When I first started engaging in Catholic culture, I wondered why there weren’t any current Catholic books or musicians or artists. Then I realized that there are plenty — you just have to get out there and find them!
So, here’s a regular blog feature for people who want to reinforce their faith with good books. Honestly, for the first batch, I just bought all the books from The Catholic Hipster’s Catholic Book Cover Up. So as I read them, I’ll let you know the highlights and whether or not they’re worth your time. Since they already made his list, I’m pretty sure they all will be!
If we’re honest, I think we all have some topic within Catholicism that doesn’t quite sit well. For me, that’s always been homosexuality and gay marriage. (After all, I was pretty darn liberal during college and drank all the koolaid they had on feminism).
So, since my policy is that if you disagree with the Church it’s up to you to find out why, I pretty much threw myself at the Amazon “Add to Cart” button when I found out Eve Tushnet wrote a book on the topic from the perspective of a celibate, gay Catholic called Gay and Catholic.
And, all I can say is that I hope this review inspires you to add it to your cart (or your library bag, if they carry it), because it’s no understatement to say that this book changed my life.
It’s not political, and I don’t agree with everything Tushnet says, but this book about homosexuality and Catholicism ended up being about humanity, friendship, love, and Jesus. And those are things we can all use more of in our lives, whether you struggle with this topic or not.
(This book focuses on how we relate to other people from the lense of the gay, Catholic author. If you have more pointed questions about the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality, definitely check out Catholic Stuff You Should Know Podcast Homosexuality and Homosexuality II.)
My Personal Reaction to Gay and Catholic
Like I said, this book changed my life. Not because I am gay, but because mid-way through reading the book I had a true change of heart and reconciled with a friend from church that I had not been speaking to for over a year and a half.
Our relationship now and what our argument was about isn’t really pertinent to this book, so I won’t share the details. But what is pertinent is how warmly and compassionately Tushnet pulled back the curtain on what it’s like to live single, celibate, and faithful.
This book is not about whining or hand-wringing about the unfairness of being gay in a religion that says it’s wrong to act on it, or how evil secular culture is to encourage gay relationships. It’s a book about the cross that unmarried and not-in-religious-life celibate people carry, especially considering how the function friendship has dissolved over the years in our society — the role friendship used to serve and should still, but often doesn’t.
It made me completely re-think my relationships. It also softened my heart to see how my behavior in the past (ever righteous, ever loud about it) may have contributed to the friendships I’ve lost. In a very real way, reading this book expanded my sense of compassion and understanding. I’m not sure I have a higher compliment for a book than that!
Amazing Quotes and Ideas from Gay and Catholic
The Sinner’s Guide to NFP made me run out of pink page markers, but Gay and Catholic made me run out of both purple and green page markers! Clearly I am a fan of many ideas in this book, but here are the three that really stood out:
- Homosexuality, like any sin, isn’t an avoidance problem; it’s a vocation problem. When you focus on what you can’t do and why you can’t do it, your life is filled with a lot of negative thought processes. It’s a restrictive form of religion that comes off as Puritan, self-flagellating, and painful to follow. The opposite is to focus on the love you have — even if you want to express it improperly — and channel or sublimate it (not suppress it) the way God is calling you to do.
“…The negative project of sin avoidance was replaced by a positive project of discerning my vocations. I began — slowly and painfully — to sense the gaps in my spiritual life and also to notice ways I’d found to partially fill them… I had begun to discern what I got from loving women and how I could get some of those things without sinning against chastity.” p49
“Over time I learned that you need to structure your life in such a way that you are living out a positive vocation to love. You are called to something, not merely away from something… Living out my vocation is something I can only do with the people I’m called to love.” p59
- Every vocation comes with crosses. I love this point because I’ve reflected on it a lot during my experience of infertility. We live in a culture that often promotes and romanticizes marriage and parenthood to the point that we’re slow to recognize the downsides of parenthood except jokingly. We forget that children, or “social assets,” come with incredible sacrifices and moments of loneliness. We also dismiss the true value of being single (control over your time and energy, freedom to take risks and make choices, etc). It’s a valuable conversation and friendship skill to learn to truly separate from your own cross to listen to and commiserate with someone carrying an entirely different cross (AKA To get away from saying/thinking “Stop whining about your screaming baby, I’m infertile and I would be so grateful in your position,” and “Stop complaining about your husband, I’m single and I would be so grateful in your position,” etc).
“Keeping in mind that every vocation has specific forms of sacrifice and loneliness associated with it can help us avoid envy and despair. We can look for ways of learning from the experiences of others (even people quite different from ourselves) and get realistic preparation for our vocations rather than fluffy happily-ever-after dreams.” p80
“Working with women in crisis pregnancies had one totally unexpected benefit for me: it helped me to understand, on a visceral level, the crosses and sacrifices specific to heterosexuality… working at a pregnancy center helped me see how much the Christian faith asks of men who want to sleep with women and women who want to sleep with men. It has helped me understand that while gay Catholics do face unique and intensely painful challenges, the same is true for straight Christians — and in the case of poor women, especially, those challenges are ignored and disrespected just as much as ours are.” p148
- “Discouragement is always from the devil.” This is a quote straight from the book and has little to do with the topic, but it was powerful for me. I go through a lot of doubt being self-employed, so to think of those moments of confusion and fear as Screwtape whispering in my ear — not God, not prudence, and not sense — was really helpful on a daily basis. I think we can extend this to say that fear, anger, and bigotry are also from the devil. So when you think you have something to be legitimately angry about (or fearful or bigoted) maybe step back and see if there’s a way to see the situation or the person from a biblical, compassionate perspective. (AKA When I get upset with liberals about same sex marriage, I should remember that they’re simply acting on their beliefs. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, we just happen to disagree. This takes the pressure off the thought and the conversation so that a little grace can shine through.)
“… Even a clean anger so easily becomes a kind of infected, resentful anger, which can’t solve any of the problems that caused it. It doesn’t matter that you’re right. Some of your best qualities… can be twisted into sources of wrath, judging, and other serious sins.” p155
“…I can only offer the conviction that it is possible to compromise on neither faith nor love.” p116
“…[The speaker] suggested that parents of gay teens ask themselves, ‘What is God trying to change in me through this relationship?'” p190
Available here on Amazon for about $13
Tangents Inspired By Gay and Catholic
Where to begin? First, I love that Tushnet is in the position to chide and encourage other celibate gay Catholics (or even simply single Catholics) to step up and sacrifice for their friendships.
In our culture, it seems like friendship is more about what your friends can do for you rather than what you can do for your friends (beyond that whole, “I’LL DO ANYTHING FOR MY FRIEND XOXOXO TRUE FRIENDS WILL SHARE THIS LOL” meme your grandma shares on Facebook). So, single women who are friends are more like Samantha from Sex in the City when Miranda had a baby: long gone but free for a coffee when you have a second.
Throughout her book, Tushnet takes a more proactive approach. She encourages single Catholics to get more involved and sacrifice more in their relationships AND she encourages married and paired up Catholics to be more welcoming and inclusive in their family lives. In a mirror image of our Catholic family, she talks about a lot of give and take and growth and permanence that we can give each other if we stop pulling away into little pods of selfishness and self-reliance.
This is the heart of what encouraged me to make amends with the friend I’d fallen out with — I realized that you can’t escape community, and if you want to stay friends with anyone for any period of time, there will be things to forgive and move forward from.
If I leave when things go wrong (even if I’m right)… what kind of community have I formed? Rather, I want relationships and friendships that last over the years. And there’s no way to get that without forgiveness, repentance, and community, because we all make mistakes (and in my experience, if we don’t make mistakes, we make the mistake of getting prideful about that!).
Furthermore, it made me want to sacrifice for my friendships. Raise your hands if you spend more time watching TV during the week than you do talking with your friends (my hand goes up). I don’t want that. The Office won’t sit with me while I cry about pregnancy fears. I can’t go apple picking with 30 Rock. But for some reason, my entire generation (including Josh and I) seems to have opted into non-existent relationships with TV characters over real-life friendships that stay in touch, see each other weekly, and challenge each other.
If You Only Get One Thing Out of It….
Life is not about whether or not you get married and have babies; it’s about being a part of a community and experiencing self-sacrifice in all the relationships you have based on your unique cross (which may be marriage, babies, celibacy, or religious life). Whether you’re married, single, religious, or celibate for life, consider what you can do to pour more into the different relationships you have, welcoming people in different life situations into your heart.
Don’t Stop Here!
Like the man said, if you don’t read good books, you’ll read bad ones. Here are more Catholic book reviews to keep you busy: