It’s no longer about what people with SSA can and can’t have or do, but it’s about how they can find ways to serve and offer themselves to people of the same sex.

This paradigm-far from being repressive and confining-is liberating and creative. It opens us all up to an infinite number of opportunities to use one’s gifts in the service of other people’s good. It invites us not to repress and ignore our feelings and desires for intimacy with others, but to go to the depth of them…to discover the truth of them. It invites us to ask, “what is the root of your desire to love and be loved; Who is the origin and destiny of the person you love; where does his beauty come from?” This paradigm is ultimately an invitation to discover the Truth Himself.

While one would not be likely to find queer role models who express their desire for same sex intimacy through self-giving and sacrificial love on a Bravo series or on the pages of the Advocate, they do indeed exist. Gay Catholic blogger Eve Tushnet writes about how she expresses her desire for intimacy with other women by serving women at crisis pregnancy centers. Tushnet writes in her book Gay and Catholic,

“I knew that [my desire to serve women] was probably related in some complex way to my sexual orientation. The 70s lesbian feminists sometimes used the phrase ‘women’s energies’ to describe a certain distinctive rightness and belonging which is partly physical-the curve of a hip or a breast the bright or Husky tones a woman’s voice-and partly based on solidarity. I think that was a large part of what I wanted in service. This isn’t about sexual attraction at all…It’s a call that runs deeper, a longing that couldn’t be filled by sex even if sex were an option…My lesbianism often played out as a desire to serve and care for my girlfriends, and I did find that pregnancy counseling helped to fill a profound need I have to serve women.”

For Tushnet, as well as many others, the sublimation of homoerotic desire opens up numerous paths toward serving others of the same sex. Another beautiful example is the witness of Rilene Simpson in the documentary Desire of the Everlasting Hills. Rilene left her partner, with whom she had been in a committed romantic relationship for several years, after rediscovering her Catholic faith. Upon the news of her ex-partner’s cancer diagnosis years later, Rilene offered to nurse her until her death. Commenting on the experience of serving her former girlfriend at her deathbed, “if she was going to suffer, I wanted to help her suffer…if she was going to die, I wanted to be there for her. It was really full of grace…it was a peaceful going away and I wanted to make sure that she knew that even though I was turning away from the [gay] life, that I was not rejecting her and that I still loved her.”

Thinking back to my student’s question, I wondered if it could be possible for young people with SSA to be presented with a promising vision of love and fulfillment within the Church. It seems too often that Christians filter love through the same utilitarian lens that the secular culture uses, only then to slap Christian “moral values” on top as a formality. Love ends up being presented as “finding God’s perfect match for you…except if you’re gay,” rather than, “discovering the way God is calling you to use your gifts to serve Him and His creation.”

Instead of telling those with SSA what they can’t do with their desire, we need to present them with the variety of ways that their inclinations can be used for beautiful acts of charity and service toward others of the same sex. Above all, we should all be asking ourselves how our relationships with others can become an opportunity to catch a glimpse of the of the infinite, transcendent Love which God offered us on the Cross.

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  • Nathaniel

    Hey, I got an idea: if not marrying ever and serving others is so wonderful, why not do it yourself? Show those gay people how it’s done.

  • captcrisis

    “why won’t the Church won’t let me fall in love like straight people can? Why can’t I have someone to comfort me when I come home and to fill my loneliness? Why can’t I have someone to call my own?”

    You took the anguish of a lonely gay youth and twisted it around to make him feel selfish.

    Having someone to comfort you to fill your loneliness . . . having someone to call one’s own. . . These are the usual desires of straight people, in case you haven’t noticed.

  • Garden of Love

    I like this quote from Bishop Sheen:
    “An auto-maker has nothing against you by giving you instructions, just
    as God has nothing against you in giving you commandments.”

    God sets a high standard for His people. Having high standards has always attracted some people, as it repels others. There is no hint in the New Testament that lowering the standards in order to keep people coming to church is a good thing. In fact, the Protestant churches which have condoned (and even celebrate) homosexuality have not grown, quite the contrary they are all declining in membership. You can become so “inclusive” that no one really wants to be included.”

    Christianity is a serious and demanding religion. It is open to all who repent of their sins. People who have a pet sin that they want to indulge should find another religion, or find a church that condones sexual sins. Those churches are sorely in need of all the members they can get.

  • DavidC

    Interesting analogy. Let’s say someone found a way to operate some functionality of the vehicle that isn’t in the instruction manual, and that doesn’t cause any measurable harm to the vehicle or the driver or anyone else.

    How would our auto-maker who has nothing against anyone, as our stand in for a loving God, respond? Would he say “oh, looks like that works, too,” or would he throw the driver and the vehicle into a fiery pit?

  • LastManOnEarth

    Better yet, what if the instruction manual is clearly out of date, reads like it was written by a superstitious caveman, doesn’t appear to correspond to the autos being produced, and is harmful if followed as written?

    What if the manufacturer doesn’t have a working customer support line?

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    “These are the usual desires of straight people”

    Hence Pascal’s warning: “All great amusements are dangerous to the Christian life; but among all those which the world has invented there is none more to be feared than the theatre. It is a representation of the passions so natural and so delicate that it excites them and gives birth to them in our hearts, and, above all, to that of love, principally when it is represented as very chaste and virtuous. For the more innocent it appears to innocent souls, the more they are likely to be touched by it. Its violence pleases our self-love, which immediately forms a desire to produce the same effects which are seen so well represented; and, at the same time, we make ourselves a conscience founded on the propriety of the feelings which we see there, by which the fear of pure souls is removed, since they imagine that it cannot hurt their purity to love with a love which seems to them so reasonable.

    So we depart from the theatre with our heart so filled with all the beauty and tenderness of love, the soul and the mind so persuaded of its innocence, that we are quite ready to receive its first impressions, or rather to seek an opportunity of awakening them in the heart of another, in order that we may receive the same pleasures and the same sacrifices which we have seen so well represented in the theatre.”

  • Clare

    Thanks for articulating my own discomfort with this piece (which does otherwise make some good points.)

    There’s a real refusal in some circles to accept the gravity of what the Church asks of gay people, as seen in dismissive comments along the lines of “but it’s the same for single heterosexuals” (speaking as a single heterosexual – no it isn’t) and the holding of their natural, human longing for companionship and intimacy to a far higher standard than with straight people. How often do married couples get quizzed about whether they are selfishly using their partner to fulfil their own wants?

  • Joanne ONeill

    Stephen….wonderful points, which I lifted out of the confines of “mere sexuality” and into the realm of any relationship not defined as traditional, child-producing, heterosexual marriage. I (not often) sometimes am grateful for my ‘old age’: while the joy of sex remains, you see that it is not the only way to intimacy, fulfilment and shared love. In fact, it is not even the best way……….

  • Statistics Palin

    Pascal was an idiot, as Pascsl’s wager illustrates.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    “Pascal was an idiot”

    An unusual description of one of the founders of Projective Geometry, the discoverer of Pascal’s theorem, of the arithmetical triangle of binomial coefficients, not to mention his work on hydrodynamics hydrostatics and the vacuum and the weight of the air and all this by a man who died at 39.