Contemplatives in Action

Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deacon Doug McManaman

This gospel reading on Martha and Mary has often been misinterpreted over the centuries and has given rise to a kind of dualism, a false dichotomy between the active life on the one hand, and the contemplative life on the other (Martha representing the active life, Mary the contemplative life), as if the two are mutually exclusive. But of course, the two are not mutually exclusive. Even someone like St. Theresa of Avila, who founded 17 religious houses in her efforts to reform the Carmelite order in the 16th century, was a contemplative in action. Mother Teresa also referred to herself and her sisters as contemplatives in action. A contemplative life without action would soon dry up and become lifeless, but an active life without contemplation is without ultimate purpose and quickly becomes neurotic and fanatical. 

All work, all labor, is to be ordered towards the contemplation of God, and of course, our entire life is really a preparation for the eternal contemplation of God with the entire communion of saints. That is the basic message of the 6-day work week which we inherited from the Jews, from the first story of creation in the book of Genesis. The creation allegory depicts God creating in 6 days and resting on the 7th. So, God is both active–He is always creating–, and He is contemplative; He beholds the goodness of what He creates. What is interesting about this story is that after all His work was done, “God saw all that he had made and indeed, it was very good”. That’s what an artist does when he finishes his work; he stands back and takes it all in, contemplating it. If he’s a good artist, he is pleased with it. The sabbath, in other words, is primarily a day of contemplation, which is the highest kind of activity. But, in that same chapter of Genesis, God also sees what He creates after each day of creation, and after each day, the scriptures indicate that “God saw that it was good”. So, there is a contemplative element weaved throughout the week. 

For the Jews, the work week is an imitation of God, in which we co-create, we share in God’s perpetual creation of the world, but it also includes a contemplative element every day. After each day, we are called to reflect upon the goodness of the day, to reflect upon the hand of God present in our daily life, how God has manifested himself during the course of the day. In the end, at the end of our lives, we enter into his rest, symbolized by the 7th day, to delight in his supreme goodness forever. 

The more we love something, the more we think about it. Those people who are “in love” usually can’t think of anything other than the one they’re in love with. They see the beloved’s face everywhere. And of course, the purpose of this life is to grow in the love of God, to prepare for an eternal life of contemplation of God, to behold His face forever. God loves each one of us as if there is only one of us–as if we are the only person who exists, and we have his undivided attention at every instant of the day. The purpose of our life here is to come to know that love, to experience it. If we really knew it, not much in life would trouble us, and we’d be thinking of God all the time. And just as the one who is “in love” sees the beloved’s face everywhere, so too, we’d see the Lord everywhere, in all things and in all situations. And then life becomes more and more ecstatic, like the experience of being in love. When God looked upon all He had made and saw that it was very good, He saw Himself in His creation. Creation is good and beautiful because God is the Supremely Good and Beautiful. A work of art always reflects the personality and character of the artist, and the cosmos is one large and continuous hymn to God–that is actually one of the titles of a great book by Jesuit priest and scientist, Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Hymn of the Universe¾there’s nothing like scientists who have a deeply religious and contemplative spirit; for they see parables everywhere in creation. Teilhard writes: “Blessed be you, universal matter, immeasurable time, boundless ether, triple abyss of stars and atoms and generations: you who by overflowing and dissolving our narrow standards of measurement reveal to us the dimensions of God.” 

But of course, not everyone is a scientist. Mother Teresa certainly was not, but she was a contemplative in action, and she could see the Lord in the concrete situations that she found herself in, which enriched so much of her writings. She saw the Lord in the faces of the poor and she saw the Lord in the faces of her Hindu and Muslim brothers and sisters in India. Wherever we are called to be, the Lord is there, and if we are reflective enough, we will begin to see Him there. 

Our own unique active life, whatever that is, provides us with unique experiences, and when we reflect deeply upon those experiences, we begin to know God from a unique angle. At that point, we have something unique to offer the Church, because our experience is unique. And so the active life with its rich and diverse experiences provides material for the contemplative life, and the contemplative life in turn enriches the active life. 

But as we get older, we begin to feel the body slowing down. Old age is supposed to be more and more contemplative, more and more reflective. One could say that after retirement, life becomes less active, and as our age increases, our life becomes increasingly less active, but this may not be entirely true. The activity we are called to in our old age is of a different sort. When my daughter was a little girl, after the 5 o’clock Mass, she’d always go out for coffee with “the ladies”. These were seniors of the parish whom she really liked and clicked with. Some have died, and the rest are shut-ins who can’t get to Mass–although Mass can come to them. But I recently told one of the ladies just how significant that friendship and those moments at Tim Hortons were for my daughter and her growth as a person. She didn’t really know what I was talking about; she didn’t see that just her presence, her being there, was a great work of mercy. But it was.

Also, as we get even older, we may get to the point where we can barely take care of ourselves anymore. In this case, we are still called to serve others actively by allowing others to take care of us. That’s how we are of service to others at the end of our lives. 

And so our life in the Person of Christ is both active and contemplative at the same time. A contemplative habit allows us to discern what activities really amount to nothing in the end¾and there are many¾, and which ones are significant and have eternal value. And a genuinely active life provides us with the experience that allows us to continually grow in the knowledge and understanding of God, who is always infinitely more than what we currently understand Him to be. 

Proclaiming the Kingdom

Homily for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deacon Doug McManaman

            What today’s gospel reading reveals is that we are a missionary Church. The word missionary, like the word “mass”, comes from the Latin word “missa”, which means sent (mitto: I send). At the end of Mass, the deacon says:  “Go forth…” We come here to worship, to praise God, to listen to His word addressed to us, and to consume his body and blood, but there is a purpose to all of this, and that is “to be sent out into the world”, to walk in the power of the cross, and to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, that the kingdom is at hand, that is, within reach. 

            But what does it mean to be sent out into the world to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is at hand? The way some people behave, it would appear they take it to mean being “preachy” and having all the answers to all religious questions; they are audacious, which to others usually comes across as obnoxious and pushy. Of course, that’s not what it means to proclaim the kingdom. The key to this question is in the Second Reading. Paul says: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision, but only a new creation.”

            It’s this last line: “but only a new creation” that I would like to focus on. In baptism, we have become a “new creation”; we entered into his death, symbolized by immersion into the waters of baptism, and we rose from that tomb with the life of grace infused into our souls, symbolized by the lifting up out of the water. Everyone who is baptized is a different person leaving the Church than when he or she first arrived at the Church. He or she is a new creation, an adopted son or daughter of God, deified, filled with the life of divine grace. This is significant, for we are not born in a state of grace; we are born in need of a savior. In baptism, we become Christ, so to speak; for we are anointed with sacred chrism, and the Greek word for “anointed one” is Christos. We become “little Christs”. That is why St. Paul says: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”.  

            Immediately after baptism, we enjoy a baptismal innocence; we are completely and utterly innocent, free of sin. But we still carry the wounds of Original Sin, so it does not take long to tarnish that innocence–if it is adult baptisms that we are talking about. And our battle, for the rest of our lives, is to overcome the effects of Original Sin, in particular concupiscence (our tendency to sin and self-seeking). And we do that, of course, by allowing ourselves to become Christ more fully. As John the Baptist says: “He must increase, I must decrease”. It’s about becoming Christ increasingly, daily¾not about becoming a preachy and obnoxious religious bugaboo. It’s about carrying in our bodies the death of Christ so that the life of Christ may be made manifest to others (2 Cor 4, 10). 

            What this means is that to the degree we achieve this, those who come in contact with us will come in contact with Christ, without their knowing it. If the atheist, or the Muslim, or the Sikh knows you, and loves what he sees in you, then he loves Christ without necessarily knowing it explicitly. If he is influenced by your charity and humility and even begins to emulate you, then he is following Christ without necessarily knowing it explicitly; and such people will find themselves with the sheep on the right side of Christ on the day of judgment, asking the Lord: When did we see you hungry, naked, thirsty, etc. 

            The kingdom of God is the redemptive presence of God in the world, through the power of the reconciling Spirit. Christ himself said the kingdom of God is within you (Lk 17, 21). That divine presence is within us, especially after receiving him in holy communion. 

            We have tremendous power when we are transformed into Christ. The spirit is far more powerful than matter, far more powerful than sounds and sights. When I was in the hospital back in 2003 to have a cancer tumor removed, lying in bed like a fileted fish, I noticed that I had an increased intuitive sense. When a nurse walked into the room, I knew immediately what kind of person she was, whether she cared, didn’t care, whether she was smart or incompetent, kind or indifferent, etc. It was a very interesting experience. When people are in a weakened and vulnerable state, something in them compensates, like we see with those who are blind; their sense of touch and hearing compensates and becomes far more acute. Something similar happens on the level of spirit. Some people know almost immediately what kind of person you are; they know it through their spirit, because your spirit radiates who and what you are, and they have the capacity to pick up on it. So, the more you and I die to ourselves and allow Christ to increase within us, by growing in charity and humility, by growing in faith, hope, and a very devoted prayer life, the more we influence others quietly but effectively. That’s what it means to proclaim the coming of the kingdom, and that’s how we move this world forward towards the fullness of the kingdom. In doing so, we are curing the sick and driving out demons. So much of human illness is psychosomatic. It begins in the soul and manifests in the body. But if the sick–and this includes the emotionally sick, those who are not well psychologically, as well as physically–, are in your presence and you have become Christ to a significant degree, you will bring healing to their souls, their emotional lives, and that can heal the body as well. And if you are full of light, you will drive out the darkness, because light chases the darkness, not the other way around. And so those who live in darkness, whose lives are entangled in the diabolical, will feel the difference in your presence, and they will either reject you in favor of darkness, or they will begin to escape the clutches of the evil that oppresses them. You become an exorcist without even knowing it. 

            You have that power. Christ said it in this gospel: Behold, I have given you the power to ‘tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you.” The disciples he sent out discovered they had that power. However, they began to delight in it: “The seventy-two returned rejoicing, and said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” That delight can be dangerous, which is why Jesus said: “…do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

            This is the reason why for the most part we are unaware of the good we accomplish in this life as a result of our insertion in the person of Christ. If we knew, we’d likely take pleasure in it, and then we would stop decreasing, and if we stop decreasing, he no longer increases in us. And so we have to trust in the power of the cross. Our task is to reform ourselves first and foremost, to work for the increase of the kingdom of God within our own selves; if we do that, the Lord will provide everything else.

I have come not to abolish the law and the prophets

Deacon Doug McManaman

The ethics of redemption is very different from the ethics of law, but the one does not cancel out the other. The ethics of redemption of course refers to the ethics of the New Law, which is written on the heart. It is an interior law, because in the New Covenant we have become a New Creation; human nature has been transformed. Divine grace is a sharing in the divine life, and it transforms everything we are and everything we do. Divine grace makes it possible for us to rise above our own inclination to sin and actually fulfill the demands of the law. 

What makes New Age religion so popular today and within the past 40 years is that it promises “salvation” or happiness (fulfillment) without moral reform, that is, without the moral law. It is religion without moral reform, religion without personal conversion and sacrifice. And in fact many of our protestant brethren have begun to drift into that mindset–a 90 year old Baptist woman I recently visited in hospital was complaining about just that: make no moral demands on the congregation, don’t talk about morality, the moral life, especially on a personal level; the idea is that if you are going to talk about a moral issue, make sure it is one that everyone can agree on, and that usually involves issues that are rather obvious, like racism, unjust oppression, or poverty. 

The problem is that these evils begin on the level of the human person, and so if individual human persons are not challenged and called to personal moral reform, as we see in the Commandments, then we are going to continue to see racism, unjust oppression and poverty, because evil does not begin nor exist on the level of the system, it begins and exists on the level of individual human persons. 

The Commandments go even further. You’ll notice that the first three have to do with God, the last seven have to do with our neighbour. What this implies is that if we do not fulfill the first three commandments (You shall have no other gods besides the Lord your God; Do not take the Lord’s name in vain; Keep holy the Sabbath), we won’t be able to fulfill the last seven having to do with our neighbour (Honour your mother and father; You shall not kill; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal, bear false witness and envy). We’ll end up violating those if we deem it necessary for our own personal happiness, because we’ve essentially made ourselves the center of our own lives, not God. 

So New Age religion is really a false promise, and it’s a false promise that makes money every ten years or so–makes money for publishers, that is, which is why every 5 or 10 years we see a new one on the bestseller list. It’s sort of like new diets that promise that we’ll lose weight without having to give up the foods we like. Take it from someone who has a lot of extra pounds on him to lose: they don’t work. There’s only one way to lose weight: stop eating so much and exercise; it’s the same with the spiritual life. The first words out of Jesus’ mouth were “Repent and believe in the gospel”. Confession, Eucharist, prayer, that’s the road to salvation. 

The New Eve

Standing near the Cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

In this gospel reading, the Cross is the New Tree of Life, the New Tree in the center of the universe. Just as the First Eve, standing next to the tree “in the middle of the garden”, reached out her hand and took the fruit from that tree, which was a choice to taste independence from God–the tree representing self-sufficiency–, the Second Eve, who is Mary, standing next to the tree of the cross, through her fiat–let it be done to me according to your word-, surrendered the fruit of her womb and grafted that back onto the New Tree of Life. The First Eve brought death into the world through her own disobedience, infecting every member of the human race, the Second Eve brought life and light into the world through her own obedience and humility, affecting every member of the human race. We live in a different world now, one that has been deified. The Second Person of the Trinity became flesh, his feet touched the earth, he entered the waters of the Jordan, he breathed the same molecules that we breathe in every day, his blood dripped from the wood of the cross onto the ground, he made matter holy by his union with it, and the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, giving birth to the Church, Christ’s Mystical Body. The Kingdom of God is truly within, it is immanent, in the heart of the world, hidden in the heart of each man. And all this began with Mary’s absolute surrender to the will of God: ‘let it be done to me according to your word’. That Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, joined a human nature in her womb. He received his body and blood from her, and so when we receive His body and blood in the Eucharist, she becomes our Mother. We become his body, and his blood runs through our veins, and so she is really and truly our Mother. Hence, she knows us intimately, as a mother would know her own child. She does not suffer the same limitations that she did here on earth, and so she really can know each one of us, and love each one of us, as if we are her only child, because she knows each one of us in the Beatific Vision. She knows us individually, but it is very important that we come to know and experience her gaze upon us, that we become aware of her knowledge of us. And we do that by praying to her and opening ourselves up to her, to her intercession, her guidance, and her concern for us.

Humanity: God’s “Other Self”

Homily for the Solemn Feast of the Ascension

Deacon Doug McManaman

At Christmas, we celebrate the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity: God the Son descends and joins his divinity to our humanity. But today, on this solemn feast of the Ascension, God the Son takes that humanity and ascends to the right hand of the Father. At Christmas, divinity is humanized; today, that divinized humanity is raised and glorified.  

This is interesting because God the Father loves God the Son; the Son is the Father’s “Other Self”. But the Son joined himself to a human nature, and in doing so, he joined himself to every man. If this is the case, then our humanity has become the Father’s “Other Self”. The result is that when the Father looks upon humanity, he sees his Son, His ‘other self’, and when He beholds His Son, he beholds our humanity and every individual who shares in that humanity.  

And so, there is a tremendous dignity in being a human person. But the point I want to emphasize is that there is a real dignity associated with all that belongs essentially to humanity, namely the limitations imposed by matter, and the wounds and scars that our material nature makes us vulnerable to. 

First, the human person is both spirit and matter, and because of the spirit’s union with matter, the human person is profoundly limited: we depend upon the environment, we depend on one another, human intelligence is profoundly limited by matter and sense perception, we learn very slowly throughout our lives, etc., but the problem is we still have an aversion to our limitations. The first sin was fundamentally a rejection of the limitations that constrain us. The first parents of the human race desired to be more than human; they chose to taste independence from God, to be their own God; they rejected their status as “child” of God, dependent upon God. That choice has affected each one of us; for each and every one of us has a propensity to reject the limitations that constrain us, we have an inclination to self-sufficiency, an aversion to that child-like status, which is why Christ said: “Unless you change and become as little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”. In Christ we become that original child. In him we choose to depend upon God. We become entirely his, to be used by him in whatever way he wishes. Christ’s ascension is the glorification of our humanity, and so it is the glorification of those limits. We should not be ashamed of those limitations, but at ease with them. The glory of man is not intelligence–intelligence is the glory of the angels; the glory of man, on the contrary, is humility, the total embracing of our limitations and radical dependency upon God and upon one another. 

The next point I want to make has to do with the wounds of Christ. He still had his wounds when he rose from the dead. He invited Thomas to touch them. But those wounds that he touched were glorified wounds; they were not ugly scars, but they reveal the glory and beauty of his love. They became badges of glory. 

All of us have wounds of one sort or another. Some of those scars are physical, and some are invisible. If we have no physical scars, we all have invisible scars, to some degree or another. We cannot live in this broken world without acquiring these invisible wounds. And some of us have even had to go through life battling mental illness of one kind or another, to one degree or another, and you might carry deep but invisible scars that this illness has left–whether that is clinical depression, or bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, paranoia, etc. What is so remarkable about the ascension is that Christ’s humanity, with all his scars, has been raised and glorified, placed at the right hand of the Father. And so those invisible scars that you might carry will achieve that glorified status, and those scars, even the invisible ones, will become badges of glory that will reveal the depth of the friendship that your illness has helped to establish between you and the suffering Christ. Whatever scars we possess from the battle of earthly life will, in the end, glorify us and reveal who we really are before God. 

A Mountain of Treasure

Homily delivered to the Confirmandi of Blessed Trinity Parish, North York, Ontario. 2022

Deacon Doug McManaman

I just want to say that I really had a great time teaching you all this year. Of course, the two candidates that really stood out were ______ and ______. I do want to say how much I appreciated their thorough participation, raising their hands so often. I do want to extend my congratulations to all the parents for the good work that you have done, but I do have to offer a special congratulations to _______’s parents, because you certainly taught him the faith–I’m assuming it was you. 

But it is always frustrating teaching a course like this because there is just so much more to do, so much more to cover, and there just isn’t the time. We barely scratched the surface, and all we were able to do is open a few doors for you and hope that you’ll walk through those doors into this inexhaustible treasure house that is ours. When I speak about the rich heritage that is ours in the Church, I often think of the movie The Hobbit, the scene where Bilbo finds himself in this massive cave of treasure, walking on a mountain of jewels, gold and silver coins, diamonds, and precious stones, etc.; the camera moves to a panoramic angle, and you see how tiny he is in this massive cave. Of course, there is a huge dragon underneath all that treasure that Bilbo slowly awakens. The scene is spectacular. The Catholic heritage that you were born into is like that cave, but so much more, and our hope is that you explore that limitless cave for the rest of your lives. 

During the Winter and Spring, I teach adults, prospective Catholic teachers, at Niagara University, and the reflections I get from the students very often speak about the regret they feel that they had left the faith in their youth, that they allowed themselves to drift away, and they almost always point out that they had no idea how deep, meaningful, and beautiful the Catholic faith is. They seem to have come to the realization that it is so much larger than they thought, and they do genuinely feel regret for dismissing it. 

Recently I met an elderly woman, close to 90 and who is in a nursing home, who said to me that the greatest blessing that she’s received in her life was the stroke she had that paralyzed her. She said that her biggest regret in life is that she’s spent most of it without thinking about God, without thanking God, living as if God does not exist. She said she had money, her husband had a very good job, she had a very good job, and they would often have dinner parties for their friends. But one day her husband asked her to go downstairs to the cellar and get some more soft drinks to bring up for the guests, and when she opened the fridge, she felt funny, and then fell to the floor. Her husband wondered what was taking her so long, so he sent a guest down to check on her. When he saw her on the floor, he called 911 immediately. She had a stroke. Her life would never be the same again, and lying there in a hospital bed, paralyzed and in despair, she thought to herself: my life is over. But she remembered the Our Father from her youth, and she started to pray that prayer for the first time in decades. She told me she suddenly felt a profound sense of peace come over her. And she just continued to pray that same prayer every day. And of course, all she could do at that point was develop her spiritual life, which she had neglected. And developing a spiritual life is very much like physiotherapy, which can take a long time to restore the strength to the injured part of the body. The spiritual life is like that, but she kept at it, and she is a woman of great faith and charity. Her husband died and now she is in a nursing home, not a very luxurious one I’ll tell you, but she says she’s happy. Joyful. And I see how much she brings to the lonely and suffering residents every day. She is a remarkable woman. But what struck me is that she told me she’s profoundly happy, but at the same time feels regret that most of her life was wasted on the pursuit of wealth and luxury. The stroke was her greatest blessing, because it was as a result of that stroke that she returned to God. 

That’s sort of been the recurring theme in my life this year; I’ve met so many people who have discovered this boundless cave of treasure that they didn’t know was under their very noses, the spiritual, intellectual, philosophical, theological, literary, and artistic heritage of the 2000-year-old Church that Christ established. 

One of these great treasures of the Church is Julian of Norwich, who was a great mystic who lived in the 14th century and died in the early 15th. And she says this about heaven.  She writes: 

Every man’s age will be known in heaven, and he will be rewarded for his voluntary service and for the time that he has served, and especially the age of those who voluntarily and freely offer their youth to God is fittingly rewarded and wonderfully thanked. 

That’s such a great line: “…those who voluntarily and freely offer their youth to God are fittingly rewarded and wonderfully thanked.”  

As you know, most people, the vast majority, do not offer their youth to God, and have not offered their youth to God. Most people usually keep their youth for themselves. Only much later on in life do they come to the realization that the things they’ve been pursuing in life are just empty bubbles with very little substance. So only a small minority offer their youth to God. We really hope that you will offer your youth to God, that you will hang on to the faith in which you have been baptized, that you survive your teenage years with your faith and morals intact.  

It was easy to be a Catholic in the 1950s; everyone agreed with you if you were a Catholic who embraced Catholic principles. The problem is the 50s did not produce many heroes. But today, in 2022, it is not easy to be a Catholic at all. It is very difficult. If you don’t know that now through experience, you will when you enter university, because virtually everyone disagrees with you if you are a serious Catholic who lives and breathes the faith. And so, unlike the 50s, the early 21st century will produce many heroes, because if you do survive the next 10 years of your life with your faith intact, you are a hero. This is the age of Christian heroes. You’ll be up against some serious opposition: ridicule, cancel culture, and you’ll be made to feel like a hateful bigot for the views you hold. But if you survive those years with your faith intact, you will be especially rewarded in heaven and wonderfully thanked by God, as Julian of Norwich says.  

In my 35 years of teaching, I will say this: the happiest students that I have every year are those who practice their faith, who live and breathe the faith, who study it, and who develop a strong spiritual life. These are the ones who exhibit the greatest mental and emotional health, who radiate a real spirit of joy and who have the strength to endure the sufferings and difficulties that life brings to each one of us. 

So, I beg you to continue to pray, to grow in a love for the Eucharist, to take advantage of the sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) by going regularly, at least once a month, but more than that if you can, to develop a real devotion to Our blessed Mother, to pray the rosary. Stay close to God and give Him permission to do with you what He wants to do with you. If you give God permission to take over your life, to use you, to do with as He pleases, you are going to live a life that will be profoundly rich in meaning. 

A Critical Commentary on an Unfortunate Article

On April 11, 2022, Catholic World Report published an article entitled “The queer perspective and flawed anthropology of Eve Tushnet”, written by someone with the pseudonym of David Laidlaw. I was very disappointed that they would publish such an article, for it was probably the worst article I have ever read on CWR. I admire Eve Tushnet tremendously and I think her two books, Gay and Catholic and Tenderness are very important today, especially for Catholics who have same-sex attraction and want to be faithful to Catholic teaching. I wrote the following initially as a response to a friend of mine who was impressed with his article and sent it to me to read, and I posted this at the urging of another friend who shares my disappointment with Laidlaw’s article. What follows are my responses to the various points he makes in his article. DL of course refers to David Laidlaw, while DD refers to myself as Deacon Doug.

DL: In Tushnet’s eyes, the Church has not been a loving Mother to those she calls “gay Christians,” but rather a “mistress who holds us in contempt and punishes us mercilessly, arbitrarily, and forbids us even to speak what we’ve experienced at her hands.” She wrote her book, she says, with the goal of “alleviating suffering caused by injustice or silence and showing” to her readers “the beauty of the life Christ offers”; she wants to help them to “rejoice that [God] knows [them] as [they] truly are.”

DD: And who can doubt it? The Church has not led the way, but has allowed the culture to lead the way out of the “closet of shame”, and only then has the Church qualified the thinking that has come out of that lead. Cardinal Ratzinger’s wise pastoral counsel with respect to the care of persons with a homosexual orientation did not come out of a vacuum, but out of a need to address pastoral issues in this area. The reason is that people, Catholics included, have a difficult time distinguishing between reverence for persons with same sex orientation and an attitude of permissiveness with respect to homosexual actions. They either condemn the person along with the action, or they accept the person along with the action. The latter describes the culture, the former describes the approach that many Catholics/Christians have adopted in the past.

DL: As a repentant man who lived for a time under the deception that I was a “gay child of God,” I find Tushnet’s views mystifying and her harsh words about the Church unfounded.

DD: I don’t.

DL: No doubt there have been some in the Church, who have, in the name of the Church, engaged in what the Catechism would call “unjust discrimination” towards people confused about their sexual identity.

DD: My only question at this point is “What then are you arguing about?” She’s right. 

DL: Yet as an institution, both in her teachings and in her ministry towards men and women who identify as LGBTQ, the Church is not the cruel mistress Tushnet depicts.

DD: Firstly, this, I believe, is a dubious distinction. The institution is made up of members. What’s the institution without the members? If the members are blind, uncaring, and harsh, then the institution is blind, uncaring, and harsh. As for the Church’s teachings and her ministry towards men and women who identify as LGBTQ, Eve embraces that teaching, lives it, and is herself an example of that ministry towards men and women who identify as LGBTQ. 

DL: Tushnet claims each example she gives of suffering represent “thousands and thousands” of people, who she says have had their “lives distorted by shame and despair” and “false conceptions of God” at the hands of the Church.

DD: That’s not a lot of people, considering the world’s population. So to me it does not sound like she’s exaggerating. 

DL: And yet Tushnet gives no objective evidence to justify her claims; her examples are all anecdotal.

DD: Does David Laidlaw have anything other than anecdotals? Did he expect a rigorous, double blinded peer reviewed statistical analysis? It is unlikely that her experiences as a gay Catholic as well as with those with whom she is in contact, given the fact that she is gay and Catholic, are unrepresentative. When we read about spiritual direction from people like Jean Pierre de Caussade or Dom Hubert Van Zeller or St. John of the Cross, all of their examples are purely anecdotal.

DL: Many of her stories are sensationalist. For example, Tushnet speaks of children who were beat up by their father after coming out. I don’t doubt that this happened to someone Tushnet knows, but arguing that this has happened to “thousands and thousands” is irresponsible and an exercise in catastrophism.

DD: I don’t recall her ever saying that thousands and thousands were beaten up by their fathers after coming out, nor am I able to find such a notion after a thorough search of her book. She does mention that there are “thousands upon thousands” like the young woman she spoke with from Texas who, after Massachusetts legalized gay marriage, informed her that “every single day–literally—her classmates said that gay people were going to hell.” Eve writes: “She was able, in spite of the counter witness by the Christians all around her, to see the pattern in the Bible of God’s protection and love of oppressed people. She began to see the Bible as a text of liberation, one meant for her even though she wasn’t straight. I don’t know how she was able to see through the lies of Christian homophobia. Was it strength of will or mental toughness? Was it the grace of God? Whatever it was, she kept going to church, she survived to adulthood, she came out of the closet, and that’s how I met her. But there were thousands upon thousands like her whom I will never meet because they dropped out of church–or out of life.” She does indeed speak of thousands upon thousands of lives distorted by shame and despair, by false conceptions of God, and finally, “thousands upon thousands of churches where the best that gay people can hope for it total silence about our futures”. 

DL: I have been involved for decades in ministries for people who left the gay lifestyle, and I have never met anyone who was beat up by their father for coming out—though I’ve met men who were beat up by their fathers for other things; being beat up by deadbeat fathers is certainly not limited to children who come out. Nor can this be blamed on the Church.

DD: No one is suggesting that beating is limited to those who come out, but the fact that David Laidlaw has never met anyone who was so threatened for coming out does not mean that no one was actually threatened or beaten by their fathers for coming out. And she certainly does not assert that thousands were threatened by their fathers or actually beaten up for being gay. What we read is an item in the first chapter entitled “The Gay Christian Drinking Game”, which she describes as “an exercise in gallows humor” consisting of a series of stories or things that happened to gay Christians she knows, people who accepted their church’s sexual ethic and sought to be obedient to it. Take a drink if “your dad threatened to beat you up for being gay. Or really did it.” It seems to me that David Laidlaw is a reader with an agenda.

DL: Sadly, included in Tushnet’s list of sufferings visited upon “gay Christians” are many things which helped people like me leave the gay lifestyle behind. For example, Tushnet considers it a form of suffering when priests in the confessional say, “You’re not gay. You’re a beloved child of God.” 

DD: Which is certainly well-meaning, but rather silly: “No, Father, I’m gay and a beloved child of God”.

DL: In Tushnet’s eyes, this message is “that those two are opposite things.” For those who have fully converted to Catholicism and accepted all of the demands of chastity,

DD: As Eve Tushnet has done, which is why David Laidlaw should not be writing this article that unjustly trashes a book that is doing a tremendous amount of good. “Do not check your own players into the boards nor slash them with your stick nor trip them up on the ice” is pretty good advice, probably too basic for the average hockey player. The few who are too dense to understand these suggestions and who continue to slash their own teammates should be benched until they come to their senses. 

DL: …which include both sexual abstinence outside of marriage as well as accepting what the Church teaches us about our sexual identity, those in the Church who told us our identity was as a beloved son or daughter of God helped us to follow the words of St. Paul who urges all of us to be transformed through the renewal of our minds by putting off the old man, which for us necessarily includes rejecting the world’s understanding of sexual identities.

DD: I don’t quite know what he means here. If someone is gay, they’re gay. Indeed, they are “priest, prophet and king” by virtue of their baptism, but they are still gay; baptism does not change that. I am heterosexual male; that is an identity. That does not exhaust who I am, but “who I am” also includes the fact that I am a Catholic Deacon–that’s an identity–, and I am Canadian, which is also an identity. 

DL: Additionally, Tushnet unfortunately holds scornful views of the ministries and books which helped us to find healing for the wounds which led to our homosexual desires, such as the books of Leanne Payne.

DD: She does no such thing. If the books of Leanne Payne helped David Laidlaw, then that’s wonderful, but she does not directly address the books or methods of Leanne Payne.

DL: The majority of the suffering described in the pages of Tushnet’s book could only be considered a form of suffering if the Church’s anthropology was somehow flawed.

DD: This sounds philosophically profound, but I suspect it is mere pretension; for I have yet to see how Laidlaw’s article points to anything that has to do with “anthropology”, let alone a flawed one.

DL: Page after page of the “suffering” outlined by Tushnet is the result of her not believing or accepting what the Church teaches her and other “gay Christians” regarding their sexual identity.

DD: Perhaps I have missed something, but Eve Tushnet does believe and accept Church teaching regarding sexual ethics and our identity in Christ. So I have no idea what Laidlaw is talking about here.

DL: Thus it is self-inflicted.

DD: I can get up and preach a sermon on homosexuality, pontificate on the Church’s teaching about how marriage is only between a man and a woman, that any sex outside of that is mortally sinful, and that sodomy is a perversion that merits damnation, and refer to homosexuals as sodomites (as one Canadian Catholic editor I know often did–which is why a lawsuit was launched against his magazine, a lawsuit that appeared to a number of us as justified), and in doing so I can hurt a lot of Catholics who have a homosexual orientation and who are trying to find their way in the Church. Can I just dismiss that suffering as “self-inflicted”? 

DL: The story of the Rich Young Ruler is helpful here. Though he went away sad upon hearing the Lord tell him that he needed to sell all he had and give the money to the poor, the sorrow he felt as a result was not the fault of Christ. So too with most of the complaints Tushnet levels against the Church.

DD: I’ll remember to use this comparison any time my words cause offence–I’ll be able to say anything in whatever way I want to say it.

DL: As a loving Mother, the Church says people such as Eve and I should be treated with “sensitivity, compassion, and respect.” Where legitimate forms of “unjust discrimination” or suffering have taken place at the hands of people in the Church, the Church must repent, and in Tushnet’s long list of grievances, there are, to be fair to her book, some examples of this sort of suffering.

DD: Just some, however!  Not many. One or two perhaps?   

DL: Most, however are examples of what the late Alice von Hildebrand would call “illegitimate suffering”, which she defines as “sufferings which are consequences of our false and sinful attitudes. God does not give his grace for such self-inflicted sufferings–this is why they are unbearable.”

DD: My question is: “How would David Laidlaw know that, unless he knows each of the persons who have suffered?” How does he know their situation? How does he know that the source of the suffering is not the pastoral incompetence of a priest, an Evangelical minister, or the cruelty and ignorance of one’s religious classmates?

DL: No wonder Tushnet and other “gay Catholics” see the Church as a cruel mistress. By choosing to embrace the false sexual identities of the world, they shut themselves off from the grace of God in that area of their life.

DD: It is astounding to me that Laidlaw could suggest that Eve Tushnet has shut herself off from the grace of God. I am beginning to believe that he did not actually read her book in its entirety. 

DL: Thus, they feel unbearably aggrieved when the Church doesn’t agree with them.

DD: But no, Eve Tushnet agrees with the Church and she even urged me to emphasize “trusting the Church” in a talk I prepared for Niagara University students. She did not think I needed to spend so much time with philosophical arguments about sexual ethics, because most people find them difficult to follow, so her point was to exhort the students to “trust the Church”.  

DL: This seems to explain the disdain Tushnet has for the bishops’ teachings regarding homosexuality.

DD: But she does not disdain the teaching on homosexuality. That is why I like her so much–she is gay, but lives according to that teaching. The only thing she seems to disdain in the Church are pastorally incompetent clergy who have as much tact and common sense as your average door nob. 

DL: In her first book, she wrote of being “furious with bishops who say dumb things about gay people,” describing how their statements on homosexuality “asymptotically approach…understanding at the speed of a dying snail.”

DD: One of the best lines in the book. 

DL: In her new book, she says part of her goal is to “revive gay people’s trust in God—a trust our shepherds have too often damaged or even killed, but which our tender and good Shepherd can restore to life.”

DD: A case in point re: understanding that moves as slow as a dying snail: that God “cannot bless sin” (March, 2021). Although this is true, it was probably not the most pastorally prudent thing to say at this time, for gay Catholics who are faithful to Church teaching on sexuality and marriage know that God cannot and does not bless sin. However, a little more effort is all it would have taken to think of a more creative and more thoughtful response that might appeal to those who have same sex attraction and are looking to the Church for something they can’t quite put their finger on, something along the lines of celibate covenant friendship perhaps.

DL: Unfortunately, “gay Christians” like Tushnet have always seemed like lost sheep to me, who, once found, tell the shepherd who finds them that they really aren’t lost, since they think they know better than the shepherd where and how they will flourish.

DD: This is horribly unjust. It is just wrong. 

DL: Tushnet’s disdainful view of the bishops is not surprising,

DD: She doesn’t have a disdainful view of bishops, anymore than Catholic traditionalists have a disdainful view of popes–given their past criticisms and doubts about some of the things Pope Francis has said.

DL: …when you consider this stunning statement in Tenderness:

I enjoy being gay. I love the communities my experience has given me; I love spending time with other gay people, especially other gay Christians. I love the insights this marginal, outsider experience offers—the queer perspective on contemporary American and Christian life. I love noticing and attending to the beauty of women. The world is full of beautiful ladies! What a joy. What a gift to notice it.

DD: Why, I have to wonder, is that stunning? I too love noticing and attending to the beauty of women. That is not necessarily lust. The world is full of beautiful women, and it is a gift to notice and appreciate them. She is a lesbian woman who practices sexual renunciation, so when she says she loves being gay, she does not mean that she loves engaging in same sex sexual acts, nor fantasizing about them. Rather, she loves who she is. If Christ can, why can’t she?

DL: This is dumbfounding to me and to every other man or woman I know who has repented from their past life lived as gay men and women.

DD: What I find particularly dumbfounding is Laidlaw’s tendency to confuse “looking at a person lustfully” with “noticing and appreciating the beauty of a woman”. We repent of actions; a person does not repent of an orientation that they did not choose. Snails pace once again, it seems.

DL: We are under no illusions that “being gay” is in anyway good, as the 1986 Letter on the Pastoral Care of the Homosexual Person makes clear when it speaks against those who give homosexuality “an overly benign interpretation,” or who view the homosexual condition as “neutral, or even good.” Tushnet told her readers in her first book that the 1986 Letter sadly isn’t “a jewel in the Church’s crown,” and said of the words quoted above that they are “especially unilluminating.” This is no surprise, coming from someone who claims to enjoy being gay so much.

DD: The text that Laidlaw refers to is the following:

“In the discussion which followed the publication of the Declaration, however, an overly benign interpretation was given to the homosexual condition itself, some going so far as to call it neutral, or even good. Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.

Therefore special concern and pastoral attention should be directed toward those who have this condition, lest they be led to believe that the living out of this orientation in homosexual activity is a morally acceptable option. It is not.”

Although the use of the word “disorder” is unfortunate–for most people associate “disorder” with “personality disorder” and other terms from abnormal psychology–, the very fact that Eve Tushnet exhorts people to chastity clearly shows that she does not believe that the homosexual orientation is an orientation to a moral good. But she enjoys being who she is, which includes being a baptized member of Christ, as well as being gay, which permits a greater empathy for gay Catholics and a greater ability to offer them good counsel. She does not surrender to the temptation to enter into gay sexual activity, but she does enjoy being who she is and the opportunities and avenues that her orientation has opened up for her. 

DL: For those of us who have repented of our “love of being gay,” 

DD: David Laidlaw, it seems to me, is sneaky and devious. He did not repent of his love of being gay, unless “love of being gay” included love of same sex sexual acts and the gay lifestyle. For Eve Tushnet, “love of being gay” does not include love of same sex sexual acts. He should know that if he read her book.

DL: …we believe that the reason those words of liberating truth are unilluminating to Tushnet is because she appears blinded by her affection and attachment to the land of Sodom.

DD: It is nothing less than astounding to me that he would say such a thing. The arrogance of his rhetoric is jaw dropping. I don’t believe he would have said such a thing without a pseudonym to hide behind. 

DL: She is stuck, like Lot’s wife, looking back with fondness at that sterile and unfruitful land, not realizing that it is nothing but the valley of the shadow of death.

DD: Further evidence of foolishness disguised as orthodoxy. 

DL: And yet from this stuck place, Tushnet, both in this book and in her first book (as well as at her blog and in other writings), sees herself as having a more global vision than the Church for what “gay people” really need from the Church.

She sees her experience as pioneering, exceptional, and unique, frequently saying of herself that when she entered the Church, “I didn’t know any other gay people who were willing to accept the Church’s sexual ethic. I didn’t even know of anybody like that.” (This is hard to take seriously, since the Courage Apostolate would have been on her radar with a quick Google search.) From that point on, her life seems to have been consumed with trying to fit her love of being gay within the Church—and believing that her time outside the Church as a lesbian helps her point the way forward for the Church.

From this position as a self-appointed expert on what she calls on her blog, “Gay Catholic What Not,” she frequently makes magisterial statements, such as in this book, when she states, “it’s typically easier for a gay person who grows up outside the Church to know God’s love than for a gay person who had a Catholic upbringing,” and contends that “[t]he children of the Church, who should be the most confident in God’s love, the ones who know best what God is like, are instead the ones who grow up uncertain of God’s love and afraid that there’s no place for them in the Church.”

DD: Unfortunately, what she says here is true and continues to be so.

DL: One wonders on what basis she makes these rather broad claims,

DD: Experience. Listening to gay people who are Catholic as well as those who are not Catholic. 

DL: …but I think it stems from her choosing to still remain “on the margins” of her chosen queer life, instead of fully entering into the beauty of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality and chastity. If she doesn’t see the Church as honoring the ways she wants to live out her “lesbianism,” 

DD: The Church does not have any teaching on how one should live out one’s lesbianism. It’s not that rich in detail. For the most part, it outlines what not to do, but it is rather silent on what gay Catholics can do, other than what every other Catholic is doing. That’s why people like Eve Tushnet are so important.

DL: …then she’ll naturally see the Church as a hindrance to anyone else who grows up in the Church with homosexual desires. This, I think explains the following question she poses, which I found sad and absurd:

What if gay people were safer in our churches than in the secular world? What if we could find more ways to give and receive love within the Church than we do outside it? If this seems impossible, it only shows how far we have strayed from the path the Lord has called us to walk.

DD: Who can disagree with that?

DL: Tushnet, alas, due to her own professed love of “being gay” is blind to the truth that those she calls “gay people” are already safer in the Church than they are in the secular world.

DD: On one level, they are safer, but many of them might not necessarily “feel” that. They have to “feel safe”, and Church documents tend not to have the capacity to generate feelings of safety. That comes from people. And if they don’t “feel safe”, they won’t believe that they are safe, and they’ll leave.

DL: Those of us who have shed the false identity of being LGBTQ have found what she seems to be so desperately looking for: there are indeed more ways to give and receive love within the Church than exist outside of it.

The problem for Tushnet is that she wants to express her love as some holy form of “lesbian” love within the Church, whereas converts, such as myself, have learned that anything that is “LGBTQ love” is always a perverted and distorted form of love.

DD: What’s LGBTQ love? Eve Tushnet talks about Christ’s love, not LGBTQ love. She knows she’s gay, that hasn’t changed, she understands that she is attracted to women, not men, and she chooses not to act upon that, but she allows that orientation to permit her to see the beauty of woman among other things, just as I, a married heterosexual male, allow my orientation to permit me to see the beauty of women, while renouncing any inclination to actually have sex with them. 

DL: That Tushnet isn’t able to see what we’ve found just shows how far she has strayed from the path the Lord has called her to walk. She needs to leave the halfway house she’s constructed of the Church on the outskirts of Sodom and Gomorrah, slough off the old man, and rejoice that God knows her as she truly is: a woman, whose sexual identity is created for motherhood, not lesbianism.

DD: I believe she knows her biological identity as a woman, capable of conceiving a child, thus capable of being a mother. But is Laidlaw suggesting that conversion to Christ automatically brings with it a conversion of one’s orientation?

DL: If Eve Tushnet doesn’t see God’s tenderness in that noble calling, then she cannot, I believe, possibly be relied upon to reveal God’s tenderness to anyone else.

DD: She has never said anything against the noble calling of motherhood. Of course she sees it. She counsels young pregnant women at a crisis pregnancy centre not to abort their babies, but to keep them and embrace the noble call of motherhood. 

It is just not the case that if an article is conservative and Catholic, then it must be a good article and worthy of publication. Unfortunately, some editors believe so, which is why many bad but conservative articles are published by otherwise half decent journals. Moreover, I can’t help thinking that to write an article of this nature behind a pseudonym is cowardly.