Friendship: The Foundation of Reason

The following column was published in The Observer on Thursday, October 16, 2014.

“I will always consider the possibility that I might be wrong.” So states the commitment to humility in the Center for Social Concerns’ “Virtues of Discourse” pledge. As one of the seven “virtues” in the pledge, humility means, “When I realize that I have been wrong, I will readily acknowledge it.”

This might bring to mind the humble Socrates, who was confounded when the oracle at Delphi announced that none was wiser than he. Conscious that he was “not at all wise,” Socrates thereafter began a search to find a man of greater wisdom. In his search, he discovered that “those with the best reputations seemed … nearly the most deficient … while others with more paltry reputations seemed to be … more fit in regard to being wise.”  Continue reading “Friendship: The Foundation of Reason”

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On Empty Classrooms

The following column was published in The Observer on Thursday, September 18, 2014.

Willis Konick retired in 2007 as one of the University of Washington’s most sought-after professors.

For Willis, as his students called him, the classroom had changed over the years. According to the Seattle Times, ” [Willis] said teaching Dostoyevsky novels in the 1960s was easy because he didn’t need to explain radicalism to students. The students often came to class stoned – but he didn’t find that as annoying as today’s students, who often text-message during class.” Continue reading “On Empty Classrooms”

Celibacy and Loneliness

This piece was originally published at Spiritual Friendship on January 30, 2014.


“For both Aristotle and Aquinas, friendship stands at the core of human and Divine reality… If we get that wrong, we get it all wrong.” -Fr. James Schall

When I was a child, I used to have night terrors. When I had bad dreams, I would sit up in my bed and cry or yell while I was sleeping. My parents would have to come up to my room, gently wake me, and then help me fall back to sleep.

I don’t have night terrors anymore, but I do occasionally have bad dreams. Like the night terrors, I don’t always remember them. Once, when I was visiting a friend, he told me one morning that he had woken me up the night before. Apparently, he heard me having a bad dream, so he woke me up, made sure everything was fine, and told me to go back to bed. I don’t remember any of this.

This is one fear I have: suffering under a bad dream in the night and not having anyone around to wake me up, and to tell me to go back to sleep. It sounds silly. It makes me sound like a child. But this is not a childish fear. It’s a human fear. It’s a fear of falling into a brokenness that you don’t even realize and that can only be alleviated by those who have loved you so much that they know you better than you know yourself. It’s the realization that you can become careless or tired and unaware of your failings and that, from time to time, you need people to make up for your inadequacies. It’s the commonly admitted fear of dying alone that acts as a mask for the real, underlying fear: the fear of living alone.

This is the fear of celibacy. People tend to think that celibacy is only abstention from sex, but that’s just one very small part of the loneliness for those contemplating or living celibacy in contemporary America. Celibacy isn’t just being lonely because of the lack of sexual intercourse. It’s also lonely because of the way in which Americans conceive of a celibate life. The loneliness comes from the insistence that celibacy be a life without intimacy.

But the fact is, even those living faithful and fruitful celibate lives need others. We need communities, because we can never be complete selves by ourselves. Our perfection only occurs in relation to others. This, of course, is why friendship and community is so important for gay people: because it’s important for everyone. And while we don’t necessarily need people physically present while we dream at night, we do need relationships that fill our lives so that we are never truly alone.

This creates a challenge for churches. If churches believe that people have celibate callings, then those churches also have a responsibility to consider how to build communities with and for these callings. Churches must do much more than preserve and promote certain teachings. Doctrine will always be a necessary, but never a sufficient, way of relating to Christianity. Even when we bring Church doctrine into ourselves and assent to it, we will not be complete. We need something more. We cannot be fully ourselves by ourselves, because we can’t even know ourselves by ourselves.

Eve Tushnet has beautifully pointed out, “More thoughtful, personal, and culturally relevant theology in this area would doubtless be helpful, but what people most yearn for is a vision of what their futures might look like.” We need much more than a way to think. We need a way to live. And we need communities that have a space for us to live in, with and for each other.

Idylls and Rambles, by Fr. Schall

Fr. James Schall is a member of the “old school.” He teaches at a very old school, but he is somewhat of an anomaly. He is an incredibly educated man who resists the fads that drive much of the university corporation machine today. He thinks that education has something to do with virtue, that college is about more than a career, and that being interesting is of upmost importance for a professor. He has been hailed by some Catholics as one of the ten greatest American Catholic intellectuals of all time. He has written more than 30 books and 350 essays. I have never read anything by him that I did not immediately recommend to others. Continue reading “Idylls and Rambles, by Fr. Schall”

The Church Annie Selak Wants: Part II

The following is the Part II of my response to Annie Selak’s Washington Post article. Part I can be read by clicking here.

Third, Selak desires “a church that embraces that God is everywhere.” In particular, she relates a “need to affirm and emphasize that God is present in other religions and sincerely work on improving our relationships with them.” She states that “some of Pope Benedict XVI’s biggest missteps related to his interactions with other religions.” She fails to realize, however, that in Pope Benedict she has an ally. Benedict himself informed the Roman curia in 2012 that “in man’s present situation, the dialogue of religions is a necessary condition for peace in the world and it is therefore a duty for Christians as well as other religious communities.” He calls for a dialogue about the relationships between religions, and also about the relationship of religion to culture, reason, and society. Continue reading “The Church Annie Selak Wants: Part II”

“The Gay Issue”: Objections and Clarifications

This is my seventh post in a series on understanding same sex attraction. The other six posts are:

On Terminology
Within Catholicism
Newman and Michelangelo
Broadening Same-Sex-Attraction
Learning from the Pro-Life Movement
Notre Dame’s Plan

As I have been writing for this series, I have received a number of excellent criticisms and comments about my posts. Here, I will address some of them. These are certainly not all of them, and I look forward to more thoughtful critiques in the future. Continue reading ““The Gay Issue”: Objections and Clarifications”