My friend Daniel Mattson at Letters to Christopher is a fellow Catholic who deals with same-sex attraction and is active in Courage, a Roman Catholic apostolate for persons experiencing same-sex attraction and their families. Daniel is having a conversation on his blog with Melinda Selmys of Mercator.net about reparative therapy for persons with same-sex attraction. He mentions me in the comments here.
I am 45 years old and have no idea what it is like to experience same-sex attraction. That doesn’t mean I know nothing about this. To the contrary, I know a great deal about it. Daniel mentioned me because Melinda brought up the topic of Asperger and the autism spectrum in her comments, comparing the trial of her son, who has Asperger Syndrome, with that of those who experience same-sex attraction. She is correct in making a comparison, for spiritual reasons. Daniel mentioned me since my struggle in dealing with Bipolar Disorder and Asperger Syndrome is comparable, on a spiritual level, to Daniel’s struggle with same-sex attraction. He recognizes his same-sex attraction as disordered, per Catholic teaching, just as I recognize my Bipolar Disorder and Asperger Syndrome as disordered. In this, our crosses in life are very similar, and our spiritual response to these crosses is also very similar.
I have had multiple spiritual directors, and countless Catholic friends in my life. I am also a Passionist, with Passionist friends, and I have faithful Catholic friends who deal with mental illnesses like Bipolar Disorder and Asperger Syndrome. Still, no one I have met knows as much about “how” I bear my cross in life than Daniel Mattson does, because “how” I bear my cross of Bipolar Disorder and Asperger Syndrome is “how” he bears his cross with same-sex attraction. It is because he and I both know “how” to bear these crosses that we are able to walk along the Way with Christ with joy – the Passion of Christ – in our hearts.
Unfortunately, “how” to bear these crosses is a message that does not seem to be getting across to a lot of people, and unless people know “how” to bear these crosses in life, they will continue to suffer needlessly. “How” we bear these crosses is finding our identity in the dignity that God has given us, and in becoming the people God has called us to be. Our identity is not in our disorders. Daniel is not a “gay Catholic” and I am not a “Bipolar Catholic.” We are Catholics with crosses. His is different from mine, but the same in that he does not find his identity in same-sex attraction and I do not find my identity in the nasty things I say during an episode. Same-sex attraction is not “who” Daniel is, and believing I need to commit suicide is not “who” I am. If he believes he has to have a relationship with another man, he is denying what God has called him to be. If I commit suicide, I am denying what God has called me to be. Our crosses are the same in that our brains are telling us to do things that God does not want us to do. As long as he holds onto his identity in Christ, he will be fine, and the same holds true for me.
God gives everyone a cross to bear in life. With Daniel and me, it happens to come in the brain. Neither Daniel nor I have experienced anything close to a “cure” of our disorders in all of this, but we have both experienced a great deal of healing in the sense that we are able to bear these crosses with joy. How can we have joy in bearing a cross? The reason is that we LOVE GOD and our desire to please God is paramount in our lives. This is not something that can be understood by people who neither know God nor believe in Him, but it is analogous to a child doing things to please his parent because he loves his parent. Some children do things for their parents out of fear of punishment. Others do things for their parents simply out of love for their parents. Daniel and I fall in this latter category in our relationship with God. We do what we know He wills for us because we love Him. We find joy in this. Washing the dishes is “work” for my son that he greatly dislikes, but he loves me and so he does it for me without suffering because of his love for me. So it is with my love for God, and how bearing the cross of Bipolar Disorder is a joy, though it is also “work” in that it is a suffering to bear.
Again, the conversation on his blog began as a discussion about reparative therapy. I am not that familiar with reparative therapy, having only ever heard about it in political discussions as there are some in the “gay rights” community who want such therapy to be banned. Indeed, this particular discussion is about a proposed ban in California. My understanding is that reparative therapy is not exactly in keeping with Catholic thought on the matter, and more specifically Passionist spirituality. I am a Passionist. Having said that, reparative therapy is certainly not something I would want to be banned. Daniel makes an excellent argument against banning psychiatric treatments that are based on spiritual choices that people should be absolutely free to make for themselves. Certainly, I want everyone to know the Passionist way, to understand redemptive suffering, and to bear our crosses as we seek to align our will with God’s will on the Way of Love in Christ. But not everyone is Catholic, so reparative therapy should remain legal. People should be considered to have the right to pursue reparative therapy if they want to. My hope is that as they consider all the options available to them, that they will choose the Catholic way.
The image used above is of a young man protesting reparative therapy. His sign says: “‘Change’ at what cost?” For a Catholic, change is the only constant in life. For Catholics, we are called to become saints. This is a journey that requires profound, ongoing change. This change always has a very steep “cost” in worldly attachments, but the reward is in our returned love to God. At Christmastime, we tell our children that it is better to give than to receive. This is to help them to understand that in giving of ourselves to God and to each other, we receive graces. In the journey of our lifetimes, we are to seek to continually give to God what He asks of us in order that we may become saints. Change, for the Catholic, is constant. But that is how we become what He has called and created us to be.
It’s a shame that there are many who want to make this message illegal in America. Let’s pray it doesn’t happen, and for an end to the misery of wasted sufferings.