My column at First Things this week completes the journey I began three weeks ago, and I have to say the timing of the whole thing seems oddly coincidental, to me. I’ve had the idea of discussing homosexuality and God, otherness, nature and nurture and calling and depth of longing and marriage for a while, but never felt like it was the right time to bring it up, and then — even though I wasn’t paying much attention to the headlines when I began — it all seems to have landed at the same time as the NYS legislature’s passing of the gay marriage law.
In the end, I didn’t do a very good job of expressing what I really want to say — partly because I am not that smart, but also because it is something still so deep within my heart that I don’t yet have the means of bringing it forth, and really expressing it. But what I wanted, primarily, was to begin a discussion that was about more than our worldly — often sentimental — takes on these issues, and also looked beyond the easiest part of our spiritual understanding.
I wanted, mostly, to be able to wonder, and in wondering, to get folks talking about homosexuality with words other than “hater,” or “homophobe,” or “abomination” or “sodomy.” I wanted us to remember that God’s ways and thoughts are not ours, and that no one — not the gayest gay or the catholiciest catholic — has the full mystery and the whole answer; we have reason, and 2000 years of some brilliant thinking, we have design and instinct, but we don’t have it all.
And I wanted to encourage everyone to explore the idea that maybe we are all called to so much more than we dare suppose, but we don’t spend enough time actually asking God what he wants us to do with ourselves, in surrender to Him:
“Equality!” was the word heard over and over again on the streets and in the headlines, and it is one of those powerful words to which we instinctively wish to add our assent, even if we know in our hearts that true equality exists only within the Triune God, and in our willingness to place ourselves before and within its mysterious depths.
Watching the men and women celebrating outside The Stonewall Inn—the jubilant young ones and the quietly pleased men who said they had been together and waiting for this moment “for 42 years”—I understood their glee, but couldn’t help thinking that they, like the sister from our parish, were ultimately chasing an illusion.
Ultimately, I think I’ve made a balls of it. It will take a better writer than I, with a better mind, to go anywhere with it. But that’s my thinking, for now, on the whole subject.
Anyway, if you want to read all three pieces in succession, they’re here:
UPDATE: This is upsetting. For crying out loud, gangsters and mobsters get funerals. Ted Kennedy had a Catholic funeral! Can we at least all agree that none of us — none of us — knows what happens between a human being and God in those infinitesimal moments between life and death, and so give a benefit of a doubt that if even if we on earth are so keen on Justice that God — who IS Justice — might have a bit more wisdom than us and bestow His Mercy?
If we must err, let us err on the side of Mercy, with the hope that in those last moments, Christ made an invitation and it was accepted.
The consolations we can offer each other in a time of grief can do more to preach the gospel than any five-hour sermon. If we offer misery, instead — if we compound the pain of people in grief, because we are certain we know the state of someone’s soul, because we know the rules — I wonder how pleasing that is to God? Recall Jesus’ parable:
A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’
He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went.
The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go.
Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.
— Matthew 21: 28-31
And James 2:13 For the judgment is merciless to one who has not shown mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.
I say give the Catholic funeral, in good faith — in the humility that recognizes that we cannot know the state of another’s soul, or whether God has chosen mercy over justice (for any of us) — and let God sort it out.
UPDATE II: Meanwhile Tim Muldoon, who in two previous pieces angered many Catholics by suggesting that the gay marriage struggle was pointless, and that Christians may be in a “Gamaliel moment”, has continued to think, and he’s reversed some of that in his column today:
if Christians are to be part of a culture, rather than removed from it in a kind of ghetto, it is our responsibility to help shape laws that promote the common good. We must do it with the careful discernment and love that characterized Jesus’ attitude toward all: generosity and compassion, rooted in the truth of who God has called us to be as individuals and communities, not naming the speck in our neighbor’s eye without first removing the plank in our own.
The common good in matters of marriage is fundamentally not about the rights of adults, but rather about the goods that accrue in a society that protects the welfare of mothers, fathers, and children. The tenor of the argument about gay marriage in New York and elsewhere misrepresents both the notion of rights and the notion of marriage, and both misrepresentations will have negative effects for our culture. Christians and others who therefore share a commitment to a robust and meaningful understanding of rights must therefore be part of the legal argument about gay marriage. But we must do it by first naming how we ourselves have gotten marriage wrong, through callous participation in the toxic contemporary sexual zeitgeist.
It is a smart and typically thoughtful piece — you’ll want to read it all.
And Max Lindenman wonders if (or how) the church might try to reframe its arguments in the face of NYS’s law — how it might better persuade.
Peter Nixon: The church is going to lose, but it shouldn’t lose ugly
Religious Exemptions: What the laws do and do not cover
A Same Sex Marriage “PostMortem”
From August 2010, Eve Tushnet: Lesbian, Catholic, Celibate