Are LGBTQ Disciples Miserable? | The Paschal Mystery
I was asked to give a talk on the Church’s teaching on sexuality, and whether or not that equated “misery” for same sex attracted persons. It’s a delicate subject, really. The definition of “misery” is pretty rough. It doesn’t sound like a place I’d consistently like to be!
“a state or feeling of great distress or discomfort of mind/body”
“a circumstance, thing, or place that causes suffering"
“unhappy, wretched, pitiable, in distress”
Yet for a long time in Catholic spaces, we’ve used words like “struggle” with same sex attraction or even the “cross” of same sex attraction. I don’t know about you, but struggles cause me discomfort. The cross involved suffering. All of us, as a result of the Fall, experience “disorder” within ourselves. These are emotions, thoughts, feelings that, if we follow through on them, aren’t going to perfectly conform us to Christ. All of us experience a disconnect between our longings and the plan God was “pleased to decree in Christ," as the Divine Office puts it. This disconnect generates suffering, and that suffering can be further exacerbated by our fallen world.
Fortunately, we follow a God who is merciful. Mercy, in Latin, is misericordia. You could translate it as “heart for those in misery.” Pain is valid. Suffering in a fallen world is real. But we aren’t meant to stay there. Whatever language other people use for my experience of same sex desires, I’m not called to endlessly circle Calvary, with no end in sight. God doesn’t invite me to a spent, sad, pitiable life. He invites to life, and life to the full. I propose that we situate LGBTQ experiences within the context of the entire Paschal Mystery.
The Second Edition Catechism glossary defines the Paschal Mystery as “Christ’s work of redemption accomplished principally by his Passion, death, Resurrection, and glorious Ascension, whereby ‘dying he destroyed our death, rising he restored our life.’” We have these four parts - passion, death, resurrection, ascension. For each one I’ll give a little overview, and a few principles for how we can integrate that with the experience of same sex desires and gender discordance in the world today.
ENDURING THE PASSION
We talk about this on Good Friday, using the term “the Passion” of Christ. By that we mean His carrying the cross and suffering. Over the year, people have suffered—and still do!—in a variety of ways related to LGBTQ experiences. It could be family rejection, peer bullying, and social or professional discrimination. Heated and divided political rhetoric is easy to take personally. Confusion within the Church or poor pastoral care from parish employees, program, volunteers, priests, or religious hurts not just the individual, but often their relationship with God.
For those of us who choose discipleship, there’s still suffering! Disconnect with one’s biological sex doesn’t disappear upon saying “yes Lord, I will follow You.” We live in the midst of a culture that emphasizes leaning into your inner life, irregardless of the body you’ve received. We live in a Church still figuring out how to help with that. We live in the midst of a culture—and sometimes a Church!—that elevates romance to sky-high levels. When you’ve found the “perfect match,” you’ve arrived at the pinnacle of life. We need to recognize that, in a world elevating romance and offering a multiplicity of choices everywhere, reconciling LGBTQ experiences with faith is not easy.
To feel deprived of the ability to express the gender I deeply resonate with, to feel deprived of a committed sexual partner can fit the description of misery. The ache for authenticity and intimacy was placed there by God. For me personally, when the ache for mutual vulnerability and self-gift is directed towards another, particular woman, that can hurt. It can hurt to keep choosing a God I don’t see over a woman I do see.
I’m reminded of a quote by C.S. Lewis from Mere Christianity: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world […] I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death […] I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.” The call here is to press onward with Christ through the ache. The ways and means of that are multifaceted, and outside the scope of this blog (but here at Eden Invitation we’d love to talk more).
If this isn’t your experience, pray for empathy! In Jesus’ passion, He’s comforted by His mother and Veronica. Simon of Cyrene shares His uphill burden. Pray for the grace to journey with your loved ones.
DEATH (OR, PERHAPS, SURRENDER OF LIFE)
In the next moment of the Paschal Mystery, Christ’s passion reaches a pinnacle. His death isn’t a tragedy, but a conscious, intentional surrender to the will of the Father. This is what I, too, need to do with my “lesser loves,” those desires in my heart for something other than God. It’s what any Christian disciple is asked to do with them! To surrender them into His hands. To say, “God, I give this to You. I offer my affections, my hopes, my desires, my pain, to You.”
We don’t do this in isolation. I remember a prayer time I had once, right out of a college. I sat in front of a crucifix and I asked, “How long, Lord?” When am I going to "stop" being attracted to women? How long will I ache like this? I felt God say, “I am long enough.” His love goes the distance. As we say in the Mass, Christ's arms are “stretched out between heaven and earth.” There is no ache I will experience that Christ Himself does not bear with me. No road I can walk that Christ isn’t coming to meet me.
And it’s not just a surrender of this one part of my life. It’s giving God everything, and allowing Him to speak my identity over me in the process. I am His unique, unrepeatable child. It’s lifting the cup of my life—as a cup is lifted to Christ on the cross—and drinking it down to the dregs. What is in the cup of my life? My strengths and weaknesses, my successes and failures. My family dynamics and the genetics and held memories of our ancestors. My unique interests, hobbies, and personality quirks.
What about the parts of my life associated with sexuality and gender? These could be the desires or discordance itself. It could also be one of numerous traits that stereotypically clusters around LGBTQ people. These aren’t universal, but they can be difficult to process or accept due to prevailing gender norms.
Artistic, gentle-hearted men, do not be ashamed of your kinship to Christ, who is “meek and humble of heart” (c.f. Matthew 11:29). Do not be ashamed of your kinship to God as Creator, painter of sunsets and hewer of mountains. Women, don’t be ashamed of your flannels and quirky literary interests and the ways you loved to run with the boys. So you want to stay warm and and active and read good books! Who cares? Live into that! Do not be ashamed of loving fiercely, of wanting to show up for people, like Mary does at the foot of the cross. The stereotypes of this world will pass away. Diverse expressions of personality and preference don’t define your feminine or masculine genius (or mean you lack it). Surrender yourself, as you are, in the present moment. Be open to the new life God calls you to as you.
There is a resurrection! Christ’s laying down of His life brings something new, both for Him—His resurrected body is glorified in a new way—and for the rest of us! The resurrection is a communal event. The day before, Christ descends to the dead and frees the righteous to join Him in heaven. For the days after, He keeps appearing to His friends and companions. Jesus lives in relationship. He comes back for us.
We live the resurrection together. I remember going on a retreat in college, where we needed to write down one thing we were ashamed of. They’d be read anonymously and then burned. Want know what I wrote? “I want to be loved too badly.” That’s what I was ashamed of! I was ashamed of my desire to be loved.
Here’s the thing. Not only am I adopted as a child of God in my baptism, but I’m made in His image and likeness. And guess what? God is a communion of persons. I’m made to image God as love. We can’t run from our desire for companionship. We’re not supposed to stuff down and armor our desire for love. I am invited, however, to broaden my love. This means seeking to grow system of support, like friends, mentors, and mentees. It means nurturing relationships within my extended family, places of services, my parish and neighborhood, even groups of like-minded hobbyists! These are beautiful, legitimate, wildly important forms of love that we can encourage and affirm in one another.
These friendships—especially with those particularly vulnerable to isolation and shame, like people experiencing same sex desires or gender discordance—need to involve consistently showing up. This means a continued “bearing with” the other. It means regular invitations to share life together outside of the occasional coffee catch up. Even for those who are married, you know quite well that your spouse doesn’t ultimately satisfy your need for relationship. Nor should they! That’s a lot of pressure for one person. Irregardless of sexual orientation, I’m not going to be a good “significant other” if I can’t be a good friend.
Redemption is messy business. Even the resurrected Christ bore wounds. How often do I try to do redemption on my own, or achieve perfection on my own? Jesus resurrection reminds me that He does the work, and He isn’t ashamed to do it in a way that looks messy, even scandalous to the eyes of the Jewish people. God will work, even in my failings, if I keep coming back to Him, in ways I never anticipated. We all have our “Doubting Thomas” days. Let's be present for one another in the midst of it all.
THE ASCENSION INTO HEAVEN
How’s this for a divine plan…the Paschal Mystery doesn’t close out until Jesus leaves again! The Paschal Mystery isn’t completed until we’re commissioned to make disciples of all nations. Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit, which we know to be that divine bond of unity among the baptized. It’s also a source of radical empowerment in the life of grace.
There’s still work to do. In the secular space, LGBTQ concerns have become justice issues. There are ways that these pushes in the political or social sphere’s don’t line up perfectly with Christian ethics. Yet we’d be remiss to reject the concepts of “justice” and “advocacy” outright. Justice is a cardinal virtue! It’s giving to another their due.
The desire for justice—for rightly ordered actions in society—is a good desire. Wanting to actively contribute to justice-oriented causes is an action of self-gift. It means identifying the gaps in goodness. Where is someone struggling on the margins? Who is particularly vulnerable? Then we find ways to insure those persons have access to the goods due to all. I’m concerned about this particularly in a faith-based setting. Can someone experiencing same sex desires or gender discordance be safely vulnerable in your small group? Do we quietly reject job or missionary applicants who experience these things? Do we see the gifts and talents offered by all, or do we relegate some simply in the “pastoral care” category with little to offer? Do we see LGBTQ persons as problems to be solved or as people to be loved?
I am part of the work of the Kingdom of God. You are part of the work of the Kingdom of God. We all need to be part of something bigger than ourselves. “Man…cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself” (Gaudium et Spes 24). Whatever the cause or calling, we are all invited to creative discipleship. We are all invited to self-gift in spiritual maternity or paternity. These modes of love and service are critically important to a life of joyful hope.
A few disclaimers:
This is not attended to be a comprehensive piece on the practicals of living the principles described here - keep following us for more of that! This is just a "quick" blog. Additionally the author does not personally experience gender discordance, and realizes this impacts her ability to write well about it.