After having written all week on the difficult subject of abortion, a piece by Anthony Esolen called “The Paradise of Sexual Revolution" rang especially true:
“Visit a prison," he notes, "and ask the men in the cell blocks to recount their sexual histories, and those of their mothers and fathers. Visit a hospital, and see the faces of women who have determined to violate their inmost natures as the givers of life. Visit a neighborhood—if you can find one; for your paradise has placed transience and infidelity at the heart of the most intimate of human relations.”
I think the whole human fabric is ordered around family: mother, father, children. It's no accident Christ came into the world as a baby, that the whole story of Christianity begins with a set of parents: poverty-stricken, in exile, looking for a place to rest and bring a baby into the world...
To me the teachings of the Church on sex don't separate me from that family, as promiscuity did: they allow me, and everyone else, to participate. They invite us all to contribute: our purity, our talents, our brokenness. They invite everyone to sit at the table around which the Holy Family, which is to say the human family, is gathered: all those who for whatever reason cannot, or are not moved to, raise a family; the old, the unattractive, the disabled and poor; the misfits and malcontents and die-hard solitaries, the temperamentally unsuited and vocationally unavailable; the sexually, emotionally and physically damaged, wounded, and disordered.
Because we are all disordered, in our ways, and we are all responsible for what we do as adults, and we all fail in our duty to the children of the world. We all want the person with whom our children comes in contact to be pure, but we don’t want to be pure ourselves. We want the priest to be pure, and we want to plaster our city streets with billboards of soft-core porn lesbians getting it on in Guess bras. The guy who is always trying to get you into bed is often also the first one who will tell you he screens his daughter’s dates and if anything ever happened to her, he’d kill the guy. I’m someone’s daughter, too. We’re all someone’s daughter or son. So the teachings of the Church strike me as beautifully reflective of the fact that everybody—married, single, straight, gay, young, old—has a part to play. Everyone is invited to welcome, rejoice in, marvel at, and support new life and all life. Everyone is invited to contribute toward the healing of the festering sexual wound at the heart of mankind.
I don't think priests become pederasts because the teachings of the Church are repressive; the Church, after all, hardly has a corner on the sexual abuse of children or any other kind of sexual misconduct/pathology. I think they become pederasts because they are dying for love, for connection, and they have deep psycho-sexual-emotional-spiritual wounds, and I think the reason this seems and in fact is so monstrous, such a hideous betrayal of innocence and trust, is that for it to take place within the context of the Church, of faith, falls so far short of Christ; is so egregious an example of the child who comes asking for an egg and is instead handed a scorpion. ["Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” [Luke 11: 11-12]].
To be a child, molested by a priest, is thus literally almost the worst thing you can imagine. And so you hang your head in sorrow, in shame, in grief; you feel utter compassion for the child, and I think you also have to feel utter compassion for the priest, and then you ask: How can I help? How can I be part of the solution? How can I not finger-point, but in a sense do penance? I have pondered this deeply, and at length, and have come to conclude that I can't be sleeping around, and watching porn, and using people as objects, sexually or otherwise, and claim to be any much better than a pederast priest. And at any rate, if I am doing those things, I am certainly not helping. Sober alcoholics sometimes say you're always moving either toward or away from a drink. You're always moving either toward or away from helping the pederast priest, and the children he's molesting or may molest in the future.
The Church has also produced some of the most sublime human beings the world has known. And those human beings, their spirits, their souls, their hearts, their character, their willingness to lay down their lives, did not arise in a vacuum. They were formed by years and years of the very kind of hidden, seemingly irrelevant sacrifice I am talking about...
Let me tell of an experience I had just last week. It was a Saturday afternoon, around 5, and I'd just been to Confession.
On the way home (I was walking), I ran across a kid on a back street/alley who was practicing on his skateboard. He’d found a mangy strip of sidewalk and he was practicing, he was learning, he was completely absorbed with his skateboard. He made his way down, teetering a bit, but he stayed on the board, and when he hit a bump, he made a small tentative jump. And as soon as he got to the end of whatever he’d decreed was his strip, he hopped off, turned the board around, and proceeded to start in the other direction. You just knew he’d been up and down this little strip hundreds of times already, determined, absorbed, dreaming. He had a beautiful face, he’d grow up and break hearts, but right now he was maybe 10, a kid with a mission: learning to skate. And it was just one of those moments that are unexpected, that you can’t plan for, that happen so fast you’d miss it if you weren’t paying attention, but you know, I got a little pang. This kid on his skateboard, it will keep going on, none of us are here forever, but may there always be a springtime and a kid in a T-shirt and his hair hanging in his eyes learning to skate.
So I smiled at this kid and gave him the sidewalk and a hundred yards or so on, I stopped dead in my tracks. Because I suddenly realized I was in total solidarity with this kid. There was no separation. I had a life that was private, as we all do and should, but I did not have a life that was secret, that I felt conflicted about, that I had a reason to hide from the world. I had the experience of an adult, an adult who’d taken many wrong turns along the way, but I was also in total solidarity with this kid. I used to pass kids and I’d think, Enjoy it while you can, baby, because there is HELL in store…I’d think, You have NO IDEA. I’d think, Oh the world is a cruel, harsh place.
In one way it is harsh and cruel, but mainly because we make it that way. I don’t mean innocent. A kid of ten knows all about good and evil, about suffering, about loneliness. A kid of ten totally knows the score. But you can know the score and still be lost in wonder. You can know the score and still want to devote a few thousand hours to learning how to skateboard or watch birds or write—in fact, that you do know the score is exactly WHY you want to do those things. Because you know those things are an antidote somehow. Those things are your turf, the ground you stake out, your way of saying I will not be defeated. I will not hold back. I will not be afraid to fail, trip, stumble, lose my way, fall. I will give everything I have to the world, to God.
I had the heart of a child. The Church had given me back the heart of a child.
So those are just some of my thoughts, and they are all about the beating pulse, the warmth, the love of mankind. They are all about saying yes, not about saying no. They are about having life and having it abundantly. They are toward freedom and away from bondage. They are toward the hope and the promise that our joy will be complete.
If I have anything to offer the world, it may be that I have tried life both ways and I have experienced the truth--the "ecstatic truth," as (semi-insane film-maker) Werner Herzog would say--of a strange and unlikely rebirth. If you’re looking for what you can get, the teachings of the Church don’t make any sense at all; but if you’re longing to give all you have, they’re the only thing that makes sense.
They will mean—they have meant for me—great loneliness, long deserts, dark nights of the soul that would be unbearable if not for the shepherd who knows his lambs and guides us, always, home.
We show our love, such as it is, by living it out, and in the end all I can say is that I have had an experience of Christ. I love him, I believe in him, I live my life knowing it is a preparation, however fully lived here, for the world to come.
That will conclude Abortion Week and the launch of my little e-book: POOR BABY (see sidebar).
Maybe I can sleep again.
Next up: Lent in very great and very weird Palm Springs.