Sunday, May 6, 2012

A gay saint? Why not?

Over on Patheos, The Blogger Who Must Not Be Named has written a thoughtful, thorough and not-too-incendiary piece about Perry Lorenzo, the late director of education for the Seattle Opera, a gay man of his acquaintance whom he admired and respected as a fellow Catholic.  Indeed, the title is, “A Gay Man I Consider a Saint”.

After you read that, take up Pat Archbold’s defense of the Blogger, who made it quite clear that he didn’t know whether Lorenzo was continent and didn’t really care either: “Not my business. That’s between him and God.” Saith Patrick:

Some of the negative reactions to Mark’s piece bug me. Some people pointed out that the man in question lived with another man. How could Mark point out the holiness of a man who may have [] been actively gay? Scandal! I think some of this reaction is profoundly unfair. Why is it that we treat same sex attraction so much differently than other struggles? Sin is sin.
Would Mark have received the same reaction if he had written the same words about a man who did amazing things for and because of his faith but who also struggled with alcoholism? No, people would try to assume the best, praise what he did well, and hope that he died in friendship with the Lord. They wouldn’t be filling up comboxes with reported bar sightings as everyone would find that extremely rude. But somehow if someone struggles with same-sex attraction it is ok to be rude?

The timing of these posts is excellent, because my last post ended on a more strident, pugnacious note than I would have otherwise preferred.  Because I want to make it clear that Jesus’ love does embrace homosexuals … just not the way Andrew Sullivan would prefer.

Clear your mind and allow the proposition “Gay sex is a sin” to go unchallenged for the sake of this post. I don’t ask you to believe it; rather, I ask you to suspend disbelief for a few minutes. No dueling scientists, if you please; no long disquisitions on historical mistreatment and marginalization; no long ruminations over to what extent homosexuality is “natural” (and what “natural” really means). “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22): there’s an end on’t.

Gay sex is a sin. So, not so incidentally, are adultery and fornication. So is lying. So is getting drunk (by extension, getting high on drugs would also be sinful). So is not returning the extra $10 bill the cashier accidentally gave you. So is shredding the speed limit in your brand new, supercharged Dodge Challenger (here the moral principle is the obedience due lawful authority even when authority insists on being a buzz-kill).

My point, of course, is that we all sin in ways both large and small, that in many cases the act is so routine that we’ve ceased to think of it as a real sin … more a hypothetical wrong not sinful enough for God to roll his eyes at, let alone cause for damnation. (And yet there obtains a Guppy Law[*] for venial sin: most people make their way to Hell by small steps unconsidered, not by great, deliberate hops and jumps.)

Frankly, it’s useless and irrelevant to say that a person who struggles with a particular sin — be it lust, or (in my case) gluttony, or sloth, or what-have-you — is not a promising candidate for sainthood. Very few people in the history of the Church had an easy road to sainthood. It’s mildly interesting to know that St. Brigid was almost compulsively generous as a child, and that St. Philip Neri was known as “Pippo buono” (“good little Phil”) as a boy because he did almost nothing wrong. But more often, for people like Ss. Ignatius Loyola and Camillus de Lellis, goodness doesn’t come easily, to say nothing of sanctity. Because generosity, humility, patience and other virtues aren’t as natural to them as breathing, these saints’ struggle to incorporate them into their own lives is far more inspiring.

There’s a reason Jesus taught us not to judge the souls of others (Matthew 7:1-5): we just don’t know how free a particular person is to not commit his besetting sin. Only God knows the extent to which the individual’s free will is crippled; by the same token, only God knows how hard the individual has worked to overcome his obstacles. We can say that gays have a tougher road to sanctity than do straight people. However, there are a lot of straight people who, supposedly given an easier path to sainthood, nevertheless choose not to pick up their crosses, who prefer not even to offer the prayer of the young heretic Augustine of Hippo: “O Lord, grant me chastity and continence — but not yet.”[1]

Whether sainthood comes harder for the same sex attracted or not, the fact remains that sanctification for them is still possible through faith in Christ and commitment to living out the Gospel. Were we not in the middle of a multifaceted struggle for the soul of the West, there never should have been any doubt that the SSA-afflicted are as welcome in the Church as are all other sinners.

It remains for us who are not SSA-afflicted to remember that we too are sinners, each in our idiosyncratic way, and that we can’t slam the gates of Heaven shut on them without the likelihood of being locked outside ourselves. All sinners are called to repentance as an implicit precondition of forgiveness, and to forgive others that we may be forgiven ourselves (Mt 6:14-15).

Was Perry Lorenzo a saint?  Only God knows the full truth of that. But those who knew him best say he was a very good man indeed. Let’s not do him the injustice of wishing him in Hell merely for the sake of the culture wars.

Postscript: Same day

Lisa Graas of Catholic Bandita and Stuart at eChurch Blog took some exception with the title.  “There is no ‘gay saint’ because there is no disorder in heaven. There is also no bipolar saint [Lisa is bipolar]. There is no disorder in heaven and people need to know that.”

Quod scripsi, scripsi.  I appreciate the need for accurate, precise terms.  I also appreciate the fact that common idiom has its uses as well.  Since this post is patently about this life, not the next, and about the challenges people face here, then it’s appropriate to speak of a “gay saint” in order to encapsulate the idea that same-sex attraction — like bipolar disorder — is a challenge to sanctity but not necessarily an absolute bar.  And I’m morally certain that most of the people who will read this post will not construe it to mean that dysfunctions persist in Heaven.

[*] “Enough guppies can eat a treasury.”  First articulated by Fred Reed in WaPo in 1978, the “Guppy Law” holds that monstrous government budgets are made up mostly of small expenditures which, if cut from the budget, would only save the individual taxpayer a tiny fraction of his tax dollar.

[1] Confessions 8:7:17.