Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Scrupulosity or a legitimate concern?

I'm "out" to a certain portion of the world. I see no general point in keeping secret, among those one already knows well, the reason I have reached the age of 40 without marrying, and why I never mention "my girlfriend," in either the present or past tenses. And there's all my Courage brothers and those priests of the Arlington and Washington Dioceses lucky(?) enough to have heard my confessions or to have chaplained one of our meetings.

I see no reason not to joke about my SSA, if the audience is right. When I spoke to the pastor at my parish about joining, he said "we impose a time wait so that people can't simply register merely for the sake of getting married." I responded: "well, that won't be a concern you'll have with me." He laughed.

But sometimes I hold back, primarily because it's sometimes difficult to tell in advance the spirit in which a joke about sexuality will be taken, particularly when one's own is suspect. Earlier today I saw a news item about a PETA listing of the sexiest vegetarians (whatthe...???). Exactly the kind of "dumb fun" item that people pass around. I was going to send the link to a priest I know, who is the only vegetarian I know, with a short note to the effect of "you need to start campaigning earlier and harder, Father."

But I decided against it because ... well ... I'm not really sure (this is one of the few posts I've ever "thought out loud" about). It's not because I harbor sinful feelings about him; priests and my Courage brothers are desexualized in my eyes, in all but the most abstractly-intellectual sense. Nor because I think he'll wrongly take it as a declaration of interest, and in the worst case go all Jenny Jones on me. And in general, he has a good sense of humor. And this is not the first time I've held back on making a joke based on the potential for SSA-related misunderstanding.

I guess I'm holding to the standard of all the SSA-related jokes I want about myself (see here) and celebrities, but none at all about others. I can't also deny that I have been made hypersensitive by all the shit that good priests have had to take since The Situation went nuclear (see the anecdote recounted here by Father Brian Stanley; scroll down to 552pm or do a wordsearch for "Stanley" or "molest"). As I say ... I'm not really sure if I'm being excessively scrupulous (bad) or preferring to err on the side of discretion (good).


Anonymous said...

Go with your gut. If you are not 150% sure, then don't send it especially since the internet is soooo not private and there are people out there who take everything the wrong way.

Mephibosheth said...

Perhaps neither? Maybe just a prompting of the Holy Spirit you were obedient to?

Off-topic, but I'm intensely curious. You talked about priests (those just in your orbit or all of them?) and your Courage brothers being "desexualized" to you--is that a grace you've always been given, or was it something you "processed" through? If so, how?

You don't have to approve this comment if you don't want, and you're welcome to e-mail me privately if that's better.

CourageMan said...


The "desexualized" thing refers to all priests, and from as far back as I can remember. There probably is an element of simple taboo that cannot be breached by the abstract intellectual knowledge that they actually do have their equipment (plus reading the newspapers). I just always took it for granted that priests were eunuchs for the kingdom. I would no more think sexually about a priest than I would my mom or a farm animal or an apple pie. (Deliberately picking examples of things that also can be sexual.) I think that's why the depths and details of The Situation were so shocking and the sea change so important. People just didn't see priests in such a light; now too many can't see them in any other.

With my Courage brothers, it's sort of the same thing, though obviously recently-learned. We know each other in a specific way, both the general "churchy" context and the specifically "non-gay" detail. The friendship is clearly defined as not merely non-sexual from the get-go, but premised on its non-sexuality, so it doesn't become an issue even when we meet outside the specific meeting times, say. (I'm big on social roles as functional; just call me Talcott Parsons.)

There's an element in both also of simple ettiquette -- not crapping where you eat, as they say. Which is kind of the point of one of the Five Goals -- that chaste friendships are not only possible but necessary in chaste Christian lives. Friendship gives one a stake in chastity, so I can freely hug my Courage brothers and see them non-sexually because I don't want to mess this up. The one time I made a pass at one of my brothers (he was embracing me after saving me from a bad situation, and I grabbed his butt), it was not really a serious attempt to get him into bed, but much more a depressive attempt to get him to reject me as being the unworthy wretch I felt (he didn't take the bait). "I know you didn't really want to have sex with [So-and-So]," our chaplain told me when I next saw him and told him what happened.

The experience of non-sexual same-sex love is valuable as "training," i.e., as a counter to old habits, to see the alternative, that things needn't be this way. When I gave my confessor my Father's Day gift I alluded to below, I told him that I loved him, and then later that this was something I could not have said to a man outside the bedroom until quite recently.

I know that you've said you don't have a chapter down where you are, Frank. But that's why I think you should treasure your involvement with the secular Franciscan community (I won't pretend to know the details of how community is lived out -- feel free to elaborate.) Specific charisms are specific charisms obviously; I would not suggest that any group is as good as any other. Or that it wouldn't be better if there were a Courage chapter in Tallahassee. But we all need some specific of loving Godly friendship, in the flesh, in our lives. Our souls cannot be empty for long. My confessor once told me that "you try to treat love as a luxury good, and live without it if need be. But love is a human need, and you'll starve without it."

Mephibosheth said...


I understand what you mean about the roles in the Courage group, and the desexualization process. I have tasted that kind of experience, but only rarely. There have been a couple of straight (and therefore “safe” for obvious reasons) men who were godly, compassionate, and trusting enough to put up with all my crap (even the I’m-grabbing-your-butt-so-you-reject-me stuff, which I truly understand). One of those men died two years ago at the age of 39 (12 years out from a heart transplant), so that is a loss I’m still seeking to fill.

A few years ago, for about 2 years, I led a non-denominational men’s SSA support group. The problems in that group, in some ways, contributed to me coming back to the Catholic Church. The men there didn’t have a commitment to chaste friendships, but merely wanted to be rid of their “problem” because it interfered with their marriages (the other 5 regular guys were all married). Unfortunately, over nearly two years, every single one of them was “acting out” (with other men, though not with each other to the best of my knowledge). And there was no common basis for authority; there was a wide range of opinion on the subject of masturbation, for instance. So it was kind of doomed from the start. I ended up leaving them, though I understand they are still meeting together. I hope they’re a support for each other in some way.

And then a year ago, I came back to the Church. This separated me, in everyday practical terms, from a lot of my Protestant friends, and one rather close friend completely dropped me after I returned to the “whore of Babylon”. And so I’ve started rebuilding in my huge parish. We are woefully under-priested in our town. There is one Franciscan friar in residence here, I got to know him and we had a good rapport, but he told me (after I asked) that he didn’t have time for spiritual direction because he was involved in writing (about, as I later learned, a rather cultish private revelation, so perhaps that was a grace not to connect with him).

The Secular Franciscans here, unfortunately, are more of an avenue for spirituality and service, but not really for community. We only have 15 total members, and only 8-10 come to the monthly meetings; several members are elderly and infirm and can’t even make it anymore. We typically don’t see each other the rest of the time; I think about 4 of the members go to my parish, and I only see 2 with any regularity. So ideally, yes, I would tap into that community, but it’s just not there.

My parish’s men’s ministry has been more of an outlet for that sort of thing. We have a Wednesday morning meeting with about 25 guys in attendance. Most of those men meet in accountability groups of 3 or 4 guys during the week. My 3 accountability partners have been awesome. They know about my SSA, of course, and I have found them to be very “real” in dealing with their own issues, including the standard male battles of lust, porn, and masturbation.

Believe me, I know about the need for love. I’m still trying to process a half-hour spiritual direction session I had with a priest when I visited the Trappist monastery outside Atlanta in February. His two basic points to me were “you need love…you have a hard life, Frank.” I’m not starting a pity party or anything, just saying that the absence of connection in my life is not for lack of knowledge.

Hey, I wish I knew a priest well enough to joke that he was a hot vegan. You know what I mean.

Jeron said...

Hey guys, what you say about needing love is so very true. I think there's an unspoken feeling among some Courage folks that you have to be stoic and do without love, which is false. Part of that white-knuckle chastity thing, perhaps? One of our other members & I were discussing outside the group about our need for touch ... just caring touch. Hugs. A rub on the back. Human contact. It's very important to give and receive that kind of contact without sexualizing it, and chaste friendships are vital. Our Courage group is not that social outside of regular meetings, however.