Recently, both Ron Belgau and Melinda Selmys have written here on Spiritual Friendship about Joseph Sciambra’s book Swallowed by Satan and the hubbub it has caused amongst conservative commentators. In the book, Sciambra recounts his slow descent from teenage Playboy consumer to gay Satanist and sado-masochistic porn star who dabbles in Neo-Nazi rituals. Before undergoing a Christian conversion experience at the end of the book, Sciambra enjoys an astonishing variety of sexual liasons that I will not discuss in detail here. Conservatives have seized gleefully on Sciambra’s narrative as an expose of the sordid reality behind the “gay agenda.” Sciambra has featured on LifeSiteNews and on Bryan Fischer’s show. The message from the Religious Right is that homosexuals are out to recruit your children into the gay lifestyle—a never-ending carnival of witchcraft, Nazism, and sex with goat-headed men (you don’t want to know more, trust me).
I am not sure Sciambra is doing the Church any favors. When someone claiming to be promoting biblical teaching about homosexuality gives the impression that anything other than the slimmest imaginable proportion of gay lives are a whirligig of devil-worship and sexual sadism, chances are that when someone finds out this picture of the gay community is not accurate (by, say, meeting normal gay people), they will also conclude that Christian moral teaching is false.
Although theoretical reflection about spiritual friendship is important, there is also an important place for talking about the practicalities of how it gets lived out day-to-day.
Over the last few years, I’ve gotten to know a number of young Christian professionals and grad students here in St. Louis. Although our careers spanned a range of disciplines, we had enough common interests that we could get along well and have meaningful conversations.
In some ways, the life of this group of friends is quite mundane. We’re all quite busy with our studies and work. But we still make time to go hiking on weekends, or grab dinner and a movie, or hang out at a pub, or walk around Forest Park or the Botanical Garden. Sometimes there are more of us involved in these activities, sometimes smaller subsets of the group—even just two or three—will do something.
This past Christmas ended with my friend Zach and I watching Love Actually with a glass of wine. I love Zach, and we love wine and Love Actually, so it was a solid ending to a quality Christmas day. But I was keenly aware of the fact that as much as I love Zach and wine and Love Actually, I wanted a girl on the couch with us. I wanted a girl by my side, giggling with me and feeling a rush of warm fuzzies when all the gushy moments caused an explosion in my heart.
I find so much joy in the life I’ve been given, and I tend to write about the joy more than the challenges because the joy far outweighs the difficulties. But I’m human and humans are wired with natural desires for romance—innocent desires to shower affection on that one special person. People often say to me (even here on the blog): “Julie, maybe you just have a special gift for celibacy, and that’s what makes it sustainable for you, but not everyone has that gift”. When it’s fleshed out further, they seem to imply that “the gift” would mean I have a lower level of sexual desire or that I don’t experience romantic longings. The gift would be that thing that makes it easy and convenient to fly solo in a culture crawling with adorable couples.
I wrote a post about celibacy recently, where I shared some of the ways God has surprised me in the middle of this awkward celibate gay path. I said I hesitate to talk about celibacy because I’ve heard many gay people feel the traditional sexual ethic is burdensome—that the call to celibacy feels like a death sentence to them. Since the last thing I want to do is contribute to shame in vulnerable people, it can be difficult for me to discuss it. But I write about it because I want people to know some of us are experiencing a robust life in our quest to align with the church’s teaching on sexual ethics. I want them to know this awkward path that’s often framed as impossible can be the place where we experience the richest intimacy with Christ.
Some of my closest friends are gay affirming in belief and practice. I love these friends and these friends love Jesus. We see this point differently, and we have endless discussions about the Bible and God’s intention for sexual expression, but we love each other and we all love Jesus. We’ve walked together as we’ve prayed, cried, struggled and strived to discern how to honor God with our sexuality. Because I love my friends, I’ve got to share with you a common thread that runs through their stories and tears me up.
On April 27, 2001, the members of Courage Seattle met with then-Seattle Auxiliary Bishop George Thomas (now the Bishop of Helena, Montana). Before his consecration as Bishop, Fr. Thomas played an instrumental role in encouraging the creation of a chapter of Courage in Seattle. With the Chapter up and running, he graciously consented to meet with us to see how things were going and to encourage the ministry.
In preparation for Bishop Thomas’s visit, we prepared the following Fourteen Point summary of the approach to ministry we had adopted in Courage Seattle.
† CHRIST THE CENTER We place Christ at the center of our existence, subordinating all other aspects of our lives and pledge fidelity to Him without counting the cost.
In the previous post in this series, I discussed what led me to the topics of celibacy, the lay vocation, and ultimately pastoral ministry to chaste gay Catholics. I have a few useful practical insights about the pursuit of celibacy, picked up from my own experience of lunging towards that crown. (I am not a strong swimmer, and so few of us are, but I learn my lessons well.)
1. You may not have a spouse, but you are not without a Beloved.
There were times in the Novitiate when temptation would choose its moment with an all-too-familiar power. Priests know all about these moments. You are tired, it has been a stressful week; maybe you forgot to say your Divine Office once, twice, seventy times seven times; maybe saying it a hundred times seems no more useful than saying it once. Your call is being sorely tested by either an undue love or an undue hate. You simply want relief from the pressures of everyday life. Even in the space of the best year of my life, there were times when I wanted to just walk out the front door. If I had done so, moreover, nobody would have thought less of me.
Since I became a contributor for Spiritual Friendship, a number of people have asked me why I decided to start exploring the question of homosexuality within the Church and its relation to the lay vocation and the philosophy of the person. As a philosophy major, and therefore a super nerd, my usual first thought is “Isn’t the topic interesting enough? That’s three different and yet connected areas of human reality!”
Nevertheless, it is also true that my own background has led to this as well. Vicariously, I experienced the difficulty of the failure to accept people with SSA within the Church, a failure all too commonplace, through watching it happen more publicly to Joshua Gonnerman, who was already as a brother to me.
If you’ve read many of my posts , you’re aware of the fact that I’m attracted to women. I don’t mean I occasionally see a pretty girl in a magazine and I happen to think she’s cute; I mean I’m attracted to women. All those things straight couples seem to feel for one another physically, emotionally, sexually, spiritually—I feel those things toward other women. It sounds weird even saying it because I tried so hard to hide it, deny it, change it, or at least reframe it in my mind for so long that it feels a little awkward to state it so explicitly on the internet.
You’re also probably aware that I believe sexual expression is reserved for a man and a woman in a lifelong marriage, where the two commit to sharing their lives with one another and never go back on that promise. And when I fell in love with Jesus, I fell in love with the entirety of God’s way: that He created the world with such brilliance, that He grieved when we decided we knew better, that He rescued us when we’d made our choice and our choice was our sin, and that He’s coming back one day to write a glorious ending to a tragic tale. I cry at least 6 times a week when I think about that story because it’s so overwhelming to me that God would take such drastic measures to open the door for a relationship with us, the ones who decided we’d get on better without Him. As cynical and selfish as I can be, that kind of love wins my heart every time I start to feel a little inconvenienced by the call to respond to His love with a life that honors Him.
This past week we celebrated the memorials of St. Augustine (August 28) and his mother Monica (August 27). In honor of them, I decided to use two excerpts from the Confessions for this weekend’s readings.
Today’s reading concerns Monica’s prayers for Augustine:
I recently started a series of posts about graced realities which I have found to be helpful in the pursuit of chastity, defined deeply as the mastery through grace of internal sexual desires and passions, and their ordering according to the will of God. When people are married in the Church, they undergo marriage counseling; when people enter religious life, they have a period of intensive formation. Yet for people in the most difficult situation within which to pursue chastity, cut off from both marriage and the support of a religious community, there is little discussion of how to make this sustainable in a lifelong way. In previous posts, I discussed friendship, stress management, and ascesis.
In my previous posts this week, I have talked a bit about things which I have found helpful in striving to live chastely despite the relative lack of support structures of a celibate life lived outside a religious order.
In my last post, I want to explore the fundamental concern for direction in life and a turn towards God which the Christian tradition has inherited from Neoplatonic philosophy.