“Why do you write for them?” he asked. “Why do you need to explain yourself to Catholics? You don’t owe them an explanation.”
He was right, I realized. I thought back to a conversation I had had with a close Catholic friend who was struggling to relate to my life as a gay man.
“I’m sorry,” the friend had said. “This has all been really hard for me. I’ve spent the last few weeks racking my brain trying to figure this all out. I don’t know how to resolve these things.”
It was a tense time in my life, and also in our relationship. I wanted to scream back at him spitefully. I wanted to yell. I felt within me something coming up, something deep inside that I have had to bear for many years.
But I didn’t yell. If you yell, then you’re emotional, you’re not rational, you’re letting your feelings get the best of you. I shut those things down, just as I have so many other things in of the course of my life. I said calmly, “Well now you know how I’ve felt my whole life. And it’s hard, to be honest, to feel compassion for what you’re experiencing because what you’re feeling now is what I’ve had to go through every day.” It seems to me a luxury that he was experiencing this for the first time, and largely vicariously.
He had gone to me for an answer, or perhaps for permission. Should he back away from me and my life? He wanted permission to stop showing up at the events of my life, about which he now had moral confusion. Things like celebrations of my relationship, dinners with my partner’s parents, the coming commitment ceremony.
But I would not give it to him. I would not tell him what to do, or tell him that what I thought he was doing was ok, that I thought it was right and just. I would not lie to him, and I would not give him permission to hurt me. If he decided to hurt me it would be his decision, not mine. I would not walk away. I would not back down. I held out my hand with the invitation, and I would not retract it to make him more comfortable, so that he could sidestep the issue that is my life.
This goes against my every impulse, against my tendency to parent my friends. I want to fix this for them, remove their confusions, and allow them to hurt me with as little cost to themselves as possible. But this approach would be as dishonest as the implicit request placed before me.
For years I tried to educate, to put out material that would help him and others work through these unfamiliar questions. I wrote hundreds of pages on how I made sense of my gay Catholic life. And I tried to have conversations about it.
But then, after a time, I decided to stop initiating these educational sessions. Those people have their own responsibility to learn, to read, to listen to the voices that choose to speak. It is not my job to educate them.
And yet here I am, a writer, and writing. Why do I write with the language of these people? Why do I constantly reference the Catholic Catechism? Why do I use the words intended to appease, or at least expose, this isolated faction of the Church? Do I owe this to them?
At times, I’ve been willing to abandon justice in these conversations. When I came out, I cried. And then they cried when they realized the impact that their worldviews would have on the course of my life. But why were they crying? I was the one made vulnerable. How did I become the one saying, “It’s ok”?
Justice, giving each their due, says that this is supposed to be a hard issue for me, an issue that they are supposed to respond to for me, where they make changes to accommodate my complicated life. Justice has them providing me comfort, providing me a home, providing me a place to dwell, providing me an outstretched hand.
Then why do they come to me for permission, for compassion, for an explanation? These things I am owed.
But, of course there is more than justice. If I wish to be a Christian, then there must be more than justice.
Mercy affirms justice. Mercy gives others what they are due. Mercy begins here. And yet, mercy goes further than justice. Mercy gives another more than that to which they are entitled.
I do not owe them my explanation. For a gay man to offer his ecclesial community something other than anger is to go beyond the realm of justice. They are not entitled to an explanation. We are entitled to empathy. For them to give us empathy would be an exercise of justice. But for us to give an explanation would be an exercise of mercy.
They are not entitled to our words. But at times we give, because they are poor. I write something down and put it out for them, because I want to live in a world of mercy, and the only choice I have in bringing about such a world is whether I will offer mercy. For a gay man to share his experiences with the Church is to offer an impoverished Church mercy.
Whether or not my fellow Catholics want mercy is not up to me. They can take it or leave it. I am giving it all the same. And if they do not want it, then it is not for them. You can offer food to these poor. It is up to them whether they take and eat, whether they take and read. And hear. Those who have ears ought to hear, I have been told. But whether or not they have ears is their decision, not mine.
What is justice? Justice would have been calling so much “Christian” bullshit for what it is: bullshit. And perhaps I will, on the days when I’m feeling just. But then there are days when I won’t respond at all, and perhaps that will be a mercy. Then there are days when I explain, and that will be a mercy too.
Chris Damian is a writer, speaker, 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.