A response to “A call for empathy from a gay Catholic”
Last month, a fellow Domer, Ms. Maddie Foley, asked a series of pointed questions in the pages of The Observer:
Dear straight people: Help me! What DO you pray about? What do you confess? Do you feel safe when you receive the [E]ucharist? What sacrifice could God possibly be asking of you? . . . What do you think about the cross? How do you love Jesus?
I took that section to be a series of earnest questions seeking honest responses, and I was struck by the first one—“What DO you pray about?” The question assumes an alien quality about straight people, an assumption that is completely unwarranted in light of sacred Scripture, Tradition, the constant teaching of the Magisterium, a broader tradition of philosophical reflection on the human condition by non-Catholics since the beginning of time, and common sense. It further suggests that straight people have nothing to pray about and, perhaps, don’t need to pray at all. But this could not be further from the truth.
Fundamentally, straight people pray about what all other human beings have prayed about since we as a species decided that prayer was a worthwhile endeavor. Why?
Because straight people—like anyone else—are people, and people pray; it’s hardwired into our hearts, for we are religious animals, enduringly fascinated with the sacred.
This world is too often successful in distracting us from the Divine; it can make us bury our inner attraction to the transcendent in favor of lower goods and even sins; it can so beat us down and wear us out that we feel justified in loathing Christ and His Bride, the Church. It can do all that, sure, though not permanently so. But what it can’t do is erase our fundamental orientation to seek out goodness, truth, and beauty—and He who embodies all three and so much more: the triune, everliving God of the living. As St. Augustine said, “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.” The great saint doesn’t discriminate; all human beings—whether they be men or women, straight or gay, black or white—have been made for eternal joy. In St. Ignatius’s words, you and I were “created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save [our] soul[s].”
So, what do straight people pray about? In brief: Whatever’s on their hearts. They ask for protection from temptation, the grace to be kind to their coworker, and the strength to care for their ailing parents. They bring to God that which weighs them down, lifts them up, excites them, scares them, paralyzes them, makes them want to scream or cry or grit their teeth. They tell God what they need Him to hear—just like anyone else.
While I would never presume to generalize about someone’s prayer life—because that is between them and God—I can speak as a human being about our universal human experience because, at bottom, we share a common humanity. And because we are each created in the imago Dei, in the very image and likeness of God (cf. Gen. 1:26), our particular crosses, if united to Christ’s Cross and glorious Resurrection, do not have the ultimate power to alienate us from our common origin and end (cf. Rom. 8:38-39).
Deep down, we aren’t that different from one another. We experience similar joys, hopes, and fears; we desire and dread mostly the same things; and we each grope around in our sin and ignorance for the One who knows us better than we can ever know ourselves, not to mention loves us with a love so intense that it conquered even death.
Our similarities vastly outweigh our differences.
What do I confess? My repeated forays into sin (cf. Prov. 26:11), attracted as I foolishly am to the glamour of evil offered to me by the world, the flesh, and the Devil.
Do I feel safe when I receive the Eucharist? Absolutely not! In fact, before I receive my Lord and Savior at Mass I pray three times, “Burn me not, O Lord, but let this heavenly food be a healing balm for my soul, and let my awe of this sacrament ever deepen.” At Mass, we receive the Word made flesh, and if we fail to approach such a solemn occasion with “fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12), unblemished by mortal sin (cf. 1 Cor. 11:29), then we are doing something wrong.
What sacrifice could God possibly be asking of me? Exactly what he asks of each of us, namely, that I pick up my cross each day and follow after Him in order to be His disciple (cf. Matt. 10:38).
What do I think about the cross? How do I love Jesus? I love He Who loved me first by keeping His commandments (cf. Jn. 14:15), and, because I am a sinful man, I often irreverently or flippantly or unthinkingly approach the mystery and brutal reality of His Crucifixion. Not only that, but in my ingratitude, born of years of habitual rebellion against God—i.e., sin—and in my human frailty, I nearly daily forget the great love the Good Shepherd has always shown me.
I do not know the human heart as God does (cf. Ps. 38:9), and I do not know how to pray as I ought (cf. Rom. 8:26), but I can answer the question, “What do straight people pray about?”
Same as you. Everything.
Deion A. Kathawa is a 3L in NDLS Class of 2020. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org