We have been inundated of late by politics, popular music, film, television, and even the world of business and finance with anything and everything “gay.” The scope indeed seems all encompassing, from an official proclamation from the President in 2009 declaring June to be "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month” to the most recent announcement of Apple's CEO Tim Cook on Oct. 30: "I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.”
Just a few weeks ago, U2 released the cover art for their new album, Songs of Innocence (pictured above). The image is one of two shirtless men in an intimate embrace, with an older man’s head close to the waist of the younger, pressing his cheek against his stomach.
When I first laid eyes on it, as it scrolled through the carousel of album covers in the iTunes store on my computer, I had an immediate and involuntary response. “You too?” I shook my head, as other images flanking the U2 album, appeared. Many were of nearly naked women, or bare-chested men, in hyper-sexualized positions.
Mindful of my immediate response to the cover of the U2 album, Songs of Innocence, I set out on a little research and dug deeper. I discovered the two men were, in fact, father and son. The older man is Larry Mullen Jr, U2’s drummer, and the younger man, who bears a shining cross around his neck, is his son. I recalled again the name of the album, Songs of Innocence. In all honesty, I felt both manipulated by the media for having conditioned me to expect such intimacy to be eroticized, and also ashamed of my own accusatory look.
Back to St. John Paul II. “… Although within certain limits these variants and nuances of inner movements of the “heart” can be confused with each other, it should nonetheless be said that the inner man is called by Christ to reach a more mature and complete evaluation that allows him to distinguish and judge the various movements of his own heart. One should add that this task can be carried out and that it is truly worthy of man.” (TOB 48:4)
Let’s return to the stimulus that started this whole reflection. Same sex attraction and homosexuality have indeed become a dominating topic in the culture today. I think many people who don’t experience same sex attraction have their our own knee-jerk reactions that could be summed up in two ways; the “concerned” and “conservative” believer might draw back from discussions on homosexual inclinations and cling to the objective truth in Scripture and Tradition and approach no further. A “progressive” or “liberal” person might accept another’s subjective feelings (and any subsequent actions coming from them) as personal goods for them and so stand off from any judgement or condemnation. In a certain sense, they also keep their distance. But what do we make of these two reactions? Does either actually help man to reach that “more mature and complete evaluation that allows him to distinguish and judge the various movements of his own heart”? Do either of these responses press in beyond one’s desires to the core identity of the person? Are we defined by our desires or by our decisions?
In the midst of the seemingly endless spotlighting of all things “gay”, I know there is another way that goes deeper than the mere acceptance of our desires; a third way. A chaste, “attraction” to someone of the same sex, to be clear, can be a beautiful thing. It’s called friendship. It is in fact foundational for all of us to enter into and experience this gift. It’s an intimacy that doesn’t require the joining of bodies to facilitate the joining of hearts. Deeper still, it is equally and even more foundational that the fundamental embrace, that of a father and a son, be experienced anew. St. John Paul II wrote that the “ultimate purpose of mission is to enable people to share in the communion which exists between the Father and the Son.” (St. John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, 23)
The intimate bond between a father and a son is the penultimate encounter that prefigures our ultimate embrace by the Heavenly Father. U2’s latest album cover, in capturing this connection, has offered us a very provocative image. It can serve as a kind of litmus test to the interior reactions in our hearts. What is our response to this image? What desires are stirred in us? What decisions must we make to begin the road home?
"And I'm a long way from your hill on Calvary
And I'm a long way from where I was, where I need to be…"
- U2, Song for Someone
Originally posted on the TOBI blog!