I’m in the process of digitizing my entire filing cabinet (it’s amazing how many nonsense projects you devise when you’re trying to avoid writing your dissertation!) and I just found, filed away under “Catholicism,” the handwritten page that I’ve transcribed below. I don’t precisely remember when I wrote it, but I know I was in the process of becoming Catholic. As I’m now helping facilitate this year’s RCIA program at my school, it seems particularly appropriate that I’d come upon this letter from my former self.
It’s pretty obvious that I was already thinking about the connections that I’ve tried to trace in this blog, though I also realize—seeing it from the distance of about a year—that I’ve grown a lot in being able to, as the Jesuits say, “discern the spirits.” These days I can differentiate better—not perfectly, but better—between authentic contrition and a “guilt” that is really just a combination of shame and self-loathing. Nonetheless, the piece is raw and interesting and I thought it worth posting in all of its rawness. I wrote it very shortly after having a conversation with an acquaintance, an ex-Catholic, who had suggested that my conversion to Catholicism was really just an exercise in masochism:
Catholicism, my friends insist, is an exercise in masochism: repression, penance, and a twisted aesthetic of sacrifice. Well I’ve still got gash marks on my bicep from when the razor slipped—and so do you, I suspect—so don’t talk to me about masochism. I’m already there. I’ve crawled on my knees across dorm rooms at the behest of digital masters just to get off. I’ve been slapped up the head until I saw lights just to forget myself. I’ve drug myself through every secular ritual of penance and redemption that I could find. What, then, could be any worse about confessions, chastity, and obedience? We’ve never stopped punishing ourselves all our lives—we’ve run ourselves ragged with our guilt. Is it such madness to ask for something, at last, that can expiate that guilt even if it also heightens our awareness of it? Is it so much to long for those words that no fuck buddy, no reflection in the mirror, and no amount of blood trickling out of my body could ever pronounce: I absolve you?