It always comes back to that Richard Sipe study for me, the one where the (recently deceased) ex-priest surveyed the sexual lives of American clergy. He found that the vast majority of priests weren’t so great at the celibacy thing. He found this in a world where clericalism was in full swing, where Catholics looked up to and admired their priests simply for being priests, and assumed they were all good at it. This wasn’t actually the case.
But some did live full lives in accordance with their vows, and even happily. According to Sipe, the ones who had achieved a “mature adjustment to celibacy” all had four things in common:
- A well-structured prayer life
- A commitment to service;
- Productive work; and
- A strong sense of community.
I think about these things as a gay Catholic blogger, where the temptation is to present to the public a prayer-tastic life; where piety can be something to sprinkle over my verbal world as a kind of generic (even if heartfelt) whitewash; where bible verses can be a sort of substitute, rather than foundation, for personal relationships; and where I might more regularly use the names of theologians than the names of friends and neighbors.
Pretty Christian bloggers with tidy Christian theology are compelling, because we exist within idyllic internet worlds, paradises that many want so badly as a substitute for their own messy lives. When we’re feeling unhappy with our own lives, we can read the pretty things that someone has to say about Catholicism online.
This has a double effect for the reader: it lets him escape his real life to enter into that blog life, but it also makes him more unhappy about his real life. Blog world presents a perfection that he can’t relate to, because it requires the messiness of his life to be absent, or for him to be indifferent towards it. And so he needs a sort of dissociation from his real life to live within that world, and the distance between his actual life and this ideal blog-life increases and increases, until he has a breakdown because the thread between his life and his aspirations has stretched too far.
This media comparison can be toxic and despair-inducing. And it’s not real.
So now, when I look for gay Christian role models, I don’t look for clean words on a pretty website. I look for four things: a well-structured prayer life, a commitment to service, productive work, and a strong sense of community. If I don’t see those four things, in very concrete ways, the cynical side of me asserts itself, whatever that person’s theology may be. And then I close the computer and work on seeking those things in my life.
I don’t want to claim that I have these things all figured out in my own life, because I don’t. But even if I did, in a way it wouldn’t matter for you. Because you aren’t called to have these four things in the way that I do. That’s the thing about vocations. They’re all unique. You won’t find yours on my blog. You’ll find it in the space you occupy as soon as you step away from the screen.
Chris Damian is a writer, attorney, and business professional living in the Twin Cities. He received his B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and his J.D. and M.A. in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas. He is the author of “I Desired You: Intellectual Journals on Faith and (Homo)sexuality” (volumes I and II). He is also the co-founder of YArespond, a group of Catholic young adults seeking informed and holistic responses to the clergy abuse crisis. In his free time, he enjoys hosting dinner parties and creative writing workshops.