There is freedom in obedience

Hardly anyone believes it, but it’s true. Obedience brings tremendous freedom to our lives. But we can’t possibly know that unless we practice it. And practicing it is hard, and sometimes all against our instincts. And hard stuff sucks. Except, as I wrote recently about something else, the hard stuff is also the great stuff.

There is no greatness in taking the easier, wider path.

Katrina is writing on that, as regards the call to chastity and celibacy that so many people dismiss as silly or unrealistic:

Yes, I may not be having sex but that is only one very small aspect of my life. I am not defined by whether or not I am sexually active and who I am sexually active with [. . .] Just as I am sure homosexuals are not solely defined by who they have gay sex with. If they made their own list it would be just as long as varied as mine. First and foremost they are humans and deserving of dignity. Our Church actually says so. Contrary to popular belief, neither myself nor the Catholic Church hate gays or want them to suffer lonely miserable lives…

[CCC2358] The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

… just practice chastity; which is what myself and millions of other people on the planet not having sex are doing – and not dying from it, might I add. In fact, it’s quite the opposite of misery and death, this not having sex.

I expect some will accuse Kat of being simplistic, here, or even cavalier. I don’t think she’s trying to be either. I think she’s trying to counter a powerful and all-pervasive narrative that is itself simplistic and cavalier in some ways, and perhaps reductive. I think she’s laying down a challenge to be about more than we think we can be.

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  • IntoTheWest

    The difference is that a heterosexual person who is practicing chastity in keeping with Church teaching still has hope that they may find a person with whom to intimately share their lives. A homosexual person who is practicing chastity in such a way has no hope. Ever. Worse, a homosexual person who is told by Catholics that they should just practice chastity like single heterosexual Catholics is pretty much being told they’re not fully human — that even hoping for a partner is out of bounds.

    She is being cavalier. Also, why do heterosexual people feel the need to write about homosexuals — don’t heterosexuals have enough sin of their own to worry about?

    [I don't think she is being cavalier, though. Let me ask you this -- do you think we're given challenges in life that we don't always understand? Do you think, like St. Paul, we are given a thorn in the flesh for a purpose? It's a legit question, I'm not trying to argue with you. Because the older I get, the more I believe that we do. I'm wondering if you think so or not, and if not, why not? To me it seems like every single person alive has his/her challenges. Is it impossible to believe that sexual continence is meant to be one? I have always wondered (and I know Camille Paglia has, too) if there is a purpose above and beyond what we're imagining and if there isn't a kind of settling going on that keeps us from seeing it. -admin]

  • RigelDog

    I’m hearing The Fray in my head now, “Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same.”

  • Gerry

    Obey God or Caesar? For the first time ever (a span of at least 30 years) the pastor in my local church read a homily written by someone else. The usual suspects did not like this particular homily

  • kenneth

    I know for a fact we’re given challenges in life we don’t always understand, and which serve a purpose. That said, I think it’s a hell of a presumptuous thing for one person or one class of people to prescribe for another class of people what that burden is or should be for them. It’s even worse when they try to employ the coercive power of government to enforce that burden that they have prescribed or discerned for someone else.

    Any number of individuals may discern that chastity is a calling/necessary burden for them, either for life or for some period of time. Even I willingly undertook a relatively short time of that to attend to other matters in my life at that time. I have discerned other things for myself which lead me to choices that can be considered challenges to greater or lesser degrees. Because of my genetic susceptibility to diabetes, I cannot allow myself to be even a little overweight or sedentary. Others will find they can never eat certain foods, or ever take a drink of alcohol, or ever gamble so much as a single dollar on a scratch-off lottery ticket.

    Other people, out of religious beliefs, will hold themselves to even more rigorous strictures about sexuality than those of Catholicism. Yet none of us would accept having these burdens mandated on all of us nor would we think much of the blithe challenge that “if I can do it, you all can just suck it up too.” It is cavalier for someone to tell a whole class of other people that they should just be content with their lot in life which denies them one of the most basic components of human existence, a limitation this Katrina will never in this life face involuntarily. It is cavalier in the same way that a rich Hollywood star who chooses to live a radically simple near-poverty lifestyle would be cavalier if they told those in actual poverty that they should be happy with less.

    [How is one person living a celibate life -- quite possibly for the rest of her life -- not in a position to discuss living a celibate life? Are you suggesting that homosexuals have stronger and more insistent sex drives than others? That's the sort of crazy talk that homophobes indulge in when they say "they can't control themselves; they're a menace!" So, you're suggesting that this teaching cannot be for everyone (even though everything Jesus taught is for everyone) because some people don't have options down the road? That's the thorn in the flesh, isn't it? The lack of an option? I'm surprised, Kenneth, that you're thinking in terms of "classes" of people, and also that you will compare this to a propensity for diabetes. I think what you miss -- and many, perhaps most miss the point that all Catholic teaching is an attempt to live a supernatural ideal on an earthbound plane. You can say "well, the church has no business preaching that to the rest of the world" but sure she does. It's who she is. The world can ignore it -- that's choice -- but the church is bound to preach this supernaturalism that is meant to enhance our lives and free us from ourselves. The world may want the church to shut up and go away, and the world might even think all would be happier if she did. I honestly don't think so, though. The world would be a very different, less enlightened, less educated, less charitable, less advanced place, if the church had never existed, and the world would be pretty harsh and mean without it still. "Leave me alone, I don't want it," is fair enough. But I suggest that the world with a faith option intact is a whole lot better than one without it. Because someday you might want it. -admin]

  • Patrick

    I agree that it’s not cavalier (well, yes, maybe a little, but not excessively) because ultimately the path of chastity or perhaps becoming heterosexual (not impossible) is more fulfilling, in the end. She’s not just saying, “suck it up, it’s good for ya!” (although there may be an element of wisdom to that too, if done charitably) but rather that the Church’s teaching on sexuality is, in fact, objectively better than the alternative. This is why admonishing a sinner is considered a spiritual act of mercy, rather than a reckoning of justice.

    Thus is it missing the point to say, you can’t decide for someone else what is best for them. I don’t see why it’s impossible at least to try to determine in a systematic way what is best for human beings. No one complains when doctors and scientists do it. There is a very long tradition in philosophy of contemplating what constitutes the good life. Artists are free to give their interpretation. But when the Church suggests certain life choices ultimately don’t live up to what is often promised in popular culture, then suddenly the “liberal” censors descend, declaring that that is offensive, insensitive, judgmental, cavalier, etc.

    Yes, this type of discussion should always stay within boundaries of civility and respect. On the other hand, if one party is constantly putting on a show of their unimaginably deep sensitivity and refined sensibilities, such that no one can ever say anything to them, then that itself shows a lack of respect, in my opinion.

    [I'm always struck by the "you can't tell someone else what's good for them" line, which is steeped in subjectivity and relativism. And ironically, very often the people who say that about an issue like sex have no problem with telling others (or having the gov't tell others) what's good for them on a million other issues. Complicating any discussion of human sexuality is the simple fact that human beings turn to sex for many reasons other than love. The church acknowledges that we are needy creatures -- I remember being taken with how wise the catechism's teaching on masturbation is, for instance -- but she has no choice but to promulgate the ideal, the challenging but ultimately best way, because that is what she is charged to do. It always astonishes me that people think the church, which has demonstrated for 2,000 years that she thinks and prays all of this stuff through, just wants to be bastards about things -admin]

  • kenneth

    I call it cavalier in no small part because of who is offering the advice. For a straight faithful Catholic person, who has options in their faith for conjugal partnership to say to gay Catholics, who have no such option, that celibacy “isn’t that bad” is cavalier. It really is akin to the rich people who, over the centuries, told their peasants that “we should all just be content with the lot God gave us.” There are of course gay Catholics who choose to live with or even embrace the restrictions their doctrine places upon them. At least when they advocate that position, it’s coming from someone who carries that cross, so to speak.
    The Church of course has the same right to promulgate its vision for good living, and to the extent it is truly chosen by people and not coerced, bully for them. I don’t consider to be persuasive in the way that guidelines from doctors or scientists are persuasive. Science is open to being proven wrong. What they say can and frequently is tested and revised or rejected as evidence comes in. Religious doctrine has no such mechanism. It’s authority derives primarily to an appeal which says “I said so, and my office gives me better access to God’s mind than you have.” I don’t think religious doctrine, especially on issues like this one, even measure up to the less quantitative science of philosophy. I say that because philosophers, at least the great ones, approach their own assertions with a healthy level of self-skepticism. There is a tradition in philosophy of holding one’s own ideas up to harsh self-examination. I see no such rigor in the Church’s position on homosexuality. What I see is a doctrine that is terribly convenient. It just happens that God re-affirms the pre-existing personal and cultural biases. I see no indication that the Church has ever even considered the possibility that it might be wrong, or that any other understanding of the issue is possible. It’s gone to great lengths to try to put the matter beyond debate internally and externally.

    [You should try reading the catechism sometime. The doctrine may be "terribly inconvenient" but it is quite rigorously thought out. And there is no possibility that the church is wrong on the issue any more than it can be wrong on the issue of divorce, because the scripture and the words from Christ's own mouth are what they're taking their cue from. -admin]

  • IntoTheWest

    Of course we’re all given challenges in life we don’t understand. But we’re never handed despair as a solution.

    Widows and widowers can remarry. Infertile couples can adopt. People who have physical and mental disabilities can seek restorative treatment. Even straight people with sexual dysfunction of one sort or another can seek therapy or treatment. And during all these challenges straight people have partners, or have the option of having a partner with whom they can lean on and turn to for support and encouragement.

    It’s only gay people the Church tells, oh well, too bad, just be “chaste” (by which they really mean celibate) and move along.

    Being gay is not a “life choice”. It’s who people are. The Church’s teaching essentially tells gay people that who they are is something less, something unworthy, something not quite human. Oh, sure, they condescend and patronize with their “love the sinner, hate the sin”, and we (us straight, deserving Catholics) must treat them (those disordered subhumans) with “dignity”. How is telling someone they may never have an intimate relationship treating them with dignity?

    And I have to agree with Kenneth. It is appallingly cavalier for a straight, divorced mother to tell a gay person that they’re pretty much in the same boat she is. They’re not. At all. Not even close.

    [I don't know about that, and this is something I've thought a lot about and talked with gay family members about. I've written a lot about this over at First Things, and my day is not going to permit me to play in the comboxes as much as I'd like to, so perhaps you can read some of it over there -- but what do you say to all of that in light of, for instance, Jesus in Matthew 19:12, talking about marriage and saying that no, there ought not be divorce, and that marriage is a bringing together of male and female; the two become one flesh. He goes on to say that this is "not for everyone" - that some are not called to marriage, some cannot marry b/c they were made eunuchs others were "born that way" If we look at that, then it's reasonable to ask is homosexuality a calling to "otherness", and if so, to what purpose? I confess I do not know -- and I think too many people are loath to admit that we really "don't" know but we all want to hazard guesses that suit our leanings -- but it's a question no one is really pondering. Everyone is emoting all over the place and acting like, in the end, all we are are our orgasms, (hence Kat's post on love being about more than sex) but what if homosexuals are called to something completely different meant to be lived closely with God? If we do not explore that idea then aren't we potentially doing very wrong, then, by them? - admin]

  • Elisabeth

    I suppose that one could argue that those who are called to chastity have it much easier than those who are called to matrimony. After all, in marriage one sacrifices for the love of a fellow imperfect creature who is inherently incapable of loving back perfectly, whereas in chastity one sacrifices solely for the love of God, who perfectly loves back.

  • IntoTheWest

    Celibacy has to be a choice, a matter of free will. It’s not a choice if it’s the only option on the table. That God would create separate humans who must, by their nature, commit to celibacy in order to pursue a deeper relationship with Him pretty much goes against who God is. And what would be the point? That’s not love. That’s not even a relationship.

    Plus, there are people who are, to some degree, asexual. They don’t have particularly high sex drives, or they don’t have particularly high desire to be intimately involved with another person. They may be gay or straight. That sort of “born that way” isn’t limited to one orientation. Besides, gay people themselves tell us they’re not called to celibacy. I think they get the last word on that — unless you’re saying that the Church can enforce celibacy on straight people, too.

    A call to “otherness”? Thinking like that is a very dangerous thing for everyone, those who would like to relegate gays as something “other”, and for gay people themselves. And for whichever group is next on the list.

    Let’s let God do the calling and let’s let individuals answer. Let’s not have one group of flawed human beings tell another group what their calling must be.

    [Well, I think that's a very unfair characterization you're making of me. I have not told anyone what their calling is, I've simply wondered about something that none of us knows for certain. I think we're still free to wonder, ponder and puzzle out things, yes? You seem to be saying early on here that one cannot have a relationship with God unless one gets everything one things one should have -- starts on an equal footing with God, so to speak. But the first part of a relationship with God is understanding that God's thoughts are not our thoughts, nor his ways our ways; this is precisely why St. Gregory of Nyssa said that "ideas become idols" -- an idea of what "should be" becomes an idol of what God is trying to impart; our ideas get in all of our ways. I am happy to have civil discourse with you and explore these questions. But I won't continue if you're going to mischaracterize what I've said. As to "one group of flawed human beings telling another group" what to is precisely because we are all flawed that the notion of God-given authority to try to communicate God's will -- as expressed through scripture -- exists. Frankly, if you don't have one authority telling you what to do, you will have another. That's being demonstrated all over the place. I'd rather go with a church authority that is at least trying to figure out where and where love, God, human dignity and supernaturalism fit together -- and whom you are free to disobey if you choose -- than a secular civil authority that can literally destroy you for disobedience. I won't even get into "gay people themselves tell us they're not called to celibacy." Because you know...we'd all say that! -admin]

  • lethargic

    This: ‘ I’m hearing The Fray in my head now, “Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same.” ‘

    In my experience, it’s not “sometimes”; it’s always. Just sayin’

  • Tracey Seth

    Interesting thoughts on being called to matrimony or not.

    My only caution is that it is SO IMPORTANT to study scripture and catechism on one’s own and really attempt to understand what it is telling us as individuals.

    It’s a difficult task, this learning. It’s so easy to allow others to teach us and define it FOR us, and because of that, it is so easy to allow leadership that may not have any problem with leading people astray. Keeping in mind the Golden Rule, Treat others as we ourselves would want to be treated, while studying, helps.

    And how do I want to be treated? I want to know the truth, even when it hurts. However, much of the knowing has to come through my own self discovery. It cannot be handed down to me through mandate, I won’t listen. It can’t be imposed upon me by those in leadership, because I will rebel. Being told, “Because I told you so” is often not enough for a child, why would it be enough for me?” I need to be led to the truth, gently, kindly and I need to find out what that is, myself.

    Christ never threatened anyone with hell while they were coming to terms with their sin. There were times where he, as a man, was frustrated with the blatant, careless and thoughtless ways that people used each other AND the church, but in putting his foot down he still didn’t threaten anyone with eternal damnation. Unfortunately, it’s easy for us to do that to each other.

  • mark†

    do you think we’re given challenges in life that we don’t always understand?

    I think this relates to the idea of mystery. For me, mystery is I know something in part but not in whole. I know that something happened because God tells me so in His Word. But I cannot know or understand in full. I know Christ was incarnate in the Virgin Mary but I will never understand in full. I know Christ is really physically present in the Lord’s Supper because He said so but I don’t understand in full how He does this.

    It also seems to me that many, many spiritual truths have been lost because we reject what we cannot comprehend. Reason only takes us so far and when we reject what God has told us in His Word because we cannot comprehend in full, we make an idol of our reason.

    I also see a mystery to suffering. We want God to explain why and He does not. Job wanted an explanation and did not get one. God’s answer is to have faith. God is wise, loving and sovereign and yet our lives can be filled with troubles. Some have lives filled with frustrations and yet we walk a little blind, we walk in faith that it is to our good and God’s glory.

  • IntoTheWest

    I’m speaking generally — not to or about you specifically. It is dangerous thinking, for anyone, to ponder whether or not one group of people, as defined by something like sexual orientation (or skin color…or gender…or socio-economic demographic…) is specifically called to any particular charism.

    We are all called to make various sacrifices for the greater good of our selves, our families, our communities, even the world. And we all struggle with these challenges. But that’s God’s call, and it’s our response. Of course many of us balk, close our hearts and minds, some forever, some for a period of time, some for maybe a second and a half. It’s just not a relationship anyone else should meddle in, or at least not anyone but the very rare few who are gifted with an extraordinary amount of patience, kindness and mercy, and even then only on an individual basis.

    I’m not at all saying that no one can have a relationship with God unless we all have what we think we want, or what we feel puts us on equal footing with each other or with God. No one gets that. Actually, it’s the people who have pretty much everything they think they want or who feel they’re pretty much nailing the whole God thing who may have the toughest time realizing they need a relationship with God at all. We’re never closer to God than when we have nothing, have nowhere and no one else to turn to.

    Anyway, what I am saying is it doesn’t make sense, especially looking through a Catholic lens, to think that one category of people, defined by one factor, are somehow called to “otherness”, or to a specific charism, or calling. That denies the fullness of the human person, and it denies free will.

    Of course God’s ways are not our ways, His thoughts not our thoughts. Which is why I think it’s dangerous to start to go down this road of “otherness”.

    [Actually, I think the idea of "a call to otherness" is particularly Catholic -- we explore and discern that idea all the time in terms of vocation and whether we are called to religious life, marriage or the singlehood. I think we have not done enough exploring of the idea of singlehood as a true calling of God. But I am afraid I am out of time for talking in the comboxes. My day is taking over. It's been good talking to you! admin]

  • Victor

    (((Of course many of us balk, close our hearts and minds, some forever, some for a period of time, some for maybe a second and a half.)))

    Gee! Where’s every body gone? Don’t these humans know that we godly cells of sinner vic should have a welcoming home party? :(

    Sorry that me, myself and i missed ya again Anchor! Truth be known, “IT” is not really our fault cause long story short, our godly spaceship broke down and so we had to take a different portal if ya know what “I” mean? You see all we get NOW from Victor flesh is a LOT of Master Baiting cells from the days of old and longer story short, you holier-than-thow so called Katholic’s have con-vin-ced sinner vic’s 97% reality cells that we his gods ran out of gas a long time ago and no longer care. Truth be known! “IT” is those pesty 3% so called spiritual “Jesus reality cells of Victor’s flesh” who keep causing a big stink by telling Victor’s peter to get behind HIM and in reality some of Victor godly followers or should “I” say fruits, are paying attention to this so called “Jesus”. I ask ya Anchoress, if a mentally chaledged crazy fetus, I mean human child from the past tells ya that he got 3% out of 100% equalling 97% on his exam and starts bragging about “IT” with con-vic-tone and long story short, you look into his eyes and you can see for yourself the exam. If you’re convinced that he believes this stuff of HIS so called Church what do we do with vs NOW…..and so….

    Anchoress, I have a few questions for ya!

    1′st “ONE”: Who do we really follow and why?

    2nd “ONE”: Why do Victor’s 97% human reality cells no longer want to bait the master’s peter so we won’t run out of gas?

    3nd “ONE” Why won’t Victor lie down and let U>S (usual sinners) lead this world to complete hapiness as we see “IT” cause did he not really commit suicide in 1991 in his mind at least?

    So what do you say Anchoress! Can you help U>S out?


    What seems to be the problem sinner vic?

    Don’t bother U>S Victor cause we’re talking to your Anchor so mind your own business! Why don’t ya? :(

    Is that a question sinner vic? :)