Fractal Structures of Hell

JMJ

1865 Sin creates a proclivity to sin; it engenders vice by repetition of the same acts. This results in perverse inclinations which cloud conscience and corrupt the concrete judgment of good and evil. Thus sin tends to reproduce itself and reinforce itself, but it cannot destroy the moral sense at its root.

Peccatum exercitationem constituit ad peccatum; per eorumdem actuum repetitionem vitium generat.

IF YOU’RE NOT LISTENING TO THE Every Knee Shall Bow podcast you should be. Right now they are in the middle of a series on the struggle against habitual sins that is astounding. (Like: you walk down the road with your headphones on and Gomer says something and you are catapulted into the heavenly contemplation and you’re crying because God’s grace is so amazing.) In the most recent episode, I was struck as Gomer discussed something that will be familiar to my Orthodox and Eastern Catholic readers: sin is not only a discreet action. Rather, sin is a web of antecedents, a cultural context, of personal weaknesses and history, and – yes – discreet actions as well. Sin is a violation of our relationship with God. More than that, as mentioned in Paragraph 1865 of the Catechism, Sin leads to sin. Sin clouds the mind and corrupts our conscience. The more habitual a sin is the more habitual sin becomes. As was said on the podcast a trillion venial sins are not “worth” one mortal sin, but sin leads to sin: and a venial sin is a pathway to damnation.

If we think in terms only of discrete actions then our confession becomes just a laundry list where we have no self-awareness. Where we are not aware of why we sin, of when a sin began, of which actions first launched us into sin. If we are to root out sin entirely, we need to be aware of when the relationship with God started to go wrong.

And so back to Paragraph 1865.

Sin creates a proclivity to sin; it becomes easier to sin. As Saint Paul says our conscience becomes seared as with a hot iron. We no longer see something is bad. We just do it. When we first began to sin we might have been aware that we were committing a bad action. But the more we do it the easier it becomes to do it. And not only our current sin other sins as well. Our chosen sin becomes a gateway to other actions: we need a bigger hit, a stronger dose to feel like we’ve done something. It engenders vice by repetition of the same acts.

This results in perverse inclinations which cloud conscience and corrupt the concrete judgment of good and evil. We no longer think in terms of identifiable Good and Evil. Suddenly, since we’ve already discarded one moral law on the basis of feeling good, we find it easier to discard others for the same reason. Our conscience ceases to function not only along the lines of our chosen sin, rather it ceases to function at all. We have successfully silenced it – seemingly – or rather we have successfully stuffed enough cotton in our ears to ignore it.

Thus sin tends to reproduce itself and reinforce itself, but it cannot destroy the moral sense at its root.

This is where it’s important to realize that “a sin” is not a discrete act but rather part of a web, as Gomer said, or a fractal pattern. All sin is a manifestation of the same destruction of the relationship we have with God. Sometimes the destruction is only partial and sometimes it is total. Sometimes it’s only a minor rip in the fabric and sometimes it’s a case of “burn it all down”. Yet, all sin is a fractal of itself: all sin is an action of pride. The fruit was looked good to eat and she took and ate it. That’s all we do, over and over again.

Read the rest of the Catechism’s Part III Section 1 Chapter I Article 8.V. on the proliferation of sin. After detailing a list of capital sins and ways in which we can participate in another’s sin, it says, citing St John Paul, (in ⁋1869) Thus sin makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them. Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. “Structures of sin” are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a “social sin.” If we let sin have its way, soon it creates a rut, if you will, that we just follow: this is the way it’s always been. Like an addict, we just go along without questioning what (now) seems perfectly normal. We are sinning not because we are tempted, not because we make a choice, but because this is what we do. The conception of another way to act is entirely lost. We might even convince ourselves that we “are” this thing that we’re trapped in.

The Catechism clearly says there are structures of sin, there is social sin: there would have to be. We are not individuals, rather we are persons. Persons only exist in communion. The communion is not broken: it sours and the infection spreads.

Reformat then Reboot

JMJ

The Readings for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)

Et adducunt ei surdum, et mutum.
They brought to him one who was deaf and mute.

OK. We need to look at some Greek. The word rendered “deaf” here means deaf. Not “hard of hearing” or “Had to yell when you spoke” but unable to hear.

The Greek rendered “mute” (mutum in Latin) is usually translated as “a difficulty in speaking”.  It is only used this one time in the Bible: μογγιλάλος mogilalos. It comes from two Greek words meaning hardly talking, i.e. dumb (tongue-tied) although some decide to render it as “speaking with difficulty” instead of “hardly talking”.


This is important.

If one is deaf from birth, one has no words. One doesn’t know what they sound like. If one is only partially deaf, or not so from birth, one has words.

I think there’s a miracle here so amazing and it was hidden from all the generations of Christians until just in the 20th century. Only now do we kno w the claim Mark is making here.

Congenital deafness prevents the parts of the brain that do language from developing. But we’re only learning this, fully, now.

Do you see the miracle performed here? 

When Jesus says to the deaf mute, “Ephphatha!” He is not just “healing” him: Be open… to Jesus. Not just “open your ears and your mouth” but “OPEN!” He’s fixing him, reformatting his brain, giving him words, rewriting his entire history into language. The WORD is being imparted to his brain in the same way that the Spirit of God hovered over the waters at the beginning. 

Mark links this with the Isaiah prophecy about the mute speaking which is one more reason to hear this not as “Speaking with difficulty” but “mute”.

This happens one other time in the Gospels: with the man born blind. Again: he has no way of connecting sight to words. The part of the brain that understands “that’s a tree” is not there. Healing his eye sight requires doing the whole brain reformat and reboot. 

This is how much our God love us. This is what is possible to the human that opens to God.


I’ve read a lot, recently, about same-sex attraction and sexual sin. A lot of folks seem to think men and women who are same-sex attracted cannot live chaste lives according to the church’s teaching. I’ve heard this even from folks I would count as friends.  They are saying to me that Jesus would never say “Ephphatha!” to me. They are saying I’m beyond the grace of God.

They seem to say that recent sexual scandals happened not because of a culture of permissive silence, not because of a continual moral compromise, not because of a growing worldliness, not because of a satanic attack on the church, but simply because these abusers were same-sex attracted. Some will allow it might have been some of the other things, but they were able to happen because of the last item and, really, we know how those people are.

I don’t know what to think except to pray that they are wrong. This Gospel story, the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, and the teachings of Courage seem to indicate that it is more than possible to live (by God’s grace) within the teachings of the Church. It is desirable and possible for someone to do so. As Isaiah says, 

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.

Why should God be so small as to not lend himself to my struggles?

Why should I be so small as to assume he doesn’t want to help me?

—-

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Fellowship of St Mary of Egypt

I am a member of Courage, and while I find their ministry in my life a great blessing, I’m struggling with my presence there. I have trouble with the 12 Step Model when we’re not trying to address an addiction (there is some overlap with the SA groups in town). It does provide a forum for folks, but not much teaching. I fidget a lot when someone doubts the teachings of the church and no one is allowed to offer advice or correction.
The Church’s teaching function is important here: setting it aside is not pastoral at all. I don’t need therapy: I need podvig, ascesis, jihad. I need the holy struggle for sainthood. And so I also struggle with this therapeutic model as there’s no spirituality there. The Angelic Warfare Confraternity addresses the missing spirituality aspect very much, but members of the AWC tend to be in isolation. One thing missing from both of these is the idea of a “sponsor” you can call and ask for help when you’re struggling in a tight spot right now. Where is this group? I was a sexually active man and I was having a lot of fun. I saw my fun was hurting others all the time. When I looked deeper, I saw it was hurting me too. Looking deeper still, I saw others were using my fun as an excuse for their own hurts, their own hurting of others. At the same time we were all hurting the faith – our faith and the faith of others.
Then I saw the Church, grace-filled and merciful, forgiving us and offering a way out of that: literally, out. (Not a cure… don’t get me wrong)
Where is a group that will help me live into the Church and her way of being and when I say “ouch” the group will give me a nice neck rub or else a good slap and say, “but you know this is the best thing for you… get back in there and keep fighting.” I didn’t wake up one day and hate being gay. I just realized this not my being, there had to be a real way to be. There was the Church. And I need help: friends, co-strugglers, fellow travelers.
The life of our holy mother, Mary of Egypt is not well known in the west although her feast day is the same day on both Eastern and Western calendars (and it coincides with Easter this year).
This Vita is read liturgically during the Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete at Matins on the Thursday before the Fifth Sunday of Lent. It’s a long text. Reading the Canon makes this one of the the Longest Services of the Byzantine Liturgical Year.

It is also one of my two favourites.

The last time I was appointed to read a portion of the Vita, written by St Sophronius, I was unable to finish when, reading this paragraph, I was overcome:

Shamelessly, as usual, I mixed with the crowd, saying, `Take me with you to the place you are going to; you will not find me superfluous.’ I also added a few more words calling forth general laughter. Seeing my readiness to be shameless, they readily took me aboard the boat. Those who were expected came also, and we set sail at once. How shall I relate to you what happened after this? Whose tongue can tell, whose ears can take in all that took place on the boat during that voyage! And to all this I frequently forced those miserable youths even against their own will. There is no mentionable or unmentionable depravity of which I was not their teacher. I am amazed, Abba, how the sea stood our licentiousness, how the earth did not open its jaws, and how it was that hell did not swallow me alive, when I had entangled in my net so many souls.

My friend, Fr A, had to step in and finish reading for me while I went to the corner and mourned my sins. Look, it’s a long text. I’m not going to torture you with it. But I suggest you read The life of our holy mother, Mary of Egypt nonetheless. Bookmark it. It might take a while. Prayerfully move through it. You may find some portion of your journey there. Or you may not. I don’t care what orientation you feel you have, or what your life looks like even now. If you find yourself somewhere in the middle of her story and crave, deeply, to also find yourself in the end of her story, reach out. Let’s see what we can do to help each other.

Pray for me at least.

I’m on Facebook. I’m on Twitter. I’ve been on gmail so long my email address is my [first initial][last name] at gmail dot com.

(Notes: Irony of a Prayer Fellowship named after a hermitess…)

Not According To

I’ve been thinking about rule books today, viz sex and the church.

There’s only two books: The Church’s Rules and Not the Church’s Rules, although the latter comes in several various, often unique editions. Many people outside the Church use their favorite version of the Not the Church’s Rules. And I’m ok with that: I don’t expect people who are playing Baseball to follow the rules of College Football. I don’t expect NASCAR to follow the rules of Lawn Darts, and I don’t expect people to play Pinochle following the rules of Spit and Malice. People outside the Church are not expected to follow The Church’s Rules. But inside the Church now…

My journey began with a jettisoning of The Church’s Rules and the discovery of Not the Church’s Rules in a college youth group at a retreat center in upstate New York, in the winter of 1982-1983. Prior to that time, I’d worked really hard at using the same rule book everyone used for ever. From that point on, I tried to play by Not the Church’s Rules while staying inside the Church in various ways until, late in 1988 or so. Things were very odd., let me tell you. You can’t play golf without the right set of rules. Even croquet is not close enough to golf to let you play the same game.

So I decided the problem was I was using Not the Church’s Rules inside the Church: I left the Church. Cuz Not the Church’s Rules let me be me. And I was having fun. I was kinda ok, for nearly ten years. But oddly, whilst having fun, something was missing.

So, for a brief time, I tried again to play Not the Church’s Rules inside the church… but then I decided I actually wasn’t in the church since everyone was playing by Not the Church’s Rules in sex, in theology, in Bible, in economic culture… didn’t matter.

So I went and joined the Church.

But I still tried to play Not the Church’s Rules.

And… Still didn’t work.

So I left the Church again.

This cycle continued, unabated, until rather recently in Salvation History. I decided that maybe – just maybe – I needed to try the one thing I’d not tried at all: Being in the Church and playing by The Church’s Rules.

At no point in here did I think I needed to make the Church jettison her Rule Book: but I tried pretty much every version of not-following that book I could come up with. I finally decided that getting rid of one part of the Rule Book made all the other parts of the same book (Fiscal, Moral, Theological, Sacramental) as weak as possible, until it was easy to tear them out too.

When you’re left with the Church’s Empty Binder of Nothingness, oddly, you don’t have Church any more either.

This is why hearing folks trying to force the Church play by Not the Church’s Rule Book makes me really, really nervous, annoyed, sometimes angry. Then I remember the Church has stood up to people who were trying to kill her over that Rule Book for two millennia. So I’m ok with waiting this round out.

She always wins.

Joyous Mysteries: Addiction

The Angel came to Mary. Most of us won’t ever get there. But our conscience calls out to us. That comes from Latin works meaning “with knowledge” and St Paul says we have the law of God written in our hearts… When that voice calls out we can listen like Mary. It never calls us to our addiction, but away. We rarely listen, but we can…

And we are never called to face this alone. Somewhere a friend or loved one, awaits our message, our help, and our need. We do not need to sit alone, waiting in the dark. Our family ties, social obligations, work duties feel like intrusions on our fears, our concerns, our addictions and they are, exactly, that: or seen another way, they are the way out.

The birth of Hope shines out. Every day is Christmas. If we will let it be so, every day Christ is born in the cattle stall and dung of our hearts and fills them with heaven. The light is there to burn away the thorns and dirt; to fill us with love. We can’t wait until everything is just right. God is now here.

Mary presented Jesus in the Temple, God offered to God; God living the terms of his own covenant. God follows the rules he gave us, the rules he wove into the very fabric of space and time by his own hand. For God, two plus two can never equal five. These are his plan. 2+2=4 because that is Truth and God is Truth in himself. He can never decree untruth. And, with them written in our hearts, we do well to see the rules, the laws and follow God himself. We don’t always, and things get out of hand.

And one day Jesus ran away. Or did he get separated from his family and go to the only safe place he knew? Was there some teaching to impart that would later yeild a fruitful harvest? We will know later…

But whatever happened, parents get scared, the all-too-human fear of loss arises, plans destroyed. And yet there is Jesus, safe and sound in God’s house, on God’s business; no matter how out of control it all looks. Where’s my red stapler? Who moved my cheese? How in all Creation will I ever get that done without my sense of control? Let it go.

God has come to us as one of us.
In every thing like us save sin.
Our addictions are known to him
Our pains and loss as well.
Yeild it all over to him.

And it will be transubstantiated.

Christ is born.

Dolorous Mysteries: Addiction

When Christ is praying in the garden he faces the darkness. He knows the reality of sin, the hardness of the world. The fear is real. He is at rock bottom. Everything he thought he had, all that he is, all that he has said and done is over. There is only one way out. He turns his life over to God – whom no one better than he understands – and says, “I trust you to do this.”

When Christ is scourged at the pillar how like us with addictions is he, feeling over and over the pains that rack us, the torments that rip us apart. How like us is he, so weakened by the blows that he falls down, held up only by the device of torture itself. How unlike us is he who, feeling this pain, still reaches out to us in love to say God now shares your pain. It is real pain, real blood, real flesh torn apart. But it is the way out.

They cut him down he passes out. The soldiers to pass the time mock him: dress him up and crown him with thorns. They slap him awake and laugh at him. How like us in our throes of addiction or, in our struggle for sobriety, how like us when our friends now mock us and taunt us. The heart is broken. The mocking hurts. The slapping is the easy part for it wakes us up and we realize this was never love. And yet we must reach out to him: and love all the more. These things from our past that taunt us: it’s not a loss for it was never a gain.

But it’s gone, and the memories stab deep.

Some days, though. Let’s be honest, most days, really… it’s just normal. We have to get up and walk. We feel the pains from within, but they are not so strong. We remember the mocking, but whatever. It’s a normal day. We have to keep walking. This is our life. Keep walking. Wake up and feel these reminders, and keep walking. Stand, sometimes fall. Keep walking. This is the Via Dolorosa, but it is the Via Gloriosa, we are walking with him. He carries the cross as we must. Our very life patterns, our weaknesses, we keep walking. He is walking beside us, and he, like Simon, helps us. Gives us his strength, until it’s not us at all. Keep walking. It’s him.

Keep walking.

Then in the end.

Death.

We reach the end and we die crucified on our life. His death was a sacrifice of redemption. His death on the cross ripped open the fabric of the universe and light and life pours in. We must die as well. 100% of us will die. Everyone who has ever lived has died. We will die.

No choice.
We cannot choose when.
We cannot choose where.
We cannot choose how.

But we can choose why.

We can choose to die to self to live for him. We can choose to offer all the pain, all the scourges, the fears, the mockings, the slaps, the walking. We can choose to unite every last grief and sorrow to him, through him, with him, and in him to God’s purposes, to God’s glory, and God’s salvation of the world.

Then in the end.

Death has no sting.
The grave has no victory.
The bars of brass have been broken down from the inside out.

Christ is Risen.

Book Meditation: Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay (Part 2)

This is part 2, thinking about Daniel C. Mattson’s Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay. For part 1, now see here.

Parts 3, 4 and 5 of Mattson’s book move in a wide arc from theology to friendship, from love to loneliness. There are ample quotes from his journals, and there are odd moments where I nearly threw the book across the room (and, especially, two places where I wrote “no” in the margins).

Part 3, How to Run the Race: Living Out the Daily Battle for Chastity, saddles up along side part 1 as the best sections of the book, most especially the chapter entitled “The Wisdom and Example of the Saints.” I need to know very little about how they teach gender theory to kindergartners (which is covered in the blogger-voiced part 2) but I need to know a lot more about the saints! This section, citing saints from Cyprian of Antioch and Basil the Great to Ignatius of Loyola and Alphonsus Liguori, is filled with encouragement, and acknowledgement that many of our saints were scoundrels, and not a few of them helped rescue people that make my life seem rather pedestrian. Lots more of this is needed! The Story of St Mary of Egypt, advice from Pope St John Paul, St Francis, St Benedict… St Teresa of Calcutta… there’s so much out there. That this chapter was so short and so good, though, points to what I think was a major failing.

There are no demons in this book; no, nor angels.

In fact, the book seems largely, psychotherapeutic rather than, to coin a term, nousotherapeutic. This follows in the footsteps of many a modern (pardon the language) Western and a few modern Eastern Christian writers who forget the Christian Anthropology taught by the saints. We don’t need Freud, Jung, or any other modern pagans to enlighten the teachings of a Liguori or Loyola. This school of thought seems to treat our temptations as, largely, a psychological issue, and hardly at all as a spiritual malady; always addressed in a mental rather than spiritual way, as in a school of prayer. A good confessor or spiritual director/spiritual father knows that Psychology might get to the root of how this happened, but it won’t fix the who or why as effectively as a prayer against demons who inhabit spiritual wounds, who lurk in dark places in the soul, ready to trip or trigger us. Yet we like to sound modern and scholarly. Even the good Fr Benedict Groeschel in his brilliant “Courage to be Chaste” makes this a mostly psychological and moral issue, rather than a spiritual one. (At one point Groeschel even makes fun of those who used spiritual weapons without seeking a psychological cure, and so fell.)

Our weakness may result from fault lines in our psychological makeup, scored by parents, teachers, bullies, or ourselves. However it takes a Nephew Wormwood or Uncle Screwtape to bring them to full flower and it takes our own willing, human dance to keep them going. The verse that needs to be at the heart of every Christian’s struggle for chastity is Ephesians 6:12: For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Our psychological damage (real enough) or our culture, our nurture, whatever, is nothing until it’s taunted, teased, and bullied out into full on fantasy life (the prideful fantasy of an existence lived contra the plan of Life). I think the author gave himself too much credit in the creation of his mistakes, to be honest. And likewise, it is the angels on our side that help us fight the warfare that leads us to victory. Mattson does advise fasting, prayer, Adoration, and frequent recourse to the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist, but the Church is filled with other weapons for use in this Angelic Warfare. In a how-to book like this there could be nearly half-again as many pages of prayers, novenas, listings of confraternities, prayer groups, etc. (Liturgy of the Hours and the Angelic Warfare Confraternity do get footnotes.)

In part 4, there is a wonderful essay on the language of “Disorder”. It talks about how we are all out of order, how we are all working our way back into God’s pattern for life. I find language of disorder to be liberating. This chapter gave me so very much support in that area! My mind was blown by the passages regarding the human reproductive system. I remember sex ed, where the teacher in Monticello, NY, taught us all the stuff about zygotes, spermatozoa, and all the rest. Yet it never dawned on me until reading this book the the “human reproductive system” is entirely split in two. It’s two three-piston halves of a six-piston engine. It’s an organic system in two parts. I’m sure that’s clear as day to readers who are married, but welcome to my brain. My grasp of the Church’s teaching (following Aristotle as much as Moses) that function follows form, that form dictates telos, that the shapes and meaning of bodies are self-evident, was just abstract to me until I read that passage. Recognizing disorder also results in hope – for order, for direction.

The passages on friendship were, again, autobiographical and I did recognize some of my own missteps. But the blogger’s voice returned here. The reader felt sorry for the friend (the pseudonymous Jake) who seems to have endured rather a long friendship with the author and also gets to endure it again in the reading of the book. I was happy to learn so much about my own mistakes, but I felt sorry for Jake that he was made to be the Example. (Unless Jake is a hybrid of several people…)

There was a chapter on loneliness. I didn’t identify very well here, so, maybe I’m not as introverted as I thought, or maybe I’ve just gotten used to it, or maybe I’m in denial. But alone time, for me, is different from loneliness. The author shares some very painful moments, some very jarring images of emotional pain. I nearly tossed the book away when he compares this to a story from a Nazi concentration camp and learning to “offer it up” for the salvation of the world. It was at that point in reading that I began to wonder uncharitably if there would ever be a spiritual cure here.

Today (Thursday, as I write), coincidentally, I listened to a Byzantine Catholic priest in a podcast talk about getting away from his loneliness by taking all the money in his wallet and buying McDonalds gift cards and giving them away to strangers on the street. I remember a priest in confession telling me to get out of the house, to go to the park, to just sit there and be with people. The cure for loneliness is love: self-giving to other people; to will the good of another. I feel the walls of loneliness closing in on me when I listen to music in my headphones as a way to avoid talking to homeless people. Open up, give, share. It’s the cure.

The author is happy in church, but he talks very little about it. It comes up in the acknowledgements, so I know he’s doing it! But the Church is also the cure here. St John Paul reminds us

For those who have no natural family the doors of the great family which is the Church – the Church which finds concrete expression in the diocesan and the parish family, in ecclesial basic communities and in movements of the apostolate – must be opened even wider. No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who ‘labor and are heavy laden.’
Pope St John Paul II Familiaris Consortio

So I think there’s a challenge here – to elicit more writing from Mr Mattson. He’s come so far, and there’s so much more to do! There’s the Rosary and daily mass, there’s mens fellowships and choir. There’s a whole spiritual side to this battle that I think he’s using that wasn’t in the book. I’m leery of over-psychologizing this: that’s the weapons of the other side. We have entire armies of majestic fear and disarming beauty on our side. Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha. (2 Kings 6:17) and we have a cloud of witnesses around us. We are never alone in this battle.

I’m getting off track. I want to close with this other thought… there’s a temptation to cave into the cultural war.

Christians are seemingly aligned with one or another side of this war, but I don’t think that’s right. Our battle is not with flesh and blood. It’s certainly not with political parties or politicians. When we let our writing (about chastity, about liturgy, about whatever…) get suckered into the political sphere, we are in danger of losing our prophetic voice. There is only one illustration in Mattson’s book. If a random reader were to pick this up in a bookstore and flip through, it’s likely that that one illustration would catch their eye – it’s the rather controversial sheet explaining gender theory to young kids. Our hypothetical shopper will, likely, judge the whole book on page 99. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. I sold an article once to Touchstone Magazine. It became the go-to thing for a time, as far as SSA was concerned. It was edited to avoid the context of a then-recent Episcopal Election in Massachusetts, and turned into a full-on broadside against the gay movement. At the time I didn’t care: cuz I got published! But later, I regretted it. Once in awhile I used to get an emails about it, but they are all some version of “See, I knew we were right…” and I think, “I never reached anyone with this, only confirmed people’s hate.”

Preaching to the choir is much easier than preaching to the Areopagus. But the latter is what is needed.

When we realize that our sins are our own dance with the devil, when we realize that our family, God’s Church, stands ready to help us, we finally have very little time to worry about the people we used to sin with save as regards their souls. In those cases, Bishop Barron is right: leading with “Disorder” may not be the best thing.

Right at the end, I wrote “no” again in the margin. The author seems to be saying “this world sucks and as soon as I can get out I can get to heaven.” No. No. No.

A quadrillion times, No.

We’re here because we have work to do. We’re here because we have to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. We’re here because we need to love, more and more and more until that love becomes a fire that consumes us and we merge into the fire of God. We’re here to be the fire that consumes the world in love. We are here to struggle against whatever our passions are so that we can learn to love first, in spite of them, then, eventually, to their cure.

One Lent, reading the Life of St Mary of Egypt in the Matins service devoted to her (in the Byzantine rite), I broke down. Another reader had to jump in and read for me. Mary realizes she spent years leading others astray. Having made that realization she prayed for them and their salvation. I’m not quite there yet, but that’s where the road to healing lies. We can’t go there if we buy into the Cultural War language of us against them which pits humans against humans. There is an us, and there is a them. We are all the humans whom God loves so much he became one of us: them are the demons. Full stop.

Three quarters of this book was so good that I want more of it. I imagine the one-quarter that seemingly caters to “our side” in the Culture War will get quoted more, though. Stuff in the one quarter needs to be said, sometimes; but I think of how little anger one can hear is when certain clergy talk about sexual sins as compared to the anger I nearly always hear coming from people in the middle of this path. We need to wait until we can speak like St Mary of Egypt.

May she pray for us.

Book Meditation: Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay (Part 1)

TL;DR – Good book. Although I’ve some style issues in Part 2 and 4, all the parts are all engaging and thought provoking. All parts, too, are educational both in a spiritual way (if you want to be a faithful RCC) and in a “getting inside the mind of” way if you don’t want to be RCC at all. Excellent as a spiritual guide for the faithful, this book would also be a strong placement alongside other works with differing POV in a group discussion setting in or outside the RCC. 

Back in 2014, reviewing Eve Tushnet’s Gay and Catholic, I took issue with her ascribing a sense of beingness to her sexuality. It seemed to me that Eve’s approach was “I am this way, and now I have to live – still being this way – into the Church’s rules.” Reading with her filter in place, it was easy for me, from outside the Roman Church, to interpret all of RCC teaching the same way. My objection to this line of thought as posted in that review was:

I “am” gay because I like sex with guys as I “am” a carnivore because I love bacon. I can be a vegetarian – but I’d still love bacon. I can even be an “ethical vegan”, opposed to the anthropocentric use, objectification, and slaughter of other living creatures – but still admit that the taste of bacon is one that I love. I “am” gay rather as I love bacon. It’s fun. It’s a preference, but it doesn’t mean I am gay in my being.

My essential response was “I am Orthodox and a sinner.” (You can read: Review part 1 and Review part 2 if you wish.)

Now I’m Catholic, and it is largely because of a group that I met at that time, ironically, as a result of reading Eve’s book. I discovered that Eve’s tack isn’t really all of the RC’s teaching. This doesn’t surprise me: I’m a convert too.

This idea that one is gay the way one used to be considered male, or white, or 53 years old seems to be common. In fact in a culture where much of what used to pass for “identity” seems fluid, orientation is given an oddly concrete status. It is also rather recent and socially constructed – as people from Foucalt, to Paglia have pointed out. What we do with this sense of being we have, though, that’s the important part.

Into this conversation now comes Daniel C. Mattson with his wonderful and challenging Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay. It is the spiritual autobiography of a man trying to live faithful to authentic Christianity’s teaching on sexuality – towit, that sex as a vibrant and powerful gift from God, is intended to be rightly used in one context, and outside of that context it is not only wrong in a moral and spiritual way but also harmful to the human person.

Liber est omnis divisa in partes quinque.

The whole book is divided in five parts, but I’ll address the review in two posts. Here parts 1 and 2, then there will be another post on parts 3, 4, and 5. In defence of this division, I note that Parts 2 & 4 are the ones I had trouble with so that will divide these two posts into “some good/some bad”. And I do not want, in any way, for the discussion of the bad to eclipse the good.

Mad props for getting Robert Cardinal Sarah to write the foreword! In the front matter, the book raises a crucial issue: Cardinal Sarah and Fr Paul Check (writing in the introduction) both point out that we need a Church that moves along side of those who are struggling. Tushnet points this out as well. Two of my brothers in Christ recently punched a hole in my gut talking (also in two parts) about the compassion that Catholics need to feel along side these struggles (The Catholic Man Show, Episode 61, and Episode 62). A recent movie, called “The Third Way” did this as well. It does my heart good to feel not-alone, but fully a part of the Body of Christ in ways that mere denial or mere affirmation never allowed me to feel.

Part 1 is the most autobiographical. It’s the story of a boy conceived on the night of the first Moon Landing (I rather like that story more than mine, which involves the weekend of the JFK assassination, but anyway…) and who grows up feeling lost among boys and men who are athletic and jocular, easy going with themselves, confident and outgoing with women. His own sense of inadequacy was such that he got turned in on himself.

It continues with him sexualizing these feelings, and then finding ways to express those sexualized feelings. Once the feelings get sexualized, then it becomes only a matter of finding ways to express them.

It’s worth a read: I had the exact same experience. All the way through I was like “um, wow.”  And the same story came up again in another place recently, a film. So alike were Daniel’s story to the other story that I had to jump to the film’s credits to see if this were not the same guy! There may be a number of reasons for having these feelings, but “Falling for the guy I want to be” and then sexualizing it seems to be the most common one. It also explains why some men get locked into dating the same aged guys over and over again: that’s the age that one wants to be, wants to be for ever, that one keeps trying to “fix”.

There were a couple of places where my experience parted from Mattson’s path, most notably in his adult attempts at dating women (which I stopped trying to do in college – even then hurting dear friends). Also, I had the departure from the Church phase, coming back at about the same time as the author, although I only had anger at the Church – in a real sense – for a couple of years in my darkest occult phase. Still, the author’s stories of flipping the finger at a church made perfect sense – and I’ve seen others do it as well whenever they passed a church.

The sense of disempowerment in the World of Men becomes, itself, the driving force. Although Daniel is not going to get to this phase (or if he did, he didn’t discuss it), the inadequacy and downward spiral can continue, until – far from eroticising the men you wish you were like – you end up eroticising the inadequacy itself. You stop acting the role of the class clown, the jokes on me, look I’m about to swing a bat… and you end up playing the class fool: go ahead, beat me up, please.

I found this first part as valuable in understanding the spiritual journey as I found parts of Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain and for much the same reason: it underscores that no one has a unique story. There is only one story, with variations on the theme. In my pride I want to be the only one. But really, we all have the same story. It only takes the breaking of a rare few things to result in the same scars, the same inflection, the same inversions, as they used to call it. Reading this story though, was earth-shaking. Each moment of “What, you too?” was like a brick gone from my wall: not a loss, for it was never a gain, but still, an absence to be filled by Grace. When the whole wall is gone, then I’ll be dead… but it will be a pretty bridge.

The second part, though, I wrestled with. As a blogger I can hear the blogger’s voice. This is not a voice for putting thoughts in print. In fact if it had continued for much longer I would have put the book down and written a bad review never realizing there were other parts to read. To my mental ears, this part is Daniel’s “I was in Hell” moment. It’s his chance to say how unsatisfactory the gay world was. I get that. My experience though is this anger is like admitting one has had sex with an astronomical number of people: it may be true, but the left doesn’t care and the right only cares for the scandal. Yes, the idea of “Coming out” is all empty promises. But so what? This seems to be the part of the book written for other people – not for people struggling with church teaching on sex, but people who want to be scandalized or at least titillated about people not wanting to live that way. It’s the part that will sell the book to people who don’t really care about a collection of struggling Christians, but do want to feel superior to them. This is the part I imagine I’ll hear quoted in certain circles – this part and part 5. I’ll discuss this more, though, in the second post. Part 2 is not the longest part, though. I agreed with most things said, but it’s the tone. (I begin to think tone is everything in Evangelism.)

What else can a book about the sexual teachings in the Church be, but evangelism? As I said, this would be a good book in a discussion group with different points of view. But this book raises some interesting issues – especially in the “this is my life” portion. These are not all comfortable questions, perhaps, for the author. I’ll get to them later. But – vague spoiler – here’s where I think there is a huge difference between several sorts of books in this genre. They fall on a spectrum:

1) I hate this. I love God.
2) I hate this. I hate God.
3) I love this. I hate God.
4) I love this. I love God.

Each category then asks different questions. All four category can be written with one of four endings:

1) Yes-Gay Yes-God
2) Yes-Gay No-God
3) No-Gay No-God
4) No-Gay Yes-God

Eve Tushnet’s book falls into category 3 with something of a 1-4 Hybrid ending. Mattson seems to be a Category 2 with a 4 ending.

I don’t think that’s good evangelism, but it is a good part of mystagogy, the after- initiation teaching. Tushnet’s book was good evangelism in that it’ll get you through the door.

I have not yet talked about the title of the book – but the title is why I bought it. In 1995 or 96 I was getting off the N train at 42nd Street with my housemate, Ray. Ray was explaining to me why he didn’t feel a part of anything called the gay community. “Basically,” he said. “The only thing we have in common is what we like to do in bed. And, really, we don’t even have that…” It was a throwaway line that I ruminated on for nearly a decade. We have nothing in common. Wait, if there is no gay community, is there a gay? And all through college and on into adult life, I met well adjusted folks – most of whom were also attracted to the same sex – who said things like “I don’t want to be called gay” and “I hate gay as a noun”.

The fact that most all of these people were “Teh Ghey” – and sexually active, etc – but yet didn’t want to be using the word was interesting to me. And, like I said, made me examine my own thoughts, words, and deeds in this area. There are some that might say most of those folks suffered from some sort of internalized self-hate, but I’m not a psychotherapist and I don’t want to diagnose people based on my level of Psych 101 at NYU.

I did feel uncomfortable reading parts of Mattson’s book. There were places where he sounded remarkably sound, able to navigate the nuances of a person working out his salvation in fear and trembling. And there were places where he sounded simply hurt and angry. I found myself in those places saying, “I’m not sure what went wrong here, but you don’t seem to be telling the whole story.” Like in Seven Storey Mountain where Merton never comes clean about fathering a child… but notes his life was a mess sexually. I don’t want Mattson to do a kiss and tell chapter, or write out a true confession of his life, but the Bio Part seems a bit short, to be honest, and a bit light on the workings. Has much as I loved it, I wished there had been more.

That would be evangelism, I think. And it would be the blogger’s voice rightly used. It may also require a different life pattern – one where “This felt really good” was a thing. I think of St Mary of Egypt, really.  Although, later in life, she realized she had made a grave error – earlier it was not that way. And she was honest about it not being that way. I don’t think she laughed or bragged, but she was honest that the younger girl was not prone to really care about morality.

Daniel Mattson’s story might work for some while St Mary of Egypt’s story works for others.  I hope there’s a “Gay St Mary” out there… forgive my phrasing.

In the second posting on this book I will discuss parts 3, 4, and 5. Which I think are the spiritual fruit of Mattson’s labor in some ways – and quite well done in all ways.

That’s for reading – part 2 is here.

Disorder as Liberation

One year in High School our Marching Band raised money by working at Six Flags in Atlanta. I’m unclear how it worked, but basically we performed various minimum wage jobs around the park for one of three half-day shifts and all the money went to the band. In exchange for working 4 hours the volunteers got to spend whole day in the park. It was a fun day (although I will never eat park food ever again) and I got to ride the Mind Bender 15 times.

The Mind Bender opened that summer and was billed as the world’s first triple loop roller coaster and I had no reason to want to do any of the normal stuff which I’d done before. This was not only new to me, but new to everyone! Until the pre-monastery purge, I still had the commemorative coin they gave out that year. Anyway, that day I rode the thing until I got bored, literally. After 12 times through (in fairly rapid succession, since I had an employee pass and needn’t stand in the whole line), I couldn’t have cared less: all my adrenaline burned out, the endorphins went away, and all I had was a jolting and jerking sensation caused by the motion. I was numb. Still, I rode it thee more times, then I stopped.

I was talking to my brother in Christ yesterday over wings and biscuits; there was some beer as well. We were talking about how moral theology has basically two categories: the way God intended something to be (aka properly ordered) and every other way we try things, (aka disordered). It’s important to realize that moral theology doesn’t use “disordered” as we might when describing a mental disease. It’s more along the lines of putting a penny in a fuse (if you are old enough to get the reference), or what happens when you use a flat head screwdriver that is also too small on a Phillips-head screw.

Since the human spirit is made to follow God’s will – and yet we do not – we are disordered. Disorder is a sign of the fall. To find in one’s life is disordered is to admit that one is human – no less than any other. Given what we know about the human propensity to sin, as my friend said, even ketchup packets are a sign of the Fall. All of Creation groans under the situation caused by our fall: man was intended to be the crown of creation, the Primus below God. That we have fallen from grace disorders all things.

The Jesus Psalter, a 16th Century English Catholic devotion closes with two prayers referring to the disorder of our dance: Jesus, grant me grace to set my mind on thee; and, Jesus, grant me grace to order my life to thee. Both of these points (our minds and our lives) are to be ordered – focused, line up behind, pointing at Jesus. When we say something is disordered we mean its pointing the wrong way. That “wrong way” may only be a fraction of a degree off course, but in the distance of Eternity, that fraction grows until we miss the mark. Please note: disorder, itself, is not missing the mark. We miss the mark when we deny the disorder, when we treat SNAFU as “right”.

Imagine that you have a square peg – and you have to fit it in the proverbial round hole. Imagine you spend your whole life shoving and pounding, chipping off corners, trying to stretch the hole, all in vain. In the end, you give up: you settle down, the hole unpegged, the peg without a home. What if someone came by and said, “I have a square hole over here…” It would finally feel as though you’d found a home. You’ve finally connected. Only connect, as E.M. Forster sys in Maurice, it’s the solution to the isolation that cuts us off.

In talking about human sexual expression, “disordered” as category applies to everything outside of the procreative act within sacramental marriage. Anything else is using tools given by God in ways not intended. The Church’s tradition, beginning in scripture and unfolding in the lives of the saints, is pretty clear about this. There are degrees of departure from plumb, but all such – even by half a degree – proceed from a fall and miss the mark entirely.

My friend asked me how I – a Catholic man who experiences sexual attraction to other men – felt about that label “disordered”. I did not think twice before I said, “Liberating!”

All of our modern world is about catering to our whims, our desires. Everything we do is “because we want too/feel the need to/crave…” It’s bloody exhausting! To “follow my bliss” when what I want to bliss out on changes from moment to moment is like trying to navigate with a compass through a maze made out of magnets. We are told that we must consume, that we must get our just desserts, that we deserve more than we have, that when we die we should leave a proper viking horde of stuff and experience behind to prove that we were here at all: when the sex and the shopping stops, we’re dead.

Worse, we become so involved in this that we don’t even notice when we continue the pattern in strange parts of our lives. Amazon – mistress of all the vices – feels better than therapy. Online dating is only a 70s Singles Bar or Bathhouse that needs no brick and mortar expenses. Church shopping and parish hopping is just the Tinder or Growlr app, but with God. We choose our name, religion, job, residence, friends, medications, and whatever all based on only our drives and tastes; only in hindsight do we realize that “drive” and “taste” are more matters of “peer pressure” and “marketing”. “My” taste is not personal to me. I can walk out of the house in purple sneakers and yellow socks firm in the knowledge that there’s probably another 100k or so people dressed exactly the same way within 500 miles.

Disorder is a way out! To realize that this not at all how it has to be, or even how it’s supposed to be; to realize that this chaos is not what is intended, that this chaos is self-replicating, and only a re-ordering from outside will fix it is to be graciously liberated from the ever-spinning wheel of illusion.

Living a life fulfilling every desire, every whim, running away from every pain and every sorrow, is like trying to dig one’s way out of a pit: each fulfillment gives rise to more craving – even if only for a repeat performance. Mmmm that felt good. Do it again! Like my ride on the Mind Bender, we do it over and over until all the chemicals in our brain burn out. Then we just keep going on some autopilot function. Our cravings have turned into an addiction, our lives into empty recreations of patterns we claim to enjoy. But we are not free: we are enslaved to our reasons, our cravings.

No! You don’t have to fulfill that whim, that craving, that lust! Let it go: if you hold on it will only take you further and further off course. Simply: Let. It. Go.

Disorder, as self-realization, is discovering the square hole for the square peg. It’s realizing that one is human: not special, but average; not unique but a son of Adam, a daughter of Eve. There is nothing unique or special about your desires: they are shared by millions of others in history. There are only differences of response. Desires, as such, are only a sign of being part of our fallen humanity. They are not needs to fulfill, but rather comments on or signs of our human weakness. A disorder – experienced as an action or only as desire – is a sign that we need God. Knowing it is a disorder, something that needs to be reordered, to be fixed, turns it into an on-going opportunity for grace to be poured in. And the Church is both the fountain from which grace is poured and the vessel that contains us as we are filled with that gift.

In riding the Mind Bender, I not only got bored, I also kinda ended my fear-love relationship with Roller Coasters. I don’t really like the adrenalin rush that one gets. It’s not at all heathy to trigger one’s own fear mechanism. I feel the same way about horror movies too. Like, I have only so many “Endo-Dolphins” as a friend’s daughter once called them. I don’t want to waste them by crying wolf too many times. Using the endorphins this way – a hit of adrenalin, a rush of fear – is disordered in a minor way, just has a hit of lush, a rush of sweaty fun – is disordered in a major way. But we live in a society that says “fulfill it!” at every turn. That’s not what we are here for. In fact, we’re here for the opposite. And when you grow tired of jamming the square peg into all the wrong holes, you can finally settle down and let the proper ordering of things take over. The Church is the school that not only teaches that solution, but resolves the conflict, and heals the resultant pains.

Recognizing the Disorder and yielding to grace are, in fact, the first three of the 12 steps:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over Fill In the Blank —that our lives had become unmanageable. 
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. 

St Paul says, in Galatians, “Christo confixus sum cruci. Vivo autem, jam non ego: vivit vero in me Christus.” With Christ I am nailed to the cross. And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me. Our cravings produce a false sense of need and that need/craving produces a false self. This is not me. I am not my cravings. I am not personified by my temptations. We crucify our fallen self, as Jesus gave himself up for us so that we can finally live – yet not us, but Christ living in us. Grace (which is God’s energy, God’s presence in our lives) orders our life to Christ. We can only get there when we see everything is not good as it is. We are liberated by seeing the disordered lives we lead, the disordered world in which we live for exactly what it all is: Disordered.

Relating in Courage


Today’s readings:

  • 1 John 5:5-13
  • Mark 1:7-11

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with other Mass texts.

Quoniam tres sunt, qui testimonium dant in cælo: Pater, Verbum, et Spiritus Sanctus: et hi tres unum sunt.
Thus we have a threefold warrant in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, three who are yet one.
1 John 5:7

All the cool Bibles leave this verse out. I’m sure they have their reasons, Mr Knox, following Mr Douay and Mr Rheims, in turn following Mr Jerome, who was following the best texts of his time, leave it in. And they have no axes to grind against the Church so I will trust them. The RSV skips it for their own reasons and the NABRE does as well. So, go as you wish, but 5 of my 7 go-to sources have it. So I have it.

The Trinity, apart from any doctrine we might care to explore, is about relationship. God is a fully divine being in relationship. God’s love is so full and perfect that it can only be in relationship. Since we are called to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect, we are thus called to be in relationship. The old adage is true: you complete me. As the Orthodox say, no one is saved alone. The prayer intention we explore today is also about relationship:

For our relationships, that they may holy, healthy, and honorable at all times.

I’ve been wrestling with this idea for a few weeks, since I first visited the San Francisco chapter of the Courage Apostolate, which is a 12 Step-based community for people who struggle to live according to the Church’s teachings on sex, especially as people who experience attraction to their own sex.

When I finally attended my first meeting I encountered Courage’s formulation of the 12 Steps. I was especially struck by steps 8 and 9:

8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make direct amends to them all.
9. We made the direct amends to such people wherever possible except when to do so would injure them or others.

When I moved to SF (in 1997) I got a call from someone whom I’d not heard from in years. It was a fun call, a little, I don’t know, hyped and oddly sexual. But it ended with good laughter and was over. About a year, or maybe two later I got another phone call from the same person telling me that he had been very drunk/high during that phone call, had no idea what was said. He had found an unknown number on his outbound calls and knew he needed to reach out, under the guidance of his N.A. Sponsor, to make amends. We had a long talk, and forgiveness and love was shared.

When I read steps 8 & 9 that phone call came back to me. Was I expected to do that? To everyone whom I had hurt in an through my sexual sins and explorations? That list can go on for years!

How many of my relationships are not holy, healthy, and honorable! And how many more have not been!

Holy and Healthy are, essentially the same thing for to be saved and to be whole are the same thing and we turn to Christ for both. It is with Christ, also, that we form our primary relationship. Through that relationship all others are kept in balance. Proper relationships of Agape begin and continue as acts of self emptying, self sacrifice. As the Father pours his being into the Son, and through the Son into the Holy Spirit; as Son shares his self sacrifice to the Father, through the Holy Spirit with us; as the Spirit lives through the loving communion pouring himself out to each and through each. So are we, in our Self Sacrifice to God in each other,ade to receive the indwelling Spirit, with the Son and the Father, and so are we made to pour forth ourselves to God, present in our neighbors as we worship. This pouring forth, this self-emptying is, exactly, our identity.

We come to realize that an unchaste relationship is neither holy nor healthy. It is one in which there is a constant struggle to self-defense against or in spite of the other. Unchastity is a zero sum game where one must contain, control or confine the other. That can be in a negative or positive sense: you satisfied my sexual needs so move along now. Relationships that are neither holy nor healthy move us away from – not towards – our salvation.

This all came home harder last night, at the first Courage meeting of the new year when the topic was Step 8! I admitted that I was lost and had no idea how to navigate around this step. Yet I was very thankful I was only at my second meeting! I could wait a while before worrying about how to deal with something so advanced. I still had to do step 4, at least, “We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” Yeah, that’s going to take a while to get to.

Humans share one human nature, in the divine pattern: as the Trinity is one in three persons, so are we supposed to be one in many, one shared communion of love.  We mess that up at every turn, yes, but that is what we are called to be.

Mindful that, as I noted yesterday, even Christian Marriage is a chaste institution: sex is always about self-sacrifice and love, never about self-satisfaction, always open to God’s gift of life, so we are all called to Chastity in our relationships. Where are yours? How do you find yourself working on “holy, healthy, and honorable” relationships? What brings you to that place of salvation?