Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The dry period

To my friend David Seleb (and the hope that some others might find it useful):

So you've read through The Stranger. I knew you would dig Camus and see yourself in Meursault. But I also knew that it wouldn't "cure" your Angst -- Camus himself would be the first to agree. I don't know that there's anything I, or anyone else, can say that would "cure" you or make it all make sense.

A period of spiritual dryness is one of those things that happen even to the greatest saints (OK, so Mother Teresa isn't a saint yet, as if there's any doubt, but the term "long, dark night of the soul" comes from St. John of the Cross). There's no way around such periods, only through them. I wish I could direct you to Mother Teresa's letters, but as far as I know Il Segreto di Madre Teresa hasn't been translated into English and I doubt your Italian or mine is up to it. Nor is anger at God without precedent. In some sense, it's inevitable among the afflicted. There's Job, of course ("the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be His Holy Name"). A priest in confession once told me that St. Teresa of Avila cursed at God in a moment of distress when her cart got stuck in a stream, saying "if this is how You treat Your friends, no wonder You have so few." The much-cruder Martin Luther said "Love God? Sometimes I hate him."

But the Catholic faith is ultimately about truth, not about "enthousiasmos." Truths can be hard to accept, and hurt, in a way that feelings cannot. More to the point, we're both at the age by which most devout Catholic men have become fathers or Fathers. I could make a fairly fruitful analogy with "mid-life crisis," and thus advise you to go buy a Porsche or go do some hot young chick. But I think both those things are beyond our means. Anyway ... now it's hitting us -- and hard -- that this thorn in our flesh is apparently never going to go away (I haven't been able to go to a wedding since I was 28). Thorns in the flesh hurt. There's no way around that. The most I think I can say is to make living with the pain less intolerable. Some of what I'm about to say are thing I myself suck at. They may sound like bromides. But I composed the outline for this letter before the Blessed Sacrament at Adoration last night, and all my intentions were for you.

First of all, you're not lost or gone. The very fact that people, relationships and duty all still matter is still a sign of hope. The very fact that you're terrified by the thought that they might not is still a sign of hope. The very fact that you care about giving scandal and keeping up appearances is still a sign of hope. Next time you ask yourself "why," ask those "why" questions instead. Why DO I care about duty? Why DO I care about giving scandal? The easy, simple skeptical answer is "lifelong habit" or "reflex." Even if true, that begs the question of why have these acts become a lifelong habit, while other acts -- such as contempt for the souls of others in giving scandal -- not become such. After all, it's not as though any of us has never done the latter act or felt it mentally, right? But we knew it was wrong. In other words, it's quite coherent to say that "what we should do" is perfectly clear, even if sometimes the "why should we do it" is not. But the "what" answers the "why" -- because the "what" is who we are and have become. It's now our nature. Is this perfectly motivated love? In that sense, no. But if it's what we can do, for now, the Lord doesn't reject the gifts we can bring him according to the state that we're in at the moment -- The Little Drummer Boy, St. Therese's Little Way and all that.

Second, we both know that the gay lifestyle is not an option, and know that you (and I both) would be no better off or happier living that way. I can kinda-semi-sorta-"understand" leaving the Church for Dupont Circle -- preferring the life of flesh and so convincing oneself that therefore the Church must be wrong, etc. But not to leave the Church for the sake of a drift into the abyss. I know this sounds flip, but one may as well be buried in Angst with Christ than without Him. Particularly since we both acknowledge the Truth and the Church as its custodian, however uninspiring that will be at certain times. Reacting to that fact of its uninspiringness too hard, and going into a kind of depressive withdrawal isn't an option, at least in the long term. The spiritual equivalent of lying on the couch all day, watching soaps and eating bonbons is understandable for a while. I can attest. But I'm happiest when I think of Topic H the least, and most depressed when I dwell on it. And you (and I both) are self-conscious-enough and self-critical-enough and demanding-enough of (y)ourself to know that this only makes one more contemptuous toward (y)ourself. At some point, we always come to realize that we are called to more than that. We always do. As a little boy, my school uniform's badge read "Ad Majorem Natus Sum."

Third, to the extent that Topic H makes itself known to us (and it will, it will) do your best to take some kind of joy in it. This is the hardest thing in the world to do, I admit. And I double-plus-factorial-exponential suck at it. But remember that the most-Catholic symbol is the Crucified Lord, not the highly-effective person using his 7th habit. We *are* called to crucify ourselves also, in a certain sense. Or "die to self" if one prefers. It's one of the ways God calls us to him, and sees us as and makes us more "worthy." If God gave us everything we wanted — and he has cursed both of us with the gift of faith and same-sex attraction — then he'd be nothing more than a cosmic vending machine, with everything costing 0 cents. St. Padre Pio never asked (or maybe he stopped asking, I forget) to be lifted of the stigmata. Sure, this can bleed over into outright masochism, which can lead to unhealthy things, but it need not. Eve Tushnet has written that if she weren't gay, she likely wouldn't be Catholic (she doesn't elaborate on it at that particular post, but as I understand her, she's saying that her attractions made the Church's accounts of the Fall and of Beauty the easiest things in the world to assent to). Dreadnought writes about the homosexual as a sign of contradiction -- and there is no greater contradiction, a defiance of conventional categories of ordinary thought, than the Cross, a god offering himself up to a mocked criminal's death.

As I said, I wrote the outline of this at Adoration. While there, I also thumbed through the bookcase at the St. Agnes adoration chapel and came across St. Thomas Kempis's Imitation of Christ, and there were some things in it I found potentially valuable, in re the last point. I'm sure there's little you haven't heard, but Truth can't be said too often.

Bk. 3, Chapter 18 (in the voice of Christ):
Son, I came down from heaven for your salvation and took upon Myself your miseries, not out of necessity but moved thereto by charity, that you (my disciple) might learn patience and might bear without repining the sufferings of this life. From the hour of My incarnation to My expiring on the cross, I was never without suffering. I underwent great want of temporal things. I frequently heard many complaints against Me. I meekly bore with confusions and reproaches. For My blessings I received ingratitude, for My miracles, blasphemies, and for My heavenly doctrine, scorn.

Bk. 3, Chapter 19 (in the voice of Christ):
He is not truly a patient man who will suffer no more than he thinks good and from whom it pleases him ... But however much and however often any adversity happens to him from anything created, he takes it all with equality of mind, as from the hand of God, with thanksgiving and esteems it a great gain. For nothing, however little, that is suffered for God's sake can pass without merit in the sight of God. ...
(in the responding voice of the disciple)
You know that I can bear but little and that I am quickly cast down by a small adversity. Let all exercises of tribulation become amiable and agreeable to me for the sake of Your name.

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