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.
In light of earlier comments concerning Thabiti Anyabwile’s article, I thought it might be productive to say a few things about the role of instinctual judgments in the moral life, particularly in issues of sexual sin. There has been a lot said on the matter of his role as a pastor, etc., and I think there is nothing I need add on the matter. There are, however, a few provisos which can clarify the role of instinct in the general discussion.
When we confront a sin, we are morally bound to be disgusted by it rationally speaking, that is, according to what we know discursively. If I am put into a situation where it seems as though murder will be a nice way out for all concerned (except, perhaps, for the victim), I ought to know, by my rationality, that murdering someone is an offense against the God who became man that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. And we are morally bound to seek this disgust of the reason; this is called the duty of forming our conscience.
Back when Joshua Gonnerman and I were students at Thomas Aquinas College, from 2005-2009, we were in an environment where the combination of geographical remoteness, Dominican community, and school-wide common study meant that any and every sort of intellectual conversation could take place. One would walk into the Commons and (I am perhaps underexaggerating here) and hear conversations abounding about anything, from Roman history according to Tacitus and Suetonius, to the political philosophy of the American Founding Fathers, to the question of how it is that angels may be said to move according to Aquinas.
There were a few “hot topics” every year that tended to repeat themselves, and one of them was the question of vocational order. This arose from a careful distinction Aquinas made in the Summa, but one which, left unclarified by those giving it only a partial reading, tended to give students heartburn. There is an order among the different states of life in the Church, one defined by both the weight of the sacrifice one makes to be in that state, and also by the juridical order of the Church herself. Because one makes a complete sacrifice of oneself, a holocaust, in entering religious life, Aquinas says that (objectively speaking) religious life is the highest form of life. In this he follows St. Paul, who says in 1 Corinthians 7 that he would that all would remain celibate, but that God calls some to marriage. (Of course, the way he puts this is a legendary bone of contention for those attempting to “justify” marriage as a high vocation. I tend to think he vindicated this, though, by his famous “husbands, love your wives” injunction at the beginning of the same chapter.)
Matthew Schmitz’s recent post on First Thoughts (“Evangelicals Oppose Gay Marriage, Now More than Ever”, Wednesday, July 10, 2013) noted that First Things has become the venue of choice for discussion of the pastoral issues concerning celibate gay Christians, one which has now (happily) come to include a first-person perspective. The exploration of the terminology used by the Church about the personal status of homosexuality has formed a major thread in this discussion, and has brought forth many articles. On the one hand, Daniel Mattson has written some pointed pieces arguing that the Church condemns describing a person as ‘gay’ or ‘queer’ (e.g. “Why I Don’t Call Myself a Gay Christian,” “Homosexual Orientation, or Disorientation?” and “In Defense of the Church’s Challenging Language on Homosexuality“). On the other hand, Joshua Gonnerman has written an explanation of how the omission of a word from the original Latin has led to a misreading of the English text of Homosexualitatis Problema. This would form what one might call the “general argument about identity terms.”