Washington D.C., Oct 24, 2014 / 03:51 am
Recovering an understanding of friendship as a vocation could be a way for the Church to help ease spiritual problems of isolation, especially for those who are gay, said one Catholic author who is both lesbian and celibate.
"Friendship is a vocation which can include lifelong devotion and commitment," said Eve Tushnet, suggesting that Church leaders should "talk more about vocations outside of marriage and the priesthood."
"That's totally scriptural, and we should be ahead on this instead of letting the culture lead us around and act like friendship is relatively trivial in the scheme of things," she told CNA.
Tushnet is a Catholic convert who has described herself as "an openly lesbian and celibate Catholic." She has written frequently on living out her Catholic faith amid same-sex attraction and recently released a book, "Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith."
Among the topics that Tushnet has covered is the sense of isolation that can come from the idea that one is called to neither marriage nor religious life, and therefore feeling abandoned to a life of loneliness.
In her interview with CNA, she suggested a "vocation of friendship" as one possible remedy to that problem.
Tushnet argued that modern culture does not respect and discuss friendships as it does sexual relationships "or the ones that have the potential to become sexual." Instead, she said, society views friendships almost as a "relationship of convenience" instead of as "a relationship of commitment or devotion or sacrifice."
"By contrast when you look at Christian history," she explained, friendship had a prominent and public place in Christian life. She noted that the records of the early and medieval Church point to friends living together and supporting one another, as well as to the sacrificial love of "spiritual friendship."
Tushnet also pointed to the life of Christ, who did not have children nor a spouse, but explained his sacrificial death as an act of laying down his life for friends.
"He singles out this relationship and says this is a sacrificial and devoted relationship," she said of Christ's emphasis on friendship.
Church outreach to homosexual persons garnered significant media attention during the recent Synod of Bishops in Rome.
But while much of the media coverage focused on Church teaching against homosexual acts and "gay marriage," Tushnet said she believes there was a missed opportunity to discuss the concept of "vocation for gay people."
She argued that the Church must "give some image of what your life would look like" for a practicing Catholic who experiences same-sex attraction, giving concrete help for people "trying to live out your sexuality in a way that's fruitful."
While perhaps well-intentioned, a general focus on what should be avoided rather than what should be embraced risks "pushing people into isolation," she said.
"Being alone all the time is not a great idea for your spiritual life…it's really easy to despair."
To alleviate this problem, Tushnet continued, "there's some elements that probably need to be explored a little more, such as what does friendship mean now."
"Just letting people know that there is such a thing as intentional community life," where celibate partners or groups of people take care of one another, would be helpful in putting forth another vision of vocation for Christians who are not married, she said.
She also warned against focusing solely on the question of sexuality when ministering to people who identify as gay.
"People think the thing we care about either positively or negatively is always going to be something related to our sexuality," she said, but in reality, "there's plenty of other stuff to struggle with," including pride, sloth and other vices that can affect all people, regardless of sexual orientation.
Among Tushnet's other suggestions were a normalization of spiritual direction and the promotion of artistic creation for people to "express the best part of themselves."
Ultimately, she advised the laity to take a more active role in improving the Church's response and options for individuals with same-sex attraction and others struggling with isolation and without clear vocational paths.
"We need to be more open to doing it ourselves," she said. "There's so much need, so look for the needs that you are willing to fill."