Catholic People’s Histories, Gay People’s Futures

Catholic People’s Histories, Gay People’s Futures April 11, 2018

So there are way more orthodox gay people, seeking to live in obedience to the Church, than pretty much anybody realizes, and they have every possible spirituality and theology within the Church. There are gay folk for whom the Franciscan way shines with light, and gay folk who are very into Opus Dei, Byzantine gay people and flamboyant-Spanish-crucifix gay people; and these are all people who accept themselves as gay. And so I’ve recently talked with a couple of Our Youth who are theologically-trained and -minded, who have projects like, “I love the theology of the body, and I want to show how it illuminates my life as a lesbian!” or, “Thomism, but for gay guys.” (Like Grindr, but for unconditional love.)

I don’t do that kind of work, and I figured it might be useful to say why. Partly I am just no longer able to fight my way to understanding of complex theology, frankly. But mostly I find much more guidance and solace in history. The lives of the saints, and the practices of Catholic cultures, are what help me to imagine a future.

These historical realities can be the building blocks of our theology. If you’re intensely anxious about whether you don’t know what Catholic manhood is, get to know some men saints. Get used to how often they’re wounded or weird, how many of them died because of their calling as nurses, how many of them used metaphors of motherhood to describe their relationship to their monks or God the Father’s relationship to us. Once you’ve read St Aelred’s contemporaries rhapsodizing about his love for his monks, how he was the honeycomb of the monastery, it is hard to think there’s something wrong with you if you want to spend your life loving men and not women. A lot of people nowadays talk about religious vows as if you should want marriage, and feel celibacy and same-sex community as a painful sacrifice. Why? That isn’t traditional. If you get to know history, you can see how bizarre it is that both our real lives and our spiritual metaphors are centered around spousal/parental love to the exclusion of other forms of life-shaping love like friendship, discipleship, community, and service. History has opened up my imagination for what gay lives of self-gift can look like.

If you are deeply drawn to a particular school of theology, but find it offers no obvious place for you as a gay person, that may indicate that you can do fruitful and illuminating intellectual work by reshaping it so that it does hold you. It might mean that you should adjust your own self-understanding, that you are too captive to the culture around us and not captive enough to Christ, although frankly this happens way less than gay people get told that it’s happened. Or it might mean that this theological school really is limited, as all theology is limited, and you’ve found an area it handles poorly. (This is basically how I assess the theology of the body, which is so beautiful and so unaccommodating to me, though that’s a very provisional assessment since I’ve only read the addresses once.)

Much of the above also applies to the many–“There are at least five of us!”–orthodox Catholics seeking to use queer theory to defend the Catholic sexual ethic. Maybe take one hour a week away from The Later Foucault and spend it with Dunstan Thompson?

Catholics who love a particular theological school so much that they want everything to fit inside it with no weird bulges remind me of that Stephen Wright line about the life-size map of the world (“I hardly ever unroll it”). We want an all-encompassing theological system because order is beautiful. But all the theological schools are human institutions, as vs. the Church who is the Bride of Christ.

So Godspeed, you gay Thomists, I suspect you’ll discover some great stuff for us. But don’t get discouraged if theology, or the theological school you love most, doesn’t offer an obvious path to your future. You might find some signposts in the past.


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