-1 Corinthians 13:7
By: Steve Gershom - Catholic Exchange
I’m so used to being gay and Catholic, I forget how strange that sounds.
I forget that, for some people, “homosexual” describes something like a different race, or maybe even a different gender. I forget that some Christians think I’m the worst kind of pervert (but a pervert they have to treat nicely), and some secularists think I’m the worst kind of hypocrite; the former because I’m sexually attracted to men, and the latter because I don’t do anything about it.
Read the last part again. Yes, I’m attracted to men; no, I don’t sleep with them, for the same reason that a lot of Catholics don’t sleep with people they’re not married to. But you’d be surprised how often people hear the first part (gay) and not the second (celibate) — even though the second is the only part that’s up to me.
I wrote a whole article once about what it was like to be a celibate, gay Catholic, and what was the first response in the combox? “Repent!!”
Not that everyone who finds out that I’m gay is like that. Overwhelmingly, the people I’ve told — mainly family and close friends — respond with compassion and even admiration. Usually it’s something like “I’m honored that you trust me enough to tell me this.” But even the most understanding people don’t always understand what I mean, if only because (unlike me) they haven’t had the last 14 years to figure it out, and because “I’m gay” is not a simple sentence.
I’m not very sensitive about the word “gay,” but some of us in the Gay Catholic business prefer the phrase “same-sex attraction,” or SSA. I find it more accurate than “gay” or “queer” or any of the others, just because it suggests that homosexuality is something I have rather than something I am
. That’s the way I think of it. So the idea of gay culture, gay rights, gay marriage, gay anything really, is foreign to me. You might as well talk about gluten-intolerance culture, or musician’s rights.
Which is not to say that I don’t strongly identify with those parts of myself that people often conflate with being “gay.” I’m musical, I’m verbal, I’m intuitive, I have a strong aesthetic sense. But men with SSA don’t have a monopoly on those things, and the fact that I have those characteristics doesn’t mean I belong to some special culture; it means I’m myself, and not anybody else.
I also don’t mean to trivialize the experience of having SSA. Sex isn’t everything, but as anyone with any kind of sexual dysfunction knows, it’s an awful lot. Put the sexual aspect together with the other things that homosexual men and women often experience — depression, low self-esteem, loneliness, a sense (however false) of being utterly different
— and you have a heavy cross.
I’ve experienced healing in every area I mentioned above, but nobody’s healing is complete this side of heaven. Loneliness can be the worst part: not the absence of friends, I’ve got those, but the effort of forging out a way to live in a society that constantly tells us that romantic love is anyone’s only shot at real happiness, and that celibacy (not to mention virginity!) is some kind of psychological disease.
And there’s the question of friendship. I love men, and I always will. That’s not weird, that’s not strange, that’s not even gay. But it’s not as simple as “look, but don’t touch” — chastity is a question of the heart and soul and emotions. You deal with it, you pray and seek advice, you offer up the incidental pangs, and you get on with your life. And none of the things I deal with are unique to gay men or women. Being straight isn’t a guarantee of having a healthy, shiny, pre-integrated sexuality; it just means the whole beautiful, messy concerto is in a different key. Nobody gets to sit this one out.
It does get better. If anyone had told me ten years ago what my life would be like today, maybe just showed me a video of an ordinary Tuesday evening in the life of contemporary Steve, my eyes would’ve bugged out. I never had any idea things could be this good, that I could be so confident, that I would so often feel like smiling for no particular reason.
You will be wondering how I got from there to here. There’s no quick answer. It took lots of prayer and hard work, and the love and patience of brothers, sisters, mentors, and friends. If you are looking for a good place to start — for yourself or someone you know, or just because you want to understand the whole thing better — I recommend browsing around People Can Change
. I recommend picking up a copy of Fr. Harvey’s The Homosexual Person
, Melinda Selmys’ Sexual Authenticity
and Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting
And maybe the most important thing: you can do this, but not alone — and the Church may be your greatest ally. Maybe you don’t understand yet why the she teaches what she does; but don’t quit listening. Maybe you don’t feel Jesus’ love in the Mass; so then go more often, not less. Maybe you ran into a priest who didn’t understand; so find one who does. Most of all, don’t accept any easy answers, from the right or from the left. The quick way is rarely the right one, and the long way around is well worth the trip.Steve Gershom graduated from a Catholic liberal arts college and currently works as a web developer. He blogs regularly at stevegershom.com.
Cosette and Valjean on the run from Javert (again)
By: Joseph Jablonski and Tabitha Garnica - Gaudium Dei
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. -Matthew 5:10
Throughout the whole of Les Misérables, Javert and Jean Valjean are at odds with each other. While this may seem obvious in the sense of their relationship of jailer to jailed, it actually becomes more evident when one observes how they treat moral laws, hope, and ultimately forgiveness.
In his song, “Stars”, Javert has a strictly rational approach to the law; one that is suffused with ruthless logic. It leaves no hope for either the pitiful Fantine, seeking to bring care to her Cosette, or Jean Valjean, with his constant escapades to right his wrongs. Javert simply appeals to this “system” which declares that all must be perfectly in order. This system of justice appeals to the strictest interpretation of the law. It is one simply of crime and punishment, and of numbers and judgments. There is no room for forgiveness simply because all are either like Lucifer, falling from God, or like the flawlessly ordered stars. Thus, Javert builds an impassable wall between heaven and sin.
Yet, what actually holds that bridge between heaven and earth? Forgiveness and repentance. The purifying of one’s soul, as well as the ambition to heaven from earth, is the theme of Jean Valjean’s existence. He, when being lifted up by the Bishop of Dinge, feels commissioned to lift others up despite his past. He shows this through his compassion for Fantine, Cosette, and even Javert.
We see “Javert’s suicide” as the result of Valjean sparing Javert’s life. This act is completely natural to Jean Valjean, for he is at peace knowing the true meaning of the moral codes of society. He knows all people are created in God’s image. This sends Javert over the edge because he knows that if the roles were reversed, he would have killed Valjean without a moment’s pause. However, a man who he believes belongs in hell has shown him God’s forgiveness. If someone as “lowly” as Valjean can be more sincere than him, his life is shameful and hopeless.
Such hopelessness should be coupled with Bring Him Home.
Valjean knows that Cosette loves Marius. Therefore, for love of her and life, he rescues him from the barricades. Even though he feels as though Marius is replacing him as Cosette’s primary protector and hero, he is willing to sacrifice his own life to bring another man peace and love. We see in this breathtaking ballad how Valjean views others. He believes everyone deserves life , and is willing to sacrifice his, just as Christ sacrificed for us.
Thus, the bridge of forgiveness – the striving for heaven that he and the numerous characters echo throughout the play – is bolstered by a sincere love.
Such a love is needed in today’s society. How do we view of the sinner? Do we look at humanity like Javert or like Jean Valjean? “Bring Him Home” in its utter selflessness, can be reflected as a universal anthem. Sinners, when looked upon by Javert, are judged mercilessly. However if we were to look at the world through the eyes of Jean Valjean, we would see a world filled with God’s love and hope. Valjean’s attitude towards himself and others shows us how we must help our brother and sisters reach heaven. For if we are to be God’s servants, we must love rather than judge, be friends rather than enemies, and rescuers rather than punishers.
By: The Maryvale Institute
Pope Benedict XVI has set aside a special year for Catholics throughout the world to rediscover, and share with others, the precious gift of Faith entrusted to the Church and the personal gift of faith that we have each received from God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Find out exactly why Pope Benedict XVI chose to implement the Year of Faith on October 11 instead of January 1, along with his hopes for each one of us during the Catholic Church's great celebration of renewal and rediscovery.
When is the Year of Faith?
Pope Benedict XVI has decreed that the Catholic Church will observe the Year of Faith between 11 October 2012 and 24 November 2013.
What is special about the dates for the Year of Faith?
Pope Benedict has chosen to open the Year of Faith on the 11 October 2012 because that date is the anniversary of two important events in the life of the Catholic Church:
- The 11th of October is the 5oth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council (11 October 1962 - 8 December 1965).
- The 11th October is also the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church by Blessed John Paul II.
The Year of Faith will close on 24 November 2013, the Solemn Feast of Christ the King throughout the world.
Why is the anniversary of the Second Vatican Council so important it opens of the Year of Faith?
Pope Benedict explains that though the Second Vatican Council occurred half a century ago, it remains ‘the great grace bestowed on the Church in the twentieth century’ that is ‘a sure compass by which to take our bearings in the century now beginning.’ The Holy Father is also convinced that the Second Vatican Council, if interpreted and implemented according to the mind of the Church stretching back to the Apostles,’ can be and can become increasingly powerful for the ever necessary renewal of the Church’. (Porta Fidei
, 5)Why is the anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church so important it also opens the Year of Faith?
The Catechism of the Catholic Churc
h is a systematic presentation of the Catholic Faith that enables the faithful to know the full symphony of Faith. In the Catechism,
‘we see the wealth of teaching that the Church has received, safeguarded and proposed in her two thousand years of history. From Sacred Scripture to the Fathers of the Church, from theological masters to the saints across the centuries, the Catechism provides a permanent record of the many ways in which the Church has meditated on the faith and made progress in doctrine so as to offer certitude to believers in their lives of faith.’ (Porta Fidei, 11)
Blessed John Paul II declared the Catechism
of the Catholic Church
is ‘a sure norm for teaching the faith’. It was his hope it would ‘serve the renewal to which the Holy Spirit ceaselessly calls the Church of God, the Body of Christ, on her pilgrimage to the undiminished light of the Kingdom!’ Pope Benedict XVI sees the Catechism
as ’a precious and indispensable tool. It is one of the most important fruits of the Second Vatican Council’. (Porta Fidei,
11)What are Pope Benedict’s hopes for each one of us during the Year of Faith?
The Holy Father wants us to rediscover the journey of faith so as to shed ever clearer light on the joy and renewed enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ. He wants us to rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves on the word of God, faithfully handed down by the Church, and on the bread of life, offered as sustenance for his disciples (cf. Jn
- To take the opportunity to read the documents of Vatican II correctly, help them become widely known and take them to heart as important and normative texts of the Magisterium.
- To approach the Year of Faith as a time of purification for the Church and for individuals, a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord.
- To intensify our reflection of faith, so we acquire a more conscious and vigorous adherence to the Gospel, especially at a time of profound change such as humanity is currently experiencing.
- To profess our faith in the Risen Lord in our cathedrals and in the churches of the whole world; in our homes and among our families, so that everyone may feel a strong need to know better and to transmit to future generations the faith of all times.
The Holy Father wants the Year of Faith to arouse in every believer the aspiration to profess
the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction, with confidence and hope. He wants us to intensify the celebration
of the faith in the liturgy, especially in the Eucharist, which is
“the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed; … and also the source from which all its power flows.” Taking up one of the recurring themes of his pontificate, the Holy Father expresses the hope that the Year of Faith will also be a good opportunity for each one of us to intensify the witness of charity, which is faith in action.Pope Benedict concludes with a beautiful expression of his hopes for us:
‘Intent on gathering the signs of the times in the present of history, faith commits every one of us to become a living sign of the presence of the Risen Lord in the world. What the world is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord, and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end.’ Porta Fidei, 15
My husband, me and my best friend in Austin
By: Jessa Barniol
My name is Jessa, and I live in the city where Jesus died. It's also the city where Jesus rose from the dead, and every day hundreds of pilgrims travel long distances from all over the world to visit the site where this happened, and to contemplate this grand and beautiful mystery of our faith. For me, it's just a twenty-minute light rail ride to the Old City of Jerusalem.
And today, Ash Wednesday, Catholics all over the world begin our forty-day journey to Easter, the day we celebrate this mystery. Also, today is possibly the only day anyone in this country will know for sure that I'm Catholic.
When my husband and I first arrived in Jerusalem a few months ago, our landlord, a well-meaning secular Jew (that is, a person who identifies as Jewish through family history but is non-practicing), gave us a tour of the surrounding neighborhood and lauded its many qualities. "It's a good neighborhood," he said. "It's full of secular people like you and me."
I'm not at all what I would consider a secular person. Every week I have to clean the tops of my shoes after wearing them to kneel in church. I pray before meals, and in fact, many of my days are a long string of prayers to a God I consider a close friend. With my Protestant background, I can quote a relevant scripture whenever it's called for. Every morning, I take my temperature instead of the pill. My husband and I recently renewed our wedding vows for the fourth time in three years of marriage because we have this faith-nerd habit of attending marriage retreats on a regular basis. And last month, we spent an imprudent percentage of our disposable income on a beautiful nineteenth century icon with numerous saints and a tiny tableau of the Transfiguration on it. And I was as giddy as I would be if I had purchased a pair of really cool shoes instead. (Better, in fact, because I don't have to clean the top of the icon after kneeling.)
No, I'm not a secular person.
But I live in a city where most people can be matched to their religious affiliation from a distance of 100 yards or more. Most people, but not me.
Jerusalem sits right on top of an invisible border between two countries, or a country within a country. It is a two-mans land, or no-mans land, however you'd like to see it. The change from one country to another is almost imperceptible, but in the space of a few short blocks, you look up and all the Hebrew has been replaced with Arabic, all the sheitels have been replaced with hijabs… and you're in Palestine.
Wait, what's a sheitel, you ask? What's a hijab? Certain types of faithful in Jerusalem dress in certain ways. Observant Jewish women must wear skirts, pantyhose, and shirts that reach at least to their elbows and collarbones. Married women cover their hair, either with a hat or scarf or a special wig called a sheitel. There are also ultra-Orthodox haredi Jews who never wear colors, are almost always dressed in black and white, and always have a distinctive business-attire look about them. In contrast, the way that Muslim women dress varies greatly on their country of origin, their status in life and their age. Some wear body-skimming floor-length coats that hide everything, while others consider long pants and long sleeves modest enough. But almost all grown women have one thing in common: the iconic head-and-neck covering, called a hijab.
But what about Christians? Can you identify a Christian as soon as you see one? Sure, a habited nun or a white-collared priest or a Franciscan in his distinctive brown robe can be spotted from far away. But what about the rest of us, the lay people (or the consecrated people without distinctive clothing)? A crucifix here, or a saint's medal there. Here in Jerusalem, many Christians wear a beautiful distinctive cross with arms of equal length and four small crosses in the angles: The Jerusalem Cross. These small outward signs are beautiful, but they can only go so far. However, we might have something better.
The Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) and Jewish sacred teachings in the Talmud, and the Muslim holy book, the Qur'an, contain various laws for looking and behaving a certain way. But as Christians, we believe that "Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (2 Cor 3:17). As Christian women, we are free to dress as we like (though many of us choose to dress modestly in order to honor and respect our gender and ourselves). We are free to leave our hair uncovered (though women in some Orthodox denominations and even some Catholics choose to cover their heads while in church). But, to the outside world, including my landlord, our freedom might leave us looking, at first glance, just like all the "secular people," who have a different kind of freedom. While the Muslim and Jewish holy books will tell you to keep your arms covered, ours instead tells us how to act toward one another. In fact, Jesus says in the Gospel according to St. John, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:34-35). We are not meant to be seen from a long way away. We are meant to interact, to mingle, to get close enough to love.
In fact, perhaps one of the things so politically dividing Jerusalem today is the fact that you can place any given person into their group before even talking to them. As a result, most people only stick with people from their own group. We Christians are the free agents.
Here in Jerusalem, people see me from a distance and immediately identify me with the group I most look like: the secular Jews. But all over the world, we Christians face the same challenge: to stand out from the secular world with the love we show for others. To get close enough to others to live by example. To get close enough to show love, instead of staying far enough away to show a head covering. To be close enough for them to see the cross necklace and realize where your love comes from.
…But all the same, maybe sometimes you do just want to wear a less subtle sign that says, "I'm Catholic."
So we give thanks for Ash Wednesday. The day that we smear the mineral residue of incinerated palm fronds on our heads as a symbol of how the death and resurrection of Christ will bring us new life. Forget the wig or the scarf. You don't get any more "in your face" (literally) with your faith than walking around all day with a big black smudge on your head. The ashes are a choice, not a requirement. We are not required to go to church today, and if you do, you're not required to accept the ashes. But even though it's not a Holy Day of Obligation, it's one of the most widely attended holy days for Catholics worldwide, and I've often thought that this external sign is why. When you leave church today, you are marked with a sign of your Catholic faith. People can, for once, identify you from a long way away. Do you act differently with that sign on your face? Do you think twice before an unkind word or action? Do you feel more Catholic when people know that you're Catholic?
Maybe today, someone will ask you a question about that spot on your head and you'll get the chance to tell our story. Maybe the ashes are the catalyst to turn a life lived in love into a life spreading the Gospel. But the rest of the year, you will be called to show your faith differently, through love alone.
The rest of the year, I may be mistaken for a secular Jew, or a Russian immigrant, or a new Israeli. The rest of the year, I may just be a kind face, or a kind word accompanied by a glimpse of a Jerusalem cross. The rest of the year, I'll just be the only blonde girl in the Muslim Quarter, or the only girl in pants on the train.
But today, I'm the Catholic.
Watch for me.
I'm Jessa, and I live in Jerusalem, in the land where Jesus lived. I'm an American Catholic girl and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. I'm a graphic designer, a crazy creative type, and a young wife to my best friend, the 6'3" Ecuadorean astrophysicist. I'm relatively new to the Church; I went through RCIA in college and became Catholic in 2006, and I'm still learning about the rich and beautiful tradition that is our faith. I also blog about my adventures in Jerusalem over at www.shalomsweethome.com
Eternal and merciful Father, I give you thanks for the gift of your divine Son, who suffered, died, and rose for all people. I thank you also for my Catholic faith, and ask your help that I may grow in fidelity by prayer, by works of charity and penance, by reflecting on your word, and by regular participation in the sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist. You gave St. Monica a spirit of selfless love, manifest in her constant prayer for the conversion of her son, Augustine.
Inspired by boundless confidence in your power to move hearts, and by the success of her prayer, I ask the grace to imitate her constancy in prayer for (name of person here) who no longer shares in the intimate life of the Catholic family. Grant through my prayer and witness, that he / she may be open to your promptings of your Holy Spirit to return to loving union with your people. Grant also that my prayer be ever hopeful and that I may never judge another, for you alone can read hearts. I ask this through Christ our Lord, Amen.