You Do Realize, This Means Waugh: Four Small Thoughts on Gay Catholic Whatnot

You Do Realize, This Means Waugh: Four Small Thoughts on Gay Catholic Whatnot January 29, 2015

If I were clickbaitier these would all have their own very short post. YOU’RE WELCOME. Anyway, various things I thought about while on the road, bookhawkin’.

1. Remember my whole “we aren’t trying to solve problems; we’re trying to replace less-Christian problems with more-Christian problems” shtik? This is relevant to progressive churches because so often their approach to the questions posed by gay people is to say, “Okay, you can get married!” They solve the problem of gay people by changing the nature of the one adult vocation our culture already recognizes and honors. There’s a more-Christian approach here, even for churches which celebrate gay marriages: Foster a wide array of vocations, including those overlooked or denigrated by contemporary American culture.

Celibacy is an eschatological witness, as we’re told; it’s countercultural in every culture. But it’s specifically also countercultural for us, since we’ve been taught to see marriage and parenting as the only ways extended adolescence finally ends–the only ways to grow up, the only real forms of love. Progressive churches can live out their beliefs about gay marriage without falling into marriage idolatry if they honor vocations to service, friendship, artistry, monasticism, etc., many of which will be lived out by unmarried laypeople.

2. If I’m serious about having gay couples coming to church, about discipleship as a journey, and about removing stigma against all gay people including those in sexually-active relationships, we’re going to need to renew our understanding of not receiving Communion. I think I was really lucky to read all those table-pounding 20th-c. Cat’lick writers, your Waughs and your Greenes, because they helped me to see something humble and honorable in kneeling by yourself while everybody else goes up to receive. They helped me to see how much faith and devotion is embodied in that humiliating, ambiguous place, where you know you need to be in church even if you can’t imagine or accept complete fidelity to the Church’s moral law. I’ve had to be there, and it was awful at the time but I look back on the person I was then with a lot of compassion. I think having (literary) models of people who stayed in church when they couldn’t receive helped me to stay, and to hold on, to stay closer to Christ than I would have otherwise.

This is really a subset of all those posts about how we need to revive the role of the “Bad Catholic.” Being a bad Catholic can be very, very good for you; it’s a sign that you accept the Church as something (someone, our Mother) outside you and bigger than you, who gives your life its structure even when you can’t/won’t live entirely within that structure. (How many tears are shed because it’s so hard to tell can’t from won’t….) Being a bad Catholic means being assessed by the Church–accepting Her view of you, even if you accept it wincingly or ironically or in confused exhaustion, “Master, to whom shall we go?“–instead of judging Her. Her judgments of you will be more merciful than yours of Her, anyway.

You only get the spiritual benefits of being a bad Catholic if you take the “bad” part seriously. If you minimize the gravity of sin you lose the reminder it brings of our dependence on God; the more trivial the sin the less humility is provoked.

There’s obviously a danger of provoking self-hatred instead of humility by talking this way, but the literary figure of the “bad Catholic” calls up compassion and identification rather than judgment in readers. Maybe you should show the same compassion to him when he’s you.

3. I often talk about how campus ministries can make the Gospel more present at their universities through art. I also talk a lot about how important it is not to assume that questions of sexuality are the most pressing spiritual issues for gay people. Why not combine these two ideas?

If you show a work of art with both Christian and queer themes (movies like Therese, Beyond the Hills, Wilde; postered excerpts from De Profundis or Eliza Kearny or for that matter St John of the Cross) you can invite people to bring questions of sexuality if that’s what they want to talk about, but you’re also giving them a lot of other meat to chew on. You can demonstrate that you’re not afraid of queer themes and queer people, without assuming that what queer students most want to talk about is What Jesus Thinks of the Gays. If you have a discussion centered around “Oscar Wilde, Catholic,” there’s so much there–the theology of suffering and humiliation, morality vs. the moralizers, what lessons if any we can glean from last-ditch conversions. If anybody tries this, let me know how it goes….

4. That Commonweal review of my book made me think about how much we need both “you can do it!” and “you can’t do it, and that’s okay.” Christian sexual discipline is extraordinarily stringent and failure is the normal condition. That failure can become a channel for grace and a path to humility–some of the most gentle and humble people I know are people who have experienced long-term failure to meet their own moral standards; they know what it’s like. Failure should remind us of our total dependence on God. We’re not asked to rely on our own strength and we’re not asked to succeed, only to repent and believe.

At the same time I do think we need to point out, “Gay celibate life can be fruitful and loving. You can build a life enmeshed in love from other people.” We need to say that because nobody else will tell you.


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