Milo Yiannopoulos is a self-proclaimed, and at this point empirically accomplished, provocateur. He managed to burn down UC Berkley without speaking one word. His recent CPAC invitation has prompted outrage after a “selectively edited” video surfaced in which he comments on relationships between post-pubescent boys and older men.
Milo is British, of Jewish descent, baptized Catholic, and flamboyantly gay. In a culture obsessed with identity-politics, he plays the game but not according to the rules. He disarms with humor, boldly makes a claim, backs it up with data, and concludes by being brutally offensive. He calls feminism a “cancer”, Islam a “problem”, doesn’t believe in lesbians, thinks abortion is murder, says that gay “marriage” is a compromise on the lifestyle, and has declared the Catholic Church to be “right about everything”.
A lot of people have a lot to say about Milo. I want to focus on something constructive. After a talk last year at UCSB, he was asked: “How do you reconcile being a Roman Catholic and a homosexual? I’ve never been able to understand that about you.” Milo responded to this question in a layered way that shocked me, precisely because the response was so adequate, the question so fully answered. I’ve thought about it for hours. And continue to pray, not with his words, but with what they mean for me.
He began by saying that, the question itself exposes a level of ignorance both about Catholicism and about what it means to be gay. He quotes Evelyn Waugh who once said, “If you think I’m bad with God, imagine me without him”. He went on to talk about how the Church has historically protected gays’ safety against being murdered by the State. But what struck me was what came next:
People are Anglicans or Baptists or Methodists or whatever because they believe they’re good people, but Catholics are Catholics because they know they’re not. We have this thing called original sin. We go to Church because we know we’re not good. And for me at least, certainly living the lifestyle that I do, that’s a more honest approach to theology than other sorts of Christianity have to offer. Here’s the thing: Progressives will demand all manner of complex and weird acknowledgements for themselves. They want to be a gender – queer – blah blah blah – fill in the emphasis on whatever. But what they can’t understand is other people asking for the same acknowledgment that life is messy and complicated and that sometimes things aren’t fully recognized or realized or pulled together in your own mind. Sometimes it takes a lifetime of study and prayer…
We go to Church because we know we’re not good… This thought got me to brush off my Summa and see what St. Thomas Aquinas had to say about the Incarnation. In Part III, Question I, Article III, St. Thomas takes up the question: “Whether, if man had not sinned, God would have become Incarnate?” The lay Dominican Shaun McAfee points out that this is one of the few questions in the entire Summa that no definitive answer is offered. But St. Thomas hints. The sed contra (which leads to where he will go) contains this profound scriptural gloss: “There was no cause of Christ’s coming into the world, except to save sinners. Take away diseases, take away wounds, and there is no need of medicine.” St. Thomas then answers that the whole of Sacred Scripture suggests that “the sin of the first man is assigned as the reason for the Incarnation”. But he closes by refusing to admit that God’s power is conditioned by the futility of our sin and, for that reason, Christ could have become incarnate without the fall.
But there’s no need to speculate. The drama of salvation has unfolded. Man did fall. God became a man. We can say that God became incarnate to save us from ourselves. This is why his first words to us are “Repent and Believe” and not “Keep Calm and Carry On”. He came to restore us to our relationship with the Father. And in that relationship we find harmony with ourselves, one another and with all of creation.
If we are courageous enough to open our eyes and confront our own reality, this story unfolds in our own personal history. Christ comes for me, because of the messes that I have made, and continue to make every day. No one has access to my own incompetence as I do myself. This is not self-loathing, this is honesty. Pop-psychology, self-help and acceptance leave me empty and unsatisfied. I’m really not okay. And you know what, that’s okay. Because there, in that recognition of need, I am opened to and reminded of my dependence on the Father, who alone can offer me peace.
And so, I go to Church not because I have it together, but precisely because I do not.