The Catechism teaches that, while all people are equal in dignity, God also makes differences among people. “These differences belong to God’s plan, who wills that each receive what he needs from others, and that those endowed with particular ‘talents’ share the benefits with those who need them. These differences encourage and often oblige persons to practice generosity, kindness, and sharing of goods.”
I have not always appreciated the ways in which God has made me different. For a long time, I used to pray that God would make me stop being gay. It gave me particular struggles. It made discernment difficult. It was painful. All I could see was a disordered and broken part of myself that I’d rather do away with. I had failed to grasp the truth that, as C. S. Lewis once put it, “every disability conceals a vocation, if only we can find it, which will ‘turn the necessity to glorious gain.’”
I recently read an article about a restaurant in Colorado that employs forty “developmentally disabled adults.” I think that, for many people, a first reaction upon hearing about the restaurant would be: “Well, that’s kind of the restaurant to give them jobs.” But while offering employment can be an act of charity, the article isn’t about serving the needs of the developmentally disabled. It’s about seeing developmental disabilities in a new light.
One of the employees, Crysta, is autistic. Her autism “makes her exceptionally talented at dicing vegetables.” Apparently, Crysta’s even better than a machine, and she loves her job. When the co-owner, Athan Miller, discussed Crysta’s work, he said: “We capitalize on that part of her heightened ability… We just have to find each person’s heightened ability, capitalize on that, and they become a really productive worker.”
Miller’s approach to his developmentally disabled employees seems, to me, exactly the kind of approach the Church should take with its gay members. Somewhere, hidden beneath (or perhaps above) a “disability”, is a gift. This gift is easily overlooked because of the obviousness of the disability. But it’s there. And it’s something the Church needs.
Part of being gay is learning how to purify particular impure desires. But this is only a small part of what being gay means to me. Somewhere, beyond the mere “disorder,” I began to realize that God had given me gifts that many of my “straight” friends didn’t have in quite the same way: a particular kind of empathy, an acute understanding of others’ personal sufferings and loneliness, intense loyalty, a strong desire for emotional intimacy, a unique appreciation for certain forms of beauty.
I came to discover that I loved my friends, especially my male friends, in ways that were different from my “straight” friends. I came to realize that being gay comes with particular kind of love, a love that can be dangerous if disordered, but that can also be very life-giving if ordered well.
Advising gay youth can be very difficult, because adolescents are in a difficult stage of life. For some adolescents, same-sex-attraction can be transitory, but for many, like me, it sticks around. So if a high school student came up to me and told me he thought he was gay, I hope I’d tell him something like: “Well, this might be hard for you. But know that everything God offers you is a gift. Seek to draw yourself more fully into the Church and to discern how this might be a gift in your life and in others’ lives.”
This is not at all to say, “Do whatever you want with this gift.” But it is to take note of the fact that, as one of my professors once put it, the resurrected Christ is the disabled Christ. He’s the Christ with wounds in His body. Christ’s wounds are disabilities, but they are not “mere disabilities.” They are the signs and sources of our redemption. They are God’s greatest gift. And God’s desires to take our own disabilities, and turn them into redeemed gifts as well.
Chris Damian recently graduated from the University of Notre Dame and is currently pursuing degrees in Law and Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas.