Longing for Purpose | Joyful Hope
We’re looking at our Eden Invitation’s core values through a particular paradigm: our core values meets a base longing and generates a mission call. This piece is about our third value: joyful hope. For people with LGBTQ experiences, the longing to give ourselves away can be a lot to navigate. This value is indispensable to carry with us as we step into the longing. It also generates a missional call to “empower for creative discipleship”—both to feel ourselves empowered and to do the same for others.
THE LONGING & ITS ACHE
“Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity! What profit have we from all the toil which we toil at under the sun? All things are wearisome, too wearisome for words…nothing is new under the sun!” | Ecclesiastes 1: 2-3, 8, 9
I want my life to mean something. Don’t you? We don’t want to get by. We ache for purpose, for something bigger than ourselves. Sometimes we even want to surrender to these causes, these people, forever. Even commitment-phobes can be intrigued by permanence and finality.
In some ways, it’s harder to feel the taste of attainment with this one. In the longing to know myself, I can feel temporarily satisfied when I receive an affirmation, read an article that resonates with my life, or finally decide on my Hogwarts house (forever a Gryffinclaw). In the longing to love and be loved, my desires can be met in relationship, though those too have their ebbs and flows. This longing for purpose though…how can I taste it?
Maybe you’ve picked up on the script popular in American Catholicism. How many people at your Catholic young adult group thought finding their “state of life” would be the real start of their life?Maybe you skimmed the vocations websites and saw the nice, neat “gift of self” options: husbands and wives, priests and religious. Maybe you thought, “Well..sh*t.”
Because for LGBTQ disciples, things get a little complicated. Catholicism, with its sacramental emphasis, pays special attention to the material world. For human beings, this means our embodiment. Our bodily reality as male and female is essential to our concept of sacramental marriage, with consummation of the conjugal act with proper sex organs being essential to a valid marriage. Priesthood is restricted to biological males, and religious orders—male or female—are similarly subdivided on the basis of biological sex. Intersex conditions or gender discordance are “special cases,” figured out individually by the religious superior or a canon law tribunal.
Seminary admission varies depending on the degree and duration of same sex attraction, which may be interpreted differently from diocese to diocese or between religious orders. For women discerning religious life, orders differ in their approaches towards applicants. Many bisexual people do get married, but it takes some courageous vulnerability in the dating process before you get there.
Who, after all, discerns being single? And where is the primer to get you started? I did a little experiment. I searched the store of three Catholic publishers for “marriage” and “single life” (I also tried "single" and "lay celibacy"). On one website, “marriage” got 89 hits. “Single life” got 55, but I couldn’t find a book actually on the singe life. The list did include a “Hacksaw Ridge” DVD, a book on Louis and Zelie Martin (marriage again!), and a Bing Crosby Christmas CD. Another publisher gave 72 hits for marriage products, and three-quarters of the first page on "single life" were actually about discerning marriage as a single person. The rest were random topics that got caught in the dragnet. The final publisher gave 62 formative products for “marriage” and 0 for single life. 0 for lay celibacy. “Priesthood” had 52, 12, and 2 results, respectively. “Religious life” seemed to confuse the search, but several vocation books did double-duty. Resources on single lay celibacy are few and far between, though people find themselves there for all sorts of circumstantial reasons (irregardless of sexuality).
Sigh. I long for mission and purpose, and I’m afraid of missing what matters. Am I just sort of…stuck in this “no man’s land” of single misery, or an unreconciled self? Will I achieve fulfillment in life? Will I become who I’m meant to be? Will my life mean something?
This sounds like, potentially, the voice of discouragement and despair. But it is a longing. If you remember back to the first blog, Eden Invitation encourages you to “step into the longing,” even to raise a glass in toast of it. Again, why would we celebrate a perceived lack? Because we have hope. Hope not so much in an earthly resolution the way we’d like it. Scripture has plenty to say on the discrepancy between our thoughts and ways, and the ways of the Lord (c.f. Isaiah 55:8-9). Hope tells us our longings point to something powerful, real, and more than we could possibly imagine in this life. In his chapter on “Hope” in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes:
Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world …There was something we grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality … If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probably 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 never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others do the same.
THE VALUE | JOYFUL HOPE
Joyful Hope is the only Eden Invitation value that’s a theological virtue; the virtue “by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength” (CCC 1817). Hope springs from our encounter with God—“God who has loved us and who continues to love us ‘to the end’” (Spe Salvi 27).
It’s an aspirational longing for heaven, yes! Hope also guides us in the here and now. It “inspires [our] activities . . . it keeps [us] from discouragement; it sustains [us] during times of abandonment” (CCC 1818). “Hope is bold; it can look beyond personal convenience, the petty securities and compensations which limit our horizon, and it can open us up to grand ideals that make life more beautiful and worthwhile” (Fratelli Tuti 55). Joyful Hope, then, is invitational to those around us. “‘’We cannot help but speak of what we have seen and heard’ .and . . . invite people of every era into the joy of [our] communion with Christ.” (CCC 425).
Hope does include living through suffering. But the joy of it, the humor of it, the celebration we can encounter, all of these things are possible because God is working all for our good. Someday we’ll see that. “We firmly believe that God is the master of the world and of its history. But the ways of his providence are often unknown to us. Only at the end, when our partial knowledge ceases, when we see God ‘face to face,’ will we fully know the ways by which—even through the dramas of evil and sin—God has guided his creation to that definitive sabbath rest for which He created heaven and earth.” (CCC 314).
POSTURE 1 | I TRUST IN GOD'S PROVIDENTIAL CARE FOR MY PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE
Welcome to the both/and/and! It takes a lot of courage—and hope!—to say, “God, You are here the whole time.” Saying that God’s care is “providential” is to say that it’s part of God’s mysterious will for your life. Theologians distinguish between God’s active and passive will. For our practical lives, it still boils down to this—God allows the circumstances of our lives for a reason, even the difficult, traumatic, or sinful parts. “[God] permits it, however, because he respects the freedom of his creatures and, mysteriously, knows how to derive good from it.” (CCC 311).
It can be so easy to wrestle with despair, despondency, discouragement—all the D’s, apparently. It takes prayer (and maybe some therapy) to trust that God cared for every part of your past. It takes prayer and the encouragement of friends to see God’s care in the challenges of the present moment. It takes prayer and surrender to believe that God will take care of you in the future.
Sometimes past, present, and future blur together as our lives, and our mistakes, repeat themselves. I don’t know about you, but most hard things seem to come around again, one way or another. When I think about this, I think of the poetic work of Charles Peguy, The Portal of the Mystery of Hope. In it, he depicts the virtue of hope as a small child. On life’s journey, hope doesn’t have the same respectable step of the “adults,” faith and charity. Hope bounds forward and back again, eager simply to be moving in the moment. Here’s how Peguy puts it:
She [hope] makes us start the same thing over twenty times. She makes us return twenty times to the same place, which is generally a place of disappointment (earthly disappointment)…In God’s sight nothing repeats itself. Those twenty times she made us take the same trip to get to the same point of futility. From the human perspective it’s the same point, the same trip, the same twenty times. But that’s the deception…All these days count. Because on earth we erase our own tracks twenty times and we tread twenty paths on top of each other. But in heaven, they don’t fall on top of each other. They are placed end-to-end. And they make a bridge that brings us to the other side. A single one would be too short. A single path. But twenty end-to-end are long enough.
With joyful hope, I trust that God is holding every step of my life. He held the journey I took to get here, He’s with me in the present moment, and He gazes with loving delight on the steps to come.
POSTURE 2 | I CELEBRATE THE HOLY SPIRIT'S CREATIVITY IN MY CHARISMS AND CALLINGS
Trust can generate gratitude about the particularities of your life. For many LGBTQ persons, pairing life in the Church with “celebration” doesn’t come naturally. Yet that’s exactly what Joyful Hope does. When I have joyful hope, I can believe that I have something to offer the world. Whether you’re biologically male or female, that could mean a tenacious strength, a sensitivity to beauty, a competitive hunger, a heart for nurture. It could be a sense of humor, a sharp mind, artistic talent, technical aptitude. The point is, your Beloved Unrepeatability [link to blog] means that the Holy Spirit is alive, active, and creative in your life. The baptized have received unique charisms, that is, gifts of the Holy Spirit. Take time to get to know yourself and your gifts. This process starts to give you an inkling of your personal calling.
Personal vocation matters. Discerning your particular, personal calling in the world matters. And it should be celebrated! We have plenty of examples of creative vocational journeys in the Catholic Church. Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, the popular mountain climber with a heart for the poor, died young as a single lay person. Ditto for Bl. Carlos Acutis and Bl. Chiara Badano (though they were more into computer programming and tennis, respectively). But it’s not just about dying young! Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement, was a single mom at the time. St. Catherine of Siena, a mystic and political mediator in medieval Italy, was a third order lay Dominican. St. Joan of Arc was warrior woman. Ven. Matt Talbott lived as a simple construction worker. Gerard Manley Hopkins was a poet, and Flannery O’Connor a short story writer.
Maybe your process of “state of life” calling will look a little different from people around you. From time to time, you may feel the need to mourn what the secular LGBTQ space offers. We’re invited both to accept moral boundaries—that famous tree that’s off limits—and celebrate the Spirit calling us out into God’s fabulously diverse garden.
POSTURE 3 | I STEP INTO SELF-GIFT FOR MY COMMUNITY, THE CHURCH, AND THE WORLD
There’s a lot of talk right now in the Church about “pastoral care” and “policies” around LGBTQ people and their questions. These are important—how ought human beings be received, encouraged, and discipled? We all need care from someone at every point in our lives! I think, though, if we have Joyful Hope, we also have the courage to act.
“Man cannot find himself except through sincere gift of self,” we ‘re told. (c.f. Gaudium et Spes 24). Every person is called to give what they have—themselves—to others. This will look different based on your individuality! Share your gardening expertise with the local community food center. Help your friend move. Chair a committee at your parish. Be generous with your nieces and nephews. Be trained for a crisis hotline. Never show up empty-handed to a party. Vote.
And don’t be afraid to let a little glitter sparkle. We don’t step into self-gift despite our LGTBQ experiences. The truth is, atypical experiences of sexuality, gender, and embodiment shape our stories. When we live through them well, LGBTQ experiences can become cause for growing in wisdom, strength, and empathy. You, my dear sibling in Christ, are invited to a sincere gift of self. You’re invited to cultivate the Kingdom of God in the here and now.
THE MISSION MOVEMENT | EMPOWER FOR CREATIVE DISCIPLESHIP
When I start to live joyfully from my gifts, a light goes out to those around me. When I start to have hope that God’s love is always present to me, I can believe more deeply in His care for others. I’m called not just to be a disciple myself, but to empower those around me for that same graced adventure. I’m called to witness to an alternate set of values, one that prioritizes surrender, self-acceptance, and resting in the arms of God. I’m called to give a reason for my hope to anyone who asks. And maybe, just maybe, we can expand the horizons of possibility for LGBTQ disciples in the Church and world today.