My favorite novel of mistaken identity has always been C. S. Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy. It’s the perfect fairy tale, beginning with a miserable young boy, Shasta, growing up in Calormen, treated like a slave by Arsheesh, the man who he assumes is his father. When one of the lords of Calormen, a Taarkan, offers to buy Shasta from Arsheesh, Shasta learns how “his father” found him adrift in a river when Shasta was an infant. Lewis tells us that Shasta had never loved his father, nor felt like he belonged in Calormen, so this knowledge “took a great weight off his mind. ‘Why, I might be anyone!’ he thought. ‘I might be the son of a Tarkaan myself—or the son of the Tisroc (may he live forever!)—or of a god!’” The rest of the book chronicles Shasta’s adventures with the talking horse Bree and two other companions as they journey north, towards Narnia, where Shasta discovers his true identity: He is indeed the son of a king, heir to the throne of Archenland, the ally and friend of Narnia.
For Lewis, Shasta is obviously “Every Man,” born into this world just as the writer of Hebrews wrote of the Patriarchs who “acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth,” desiring a “better homeland, a heavenly one.” Like Shasta, we know innately that something is wrong with the world and don’t realize our true identity as beloved sons and daughters of the King of Kings. Henri Nouwen said that “one of the enormous spiritual tasks we have is to claim that [identity] and to live a life based on that knowledge, and that’s not very easy. In fact, most of us fail constantly to claim the truth of who we are.” These words of Henri Nouwen have a deep significance for me, because as he did, I am a man who lives with same-sex attraction. As I have worked through my faith to claim my true nature as a beloved son of God, I have come to believe that the greatest case of mistaken identity in the world today concerns sexual identity. The contemporary litany of sexual identities come from Calormen, not Narnia and the North. They come from the world, not the mind of God.
As a man who came back to the Catholic Church because of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality and sexual identity, I have watched with great concern as I see “coming out” become more and more commonplace, particular at younger and younger ages, including in the Church. The USCCB wisely cautions against this in their 2006 document, “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care”:
For some persons, revealing their homosexual tendencies to certain close friends, family members, a spiritual director, confessor, or members of a Church support group may provide some spiritual and emotional help and aid them in their growth in the Christian life. In the context of parish life, however, general public self-disclosures are not helpful and should not be encouraged.
Though I’ve never “come out” in the world in which I live my daily life, I decided to write publicly about this part of my life because I have great concern for the way our culture negatively influences the young Shastas in the Catholic Church who may be confused about who they are after realizing they live with same-sex attraction, and decide to “come out” because the world teaches them that their sexual inclinations comprise one of the chief definitions of “who they are” and that in order to be truly “authentic” they need to reveal this about themselves. The counsel of the bishops to avoid public disclosures of homosexual attractions reflects the best interests for these young men and women who tragically have been conditioned to accept the modern concept of sexual identities, and to use phrases such as “I am gay” to describe themselves, which reveals the ease by which we can become imprisoned by the culture in which we live, in the way John Paul II wrote in Veritatis Splendor
It must certainly be admitted that man always exists in a particular culture, but it must also be admitted that man is not exhaustively defined by that same culture. Moreover, the very progress of cultures demonstrates that there is something in man which transcends those cultures. This “something” is precisely human nature: this nature is itself the measure of culture and the condition ensuring that man does not become the prisoner of any of his cultures, but asserts his personal dignity by living in accordance with the profound truth of his being.
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