Amazing Grace touches hearts as no other hymn. Here is the remarkable story of its author.
To join the discussion about Gay and Catholic, or to order a copy, go here.
I know a lot of people who are gay and Catholic, on both sides of the altar. Contrary to the media yammerings, being Gay and Catholic is something of a commonplace.
I’ve never personally known someone who was Catholic and gay who hated the Church the way that we hear they should. What I have seen is a number of people who are doing just like so many Catholics. They are obedient to the Church’s teachings to varying degrees, but they are sincere to the core in their longing for the transcendent love of God.
I know gay Catholics who are in loving sexual relationships. I know gay Catholics who have lived their lives and almost certainly will die in the closet. I know gay Catholics who have marriages, children, grandchildren and who live two lives, a secret one as gay and the one they present to the world and to their families as straight. I know gay Catholics who are single and, so far as I can tell, living celebate lives.
What I haven’t known until I came to Patheos was gay Catholics who openly discussed their sexuality in terms of their acceptance of the teachings of Catholic Church. I had not met the willingness to discuss their own gay-ness within an intellectual and lived framework of obedience to Christ in an open and honest way.
I had not, in short, met Eve Tushnet.
Eve, whether she puts it in these words or not, is striving toward the wonderful objective that Margaret Rose Realy states so beautifully, “Being pleasing to God.”
Margaret’s faith and her elucidation of that message have been a beacon to me in these days of my retreat, a light showing the way forward. When I read Eve Tushnet’s book, Gay and Catholic, I recognized that I was reading the message of a person who is also striving to “be pleasing to God” with her life.
There is no one story for how to apply the love and lordship of Christ to our lives. Each one of us has our uniqueness which we bring to that way of living. But “being pleasing to God” must — must — begin with accepting that Christ is the Lord of all life, and most particularly and most demandingly, of our own lives.
Jesus does not force us to follow HIm. He lets us choose. He lets us say no. He even, just as He did during His passion, lets us mock Him and attack Him and deny Him.
We chose to follow Christ, to make Him the Lord of our lives, each of us, of our own free will. Or we refuse.
Obfuscations and claims of following Christ without actual followership do not count in this choice. What matters is if you actually live out that choice on a daily basis. That means living lives that are profoundly counter-cultural. It does not matter what your culture is, you will not “fit” with its worldly zeitgeist if Jesus Christ is truly and absolutely the Lord of your life. It is not possible.
In that way, Eve Tushnet’s decision to accept a celebate life is no different from the many decisions that Christians all over the world must make. It certainly is not so fraught as the decisions to follow Him that Christians who are imprisoned and murdered for their faith are forced to make.
But the decision to give up her will for His will is Eve Tushnet’s gift of herself to Christ.
That, at bottom, is what accepting Jesus Christ as Lord means. It means making a free gift of yourself and your choices to Him. It is not possible to make such a radical commitment to Christ and still be comfortably aligned with the world. In this way, gay Catholics face the same choices as all other followers of Christ.
Eve Tushnet seeks to develop a paradigm of friendship as a way to live out the vocation of celebacy without inflicting the aridity of isolation and loneliness on oneself. In truth, friendships are the elixir of life, and once again, that applies to all of us. Katrina Fernandez, who struggles with the loneliness of a single mother, is just as much in need of loving friendships as the gay Catholic sitting in the pew in front of her.
Friendship, real friendship, is a lost art in our culture of immediate satisfactions and raging political divisiveness. That is a tragedy which reflects our deeper alienation from God.
I say this because the more you love God and the longer you walk with Christ, the more fully you see that we are all the same underneath our artificial differences. We are all scared and alone, pitted and stained, lost and isolated. We all crave the infinite and we all need forgiveness and love.
The rageful craziness of our society as it plunges into a steepening descent, is a manifestation of what happens when people seek these things inside themselves instead of finding them in God.
The antidote to this raw, keening alienation is the complete freedom of accepting that Jesus Christ is Lord, and by that I mean, that Jesus Christ is Lord of you.
For the gay person, no less or even no different, from the rest of us, that means laying the whole of ourselves, including our sexuality, on the altar of His love. But that does not mean that gay people should live lives of solitary confinement inside their gayness.
We were made by a triune God Who understands fellowship, Who made us for fellowship, with one another and with Him.
In Gay and Catholic, Eve Tushnet begins the discussion about how this fellowship might look for a celebate gay Catholic. I don’t think her suggestions are the final discussion about this. I think they are the beginning of a great dialogue, which, if it is to be truly meaningful, must be based on the acknowledgement that this need applies to far more people than just those with homosexual orientation. It is a human discussion, about universal human needs.
We were made for God, and for one another. Friendship is a human need that is probably stronger and certainly more persistent than our sexual longings.
I like Gay and Catholic so much that I’ve bought copies to give to gay Catholic friends of mine. I am interrupting my retreat to write this review because I think that Gay and Catholic begins a discussion that is long overdue and which we desperately need to have.
If you do not eat of my flesh and drink of my blood, you will no have life within you. Jesus Christ
The Eucharist was a scandal. Many of Jesus’ followers left Him when He explicitly told them I am the bread of life.
It is popular today to cast Jesus as a Casper Milquetoast god thingy of our devising. According to popular cant, Jesus’ sole purpose in becoming human was to tell us that, hey, I’m ok and you’re ok. Do what feels good and so long as it doesn’t kill somebody else — unless of course it’s euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research or abortion, in which case, it’s a “human right” to kill somebody else — so long as it doesn’t kill somebody else that you’ve decided it is a denial of human rights not to kill, it’s fine by me.
Jesus’ living teaching about the mercy of God toward the weak and helpless, in particular women, when He said let him who is without sin cast the first stone has been transmuted to mean I can commit any sin I want and the Church is sinning if it says my sin is a sin.
The Eucharist was a hard teaching, a scandalizing teaching, on that day when Jesus first taught it. Many people left Him because of it.
But Jesus didn’t follow after them and try to smooth things over. He didn’t say C’mon back. I didn’t mean it that way.
His reaction — if you have deluded yourself into believing in the Casper Milquetoast Jesus of modern pop theology — was downright unChristlike.
Stop grumbling among yourselves. He said. It is written, They will all be taught by God.
Then, he doubled down on his teaching about the Eucharist: My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink … Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.
Finally, He turned to His disciples and said, Are you going to leave me too?
Not, notice, please, please don’t leave me; I was only speaking metaphorically.
He looked at them and without equivocation acknowledged that they were as scandalized by this teaching as those in the crowd, but, again, without wavering one inch on that hard teaching, asked them the real question that He asks each of us: Are you going to leave me, too?
It was a line in the proverbial sand. Stay or go, He was saying, but the teaching will not change.
He asks us, all of us, including our cardinals and bishops, this same question today. Are you going to leave me, too?
Will the hard teachings of our Christ Jesus, Who was anything but a Casper Milquetoast, be too much for you?
Today’s Catholics wuss right by the hard teaching of the Eucharist. We’ve got that one down.
But the other hard teachings about the sanctity of marriage and human life, about the reality of hell and the fact that yes, Virginia, there is a satan, are too difficult, too embarrassing, too demanding of us in this post-Christian world.
We want to whittle Jesus down, to wear away His rough edges like a bar of soap, until we have a slippery little g god who won’t make things so tough on us. We want our silly addlepated little wimp of a self-made god who won’t trouble us in our desire to be accepted and loved by everybody, including those who are unknowingly following satan when they attack Him.
We want Christ without the cross, eternal life and salvation without redemption and conversion.
It hurts me! Sinners cry. It hurts to be “judged” a sinner just because I break these eternal rules. It rankles and angers me that anyone would think that the things I want to do are wrong. So, stop saying that. In fact, tell me that what I want — whatever I want — is good and virtuous.
If the Church obliges, it will condemn these people to hell.
It will also condemn itself to inconsequence.
It is one thing to teach that this Church of ours is the cornerstone, that it was built on Peter the rock and that Jesus said the gates of hell would not prevail against it. It is quite another to arrogantly assume that the Church may change the basic teachings of the faith and teach that which is contrary to what Christ taught and that it will be A-Ok because Jesus said the gates of hell would not prevail against us.
The first is faith. The second is presumption.
Jesus did not mean whatever this Church does is holy because the Church does it. His great Apostle, St Paul, said quite clearly, God is not mocked.
John the Baptist told the Pharisees, when they went into the wilderness to refute him for his preaching, that everyone — including them — was in need of redemption. He then smashed their self-justifying claims of exemption from following the laws of God. Do not say we are sons of Abraham, he told them. God can raise up sons of Abraham from these very stones.
Jesus said it best, of course, when He said, A servant is not greater than his master.
That applies to those who wear the mitre just as it does to the rest of us.
Perhaps the hardest teaching in that day of hard teachings when Christ the Lord made clear beyond misunderstanding what the Eucharist really meant, was the answer He gave to those who walked away. It is written, they will all be taught by God.
We have been taught by God made flesh. This is not some wimpy, politically correct little g god of our devising. This is a God who was reviled and attacked, mocked and betrayed and yet did not yield. This is a God who consented to be beaten, tortured, mocked, and horribly murdered; Who took on the bottomless alienation of all sin, Who became Sin, in order to buy us back from our perdition.
Are you going to leave me too?
That is the question.
It’s up to each one of us to decide what we will answer.
From what I gather, I’m doing this retreat so wrong that it hardly qualifies as a retreat. I think I’m supposed to go sit in a room and keep silence, waiting for God to speak to me. But, to be honest, if I went off in a room and kept silence for days at a time, I would probably sleep for a couple of days and then start trying to dig a tunnel through the floor.
It’s just not me.
My best idea of a retreat would be, if I had a horse, to saddle up and go for long meandering rides while I think and talk to God about what I’m thinking. I understand going off into the desert and wandering as a retreat. I can understand lying on your back and looking up at the stars. But locked inside four walls with a candle and a holy portrait? Not so much.
Since I don’t have a horse, I play the piano. And I’m finding the piano fills me up with pleasure that seems holy and pure to me. I also care for the people I love. I read. I kibitz. I spend time with friends. But mostly, I talk to Jesus about what ails me.
A retreat for me is taking time to be with God and trusting that He wants to be with me as well. If He has something He wants me to do, He’ll tell me.
I use the phrase that I am going to “seek the Lord” when I talk about these withdrawals into the Holy Spirit that I do from time to time because that phrase seems to make sense to the people who hear it.
But I don’t “seek the Lord,” for the simple reason that He hasn’t gone anywhere. He’s with me all the time. Sometimes I ignore Him for days on end and just go my way. When I do that, he’s like a parent, watching while Her child plays and rambles; not interfering, but there.
I don’t truly “seek the Lord” because all I have to do is what any one else has to do; acknowledge His presence and talk to Him about the things that are troubling me. There’s no formula for interacting with the Holy Spirit. If you are a Christian, the Holy Spirit is with you and in you every moment of every day. He loves you and His viewpoint is much broader than yours.
One thing I have read in the book I’m using for this retreat (Consoling the Heart of Jesus) that I don’t get at all is the rather tortured explanation as to why we need to console Jesus when He’s in heaven. I was confounded by how difficult the thinkers the author quoted make this simple thing.
Here’s my non-theological explanation for what I didn’t know was a question: Jesus is God. He made everything, everywhere, including — get ready for this — time. If Jesus made time, He is outside of time. He is not part of our linear time that flows inexorably from one moment to the next in a steady measurable procession that you can, well, set your watch by.
My son and I had a discussion with another homeschooling mom back in the day about the first chapters of Genesis. I kept saying that, while the description in Genesis is true, it is expressed in poetic terms. Specifically, the word “day” does not refer to a 24 hour, solar day. First, there was no sun when God began His creation. Second, God is outside of time. The term “day” is a non sequitur to Him that He uses for the benefit of our understanding.
She didn’t get it.
Finally, my 11-year-old son said, “I don’t think God sees time as a line the way we do. I think He sees it as a dot.”
That is probably pretty close to the truth in that God, being the creator of time, and being outside of time, sees all of creation, from beginning to end, constantly and as one whole. I don’t think that when He says He knows our days and the future of our world, he is saying that He is predicting what will happen the way a prophet or seer would. I think in God’s eye view the end and beginning and everything in between is an eternal now.
What does that mean to the idea of consoling Jesus for His sufferings while he is now in heaven and far from those sufferings? Just this: Everything is now to God. Jesus is at Calvary in the same way that, when the actual physical event occurred, He died for you and me two thousand years before we were born. It’s not a trick of theology. It’s a matter of perspective. God’s perspective.
I think my rather odd ball way of retreating is an echo of that understanding of God. I met God when I was driving my car on the way to make a speech. The Holy Spirit filled me up with God’s love in a moment and from that day to now, has never left me.
That experience and what I’ve learned from this continuous presence of the Holy Spirit, shapes the way I approach God and the way I do a retreat.
I drop out from public activities and go to a period of praying because I get battered up by life and I need the healing and solace that just being with the Lord gives me. I need to be loved and God never fails to love me when I just stop and let Him.
But I do not go into long periods of “discernment.” I have learned that if God wants me to do something, I won’t be able to get out of it. It’s that simple: If He wants me to do something, He’s gonna to tell me, and if I don’t get the message, He’ll keep on telling me until I do.
My job isn’t to “discern.” It’s to obey. And there are times when that obedience is not cheap.
I do ask, and have been asking a lot during this retreat, things like “Was I wrong when I said that?” “Did I behave like a jerk?” “Do you want me to change about that?” I’m so willful and given to doing things on my own initiative that I need — and pray — for God to guide me away from doing the wrong thing while thinking it’s the right thing.
But mostly, I find myself face to face with God and He changes me inside by loving me. I’ve said it many times: God does not change what we do. He loves us and that love changes what we want to do.
There’s more, and I’ll talk about it in the days ahead. But for now I want to emphasize one thing: Seeking God is like a child, crying out for its mother in the middle of the night. The minute you say you need Him, He is there. Because He was always there.
That was the experience I had at my conversion. He was there, right there, and He always had been there. I had willfully shut off my awareness of Him. But the moment I reached out, He was there.
All you have to do is trust and know that. Even in times of peril, grief, chaos or terror when the white noise in your head blots out everything, He is still there. You can’t hear Him, because you are drowning Him out with your keening. But He is there, and He won’t leave you.
You don’t have to earn His love and you can’t make Him stop loving you. Nothing you can do will stop Him from loving you and nothing you can do will make Him love you any more. You are His child.
Know that. Trust it.
And don’t be afraid.