I don’t particularly recommend reading the comments on Joshua Gonnerman’s commentary on Dan Savage over at First Things (or at least, if you’re going to read them, I suggest you take your blood pressure medicine first).
For example, “dadfly” responds to Joshua’s statement that “Christians have appealed far too quickly to their traditional moral views to avoid offering support to gay people” with this:
i believe that Jesus has called on me to do many things (and He knows i’ve fallen horribly short many times), but none of them required that i “support” any political faction or special interest group.
When Jesus was called a friend of sinners, it did not mean that He supported sin. Gay people cannot be reduced to a political faction or special interest group. They are, first and foremost, people.
However, there are a few roses amidst the comment box thorns. One comment in particular caught my eye, because it provides a beautiful glimpse of friendship in action.
Thomas Sundaram is a straight friend of Joshua’s from their undergrad days at Thomas Aquinas College. His comment paints a picture of friendship that reminds us not only that he can support Joshua, but also that Joshua has often supported him. Friendship is a way of knowing the whole, three-dimensional, living and breathing human person. We do not befriend traits: we befriend people.
Anyhow, I strongly recommend Sundaram’s comment. It is a great example of spiritual friendship in action. Read the whole thing:
I remember it had been a trying day when I walked back from my Senior Philosophy class in 2009. It was close to graduation; the sun was out, the jasmine was in bloom, my thesis on justice, mercy and the Divine Comedy was finally done, and we were getting ready for our final on the Tertia Pars of the Summa Theologiae, not to say anything of Einstein’s relativity and the understanding of the notion of being in Aristotle’s Metaphysics. And, of course, the final seminar on the Phaedrus, in which Plato argues that all true philosophers must in some sense be erotic lovers.
Tired, wearing the untucked collared shirt under my college hoodie, bedraggled, a few hours behind on sleep, I walked through the gate of my dorm, Sts. Peter and Paul, and was relieved to notice that the front patio, normally unstaffed at that time of day, was not vacant, but that Joshua was there, with, I think, some sort of pipe; he was reading something, I think in Latin, but it was more likely something about Racine’s Phedre, on which he had written his own thesis if I recall correctly.
I plumped myself down in the familiar chair. Exhausted, I was still relieved, because I had some issue or another with some question concerning whatever; it wasn’t about Dante today, though it well could have been. I suspect it was about the usual affairs of school administration that were occupying us. The subject did not much matter. Where Josh was, I was assured of a good conversation. And indeed I had never a reason to suspect otherwise. On Aquinas, he was as good as any of us, and often had some knowledge of the background owing to keeping good company with those folks who spent all their time focusing on Aquinas alone. (There were a lot of such people at Thomas Aquinas College, especially from our year and before.)
I recall we talked for several hours. This was not unusual. Also not unusual was our habit of reaching a point in the discussion where to say more would be past the ken of human beings; angelology, the Beatific Vision, questions of very specific moral theology. This was always, above all, comfortable. There was no awkwardness in these things; we were brothers, we were dormmates, we were cohorts in the pursuit of Catholic truth — and it was always Catholic. After examination, all heresy was readily cast away.
When we graduated, aside from my own pride of success from such a school as our alma mater, which has well been advertised by First Things and really by all half-decent Catholic periodicals, and which is known to produce good and honest students of Aquinas, not to mention people who strive not just for ideological but personal holiness in life, I could not help but feel a thrill as my friends, one by one, walked up to receive the right to turn their tassels. And Joshua was among the people I was happiest to see receive the degree, though I was happy for my whole class.
At this time, there was no thought in my mind of his sexual inclinations.
Indeed, there never was, not the whole time we were at the school; when he revealed them to us out of a desire for a deeper honest brotherhood, I was not fussed, because why should I have been? He was abiding by Church teaching; these inclinations were neither a suffering, nor a burden upon him, by his own admission. Nor, I think, were they a great tribulation upon the lot of our little platoon. Nor should they have been. And in fact nothing has changed between us. He is my brother. He is a brother to all who know him well. And he is a Catholic; this makes him a brother to all Catholics. As one who has never had a brother according to biology, I appreciate this more fully than many. I continue to rely on the wisdom he has.
So when I saw that he had been published by First Things, of which I was a regular reader since high school and Fr. Neuhaus, I was overjoyed, as were most of us. When I saw how delicately he described a sentiment that has occurred to so many good Catholic writers of late, a real question for the Church’s praxis, though not for her doxa, I was thrilled to see him say what he said.
Then I read the combox.
If we are Catholics, if we are truly devoted to understanding our brothers and sisters, if we truly hope to be true and outstanding lights to our culture, we must seek to understand people as people. Not as reducible to ideologies. Josh certainly is not; it would be a rather shallow brotherhood if he was, and we would long since have had a quarrel of rather epic proportions. (And I think the good folks at TAC who learned to fear mentioning Dante and Virgil when I was in the general environ, lest they be locked into a conversation of similar proportions, will attest that I know my epics. So, for that matter, will Tony Esolen, who was kind enough to say some very nice things about me and to assist me in the formative process.) What he is saying is something much more profound than that we should accept some ideology.
The Jewish Holocaust survivor Emmanuel Levinas said that in the face of the Other we see the infinite. He perhaps thought that this was God, or something of God, because God is the foundation of ethics ultimately. The Roman Catholic philosopher Robert Spaemann, of the University of Munich, refined this, saying that what we encounter is the other person, in their “being-in-itself”, or Selbstsein, where we realize that we exist in their world as they exist in ours; the infinite that we experience is the image of God, the dignity of the human person. And we experience this most of all among created human persons in our friends, who Aristotle and Aquinas argued are as a second self in a very, very deep sense. Aquinas said the purpose of society was friendship; the society of God culminates in the communion of saints which we confess in the Creed, the ultimate community of truest friends in Christ and the ideal to which we aspire as Christians even here on Earth.
Joshua is not presenting to us his personhood as such; that is assumed, because he, as all others here, confesses faith in Christ, and lives it, and to have that supernatural virtue is to require personhood first. What he is presenting to us is the circumstance of many persons, of many Christians, of many Catholics; it is the circumstance of our brothers and sisters in Christ, not as ideological pawns but as people attempting to work out their salvation in fear and trembling. Last I checked, we heterosexuals are in the same boat. But we have mitigating factors: we can become priests without stigma; we can be married; we can have the joys of prudent sexual companionship. To be gay is not a decision for Joshua. It is a situation. And that situation makes demands not made of straight people; the chastity he lives.
So to be so peremptory as to state that he is defining himself in terms of a vice is not just silly but missing the point; he does not have that vice, because vices are chosen. He has inclinations, things which neurophysiologically dispose his body towards something he chooses against, and this needn’t be any more onerous than a heterosexual choosing not to be promiscuous. What it is is lonely. So people who strive to live this life of chastity, as all of us strive to live virtuously, tend to associate for the sake of achieving that good; they seek out their brothers. And when they do, one sees the inevitable difficulty of the fact that there is a stigma associated with, not just the action, but even the inclination, onerous or not. And this is against the teaching of the Church. Or if there is not a stigma, there is indifference; and as another survivor of the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel, noted in his book Night, the worse between hate and indifference, among those claiming to have humanity, is indifference, because hate indicates at least that one has an interest.
This is not to say that what we have here, of course, is the Holocaust. Josh himself would (and probably will) inform me that the comparison is always risky. But what we learned from the Holocaust about the human person, what we learned from John Paul II’s preaching against dehumanization by socialism, what we learned from Pius XII’s sheltering the Jews, what we hear from Benedict XVI (may he have a hundred more happy years!) about the importance of “caritatis in veritate“, must be put into practice with regard to our brothers and sisters, no matter how they are; and if their different circumstance demands different treatment, then for them to mention their different circumstance to this end is no reduction of their personhood, but the expression of our duty of love to them as that duty is conditioned.
And I for one have no trouble with Josh’s “identity” as a “chaste gay Catholic”, because he is already my brother, I already knew his situation, and I have long since recognized that he is as Catholic as the rest of us in it; perhaps more so, because to be heterosexual and Catholic has no special stigma, but to be gay and yet truly Catholic inspires bile. I hope that you all, brothers and sisters in Christ, will accept your brother for who he is.