Quare fremuerunt gentes

St. Francis de Sales is growing on me. I was reading a bit of his Introduction to the Devout Life today, and was struck by his discussion about abasement, which is, “that littleness, meanness, and imperfection which is in us”, and how humility enables us “not only to know and acknowledge [our abasement], but to take pleasure and delight therein.” Going on:

The better to explain this duty to which I exhort you, I would have you remark that of the ills under which we labor, some are abject and others honorable; now, many are ready to endure these last, but few willingly submit to the former. For instance, take a devout hermit, whose garments are tattered and himself cold and needy; everyone honors him whilst they pity his sufferings; but if a poor mechanic, a needy gentleman endures the same, he is despised and ridiculed, and so his poverty becomes abject.”

Hence why I think it is salutary for me that I am celibate because I am attracted to other dudes, rather than celibate because I am a priest or a religious. The prestige of the latter source of celibacy would likely just go to my head; the former sort makes me take myself a tad bit less seriously.

The biggest argument against the existence of Father Josh is that I am a vainglorious, conceited man. Like Pinkie Pie, I have at times struggled to have a sense of self-worth that doesn’t depend on attention or adoration from others. Often, the motivation behind attempts at self-betterment is a bit suspect. Bad marks have in the past inspired me to try harder, not because they were moments of correction, but because they hurt my pride and got me into an, “I’ll show you!” attitude. I can be elitist and snobby, even in my religion. It is easy for me to feel superior to my fellow humans for a variety of stupid reasons. Give me a white collar and God knows what sort of condescension you would see.

In short, there is a side of my personality that corresponds rather nicely to the portrait of Pharisaism found in the NT. That is why I find it very providential that I wound up gay. That has played a substantial role in preventing me from mutating into a complete jerkass. If I were, counterfactually, a Catholic who was straight, I can guess it would probably be easy for me to sneer at gays as a bunch of weirdos who just can’t get with the program.

But I know, I know first hand why so many can’t get with it. I am in the “eww, gross” category for a lot of people. And that knowledge has, I think, softened me up when it comes to others who may seem so recalcitrant and irrational to me. At least with this One Thing I get to be the Woman Caught in the Act of Adultery, or the Woman At the Well, or the Tax Collector.

I am also happy that I am of Jewish descent, and have a Jewish-sounding last name. God chose Israel not because they were great, but because of how small and despised they were, so that his glory might shine more brightly through them. And they have indeed remained small and despised. The amount of persistent irrational hatred that has been directed towards the Jews – even by those who have benefited the most from them – is mysterious, and frightening. It is always unsettling to contemplate how in one fell swoop so many of my ancestors were wiped out. And that the, “no Jews or dogs” signs date back only a couple of generations ago. It is disconcerting to find swastikas scrawled in bathroom stalls, and to be reminded just how much hate must rest in peoples’ hearts.

C.S. Lewis noted, in his book on the Psalms, that the vision of judgment we find in them is often rather different from the Christian one. The Christian thinks of judgment in terms of being the defendant in a criminal case, but the psalmist tends to take the position of a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit. “Judge me, O God, and defend my cause against a godless nation,” Psalm 42 begins, “From iniquitous and deceitful men save me!”* This attitude, and the sometimes vicious rhetoric that accompanies it, makes sense as the cry of an oppressed people.

So I find myself with the marks of two groups which, while tending to be genuinely in the wrong on certain key issues, have historically been treated (and in many places currently are treated) unjustly. Even by those in the Church. I just happened to be born in a time and place where it doesn’t matter too much. I got lucky. It could have been worse.

The same also applies to my Catholicism, but there is a difference in that I am a Catholic and fully identify with what that stands for. It is harder to identify with the persecution of a group you don’t see eye-to-eye with. And so being lumped in with two of them probably makes me more human.

*Incidentally, this psalm is the prayer that immediately follows the Sign of the Cross at the beginning of the Tridentine Mass.

About Josh W

Scribbler and doodler
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