Our Hearts are Restless

I have just watched an extraordinary and deeply moving film, soon to be released by the Catholic apostolate Courage, called Desire of the Everlasting Hills. It is knit together, like a polychronic chorale, from the personal witnesses of three people, two men and one woman, who have come out of a life of sexual sin and into the wonderful light of Christ. By “wonderful” I do not suggest breathless good cheer and drinks all around. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. When Peter, James, and John saw the transfigured Lord, they did not first glow with gregarious good fellowship. They were struck with awe and fear; and that deep feeling, that sense that in the quiet of the human conscience the Lord has wrought something like a world ransomed, or a world destroyed, will be well imparted to the faithful Christian who views this film.

The particular form of sexual sin to which these three people fell prey was homosexual in nature. In one or two respects, the form is significant. The most obvious attack on the castles of the home, the community, and the church happens now to be coming from that quarter; and the people in the film experienced from the sin certain kinds of confusion and suffering that the rest of us sinners may find hard to imagine. One of the most wrenching moments in the film comes when one of the men, after hundreds, perhaps thousands, of sexual encounters during the first fury of the AIDS virus, is persuaded to have himself tested for it, and he knows, he knows without a doubt, that he is HIV-positive. But he seems to hear a voice telling him that he is going to live, because he needs the time to make up for the wrong he has done. The test comes back, and when the doctor tells him the results, he sees the words on the doctor’s lips more clearly than he has ever seen anything. You are negative, says the doctor. This happens before he makes his slow and courageous way back to the faith.

There was another moment that made me gasp. The woman—like her brothers in the film, winsome, intelligent, and attractive, and yet also possessed of a quick feminine sense of the good in persons—was attending with her partner a feminist celebration of empowerment, out in the fields in Georgia. As they were walking along, they came upon two women on the grass, “loving on each other,” as she puts it, searching for polite words. When the women turned their heads, she saw with a shock that they were identical twins. Her conscience woke up for the moment, and she said to her partner, “Did you see that? Don’t you think that’s wrong?” The partner, also shaken by the sight, gave a predictable but revealing reply. “We can’t judge them,” she said, “because then other people would judge us.”

And we should remember that the inclination to this sin may make people feel particularly abandoned, in our time especially, when “sexual identity” is taken as fixed, and when the ordinary ties that used to bind people to one another, to a place and a history and a way of life, are so few and so frail. The second man in the film, once he found that his attraction to other men was not going to go away, did not conclude that there was no God, but rather that God did not love him. So whenever he passed the basilica near his home, he would turn to it with an obscene gesture, flinging it in the face of the loving God he did not know.

But in a more important sense the form of the sexual sin is not important. “All have sinned,” says Saint Paul, “and fallen short of the glory of God.” Jesus came to save sinners, and it is those who know they are sick who seek the physician, not those who believe they are healthy. All of us have breathed in the smoke of sin. No one’s flesh is clean of the char. The revolution in mores and in family life that struck the west with terrific force within my lifetime has hurt everyone. That revolution ought never to be called merely sexual. It is the Lonely Revolution.

Think of it. The conjugal act is the foundation of culture itself. It binds together the man and the woman, as man and woman, as representing all men and all women, because what they do makes the past present and ushers in the future; it is like a consummation of all of human history, and the seedbed of a world to come. This is not mystical thinking but plain fact. When I was thirteen years old and suddenly realized that I had changed, my first thought was not, “Now I can find out what is supposed to be so much fun,” because I hadn’t drunk in the poison. It was simply, with a quiet astonishment, “Now I can be a father,” meaning, I could enter into a new and permanent world of relationship.

What the Lonely Revolution did, under the cover of words like “love” and “freedom,” was to detach the sexual from the permanent things. It was to riddle the permanent with transience. A one-night stand is a kind of compressed marriage and divorce. To “love the one you’re with,” as the jauntily vicious song put it, meant to forget the one you weren’t with. It is to become not a giver of self but a consumer of selves, even if the selves are willing also to consume and be consumed. It is to use and to be used, even to be used up. So too every “relationship” which mimics marriage, but hangs an exit sign over the door. This is not philosophy. It too is a plain fact.

When my mother and father were married, and for about ten years after that, more than nine of ten people were married by age twenty five. Now that number is about one in ten. It isn’t just that people are delaying and delaying their entrance into the fullness of adult life. It is that marriageable men and women are harder to find; dating has disappeared; porn everywhere is a quick and wicked substitute; and parents themselves have no ground on which to stand and no good advice to give to their children, because they themselves have divorced, or they do not know what manhood and womanhood are all about, or they figure that marriages will just “happen,” like the rain.

The Lonely Revolution could not have come at a worse time, but then, it could only have gathered force in the world to which it came. For that world was already one of disintegration. People don’t know their neighbors. They have detached themselves from the old unifying institutions of culture, particularly the churches. Their schools are distant and anonymous. Children hardly play outdoors. Few mothers at home means few mothers to knit a neighborhood together. Yet we are made by the God who is Love, for love of Him and one another. What then to do?

C. S. Lewis once observed that a man may take to drink because he has failed, and then fail all the more because he drinks. Sexual sin, in the Lonely Revolution, is like that. You shack up, or go cruising, or hook up, or whatever the sad term may be, because you are lonely; and then you feel all the lonelier for having done it, once the thrill fades or the blood’s rage subsides. A whole society may go in for sexual sin because people must do something, anything, to keep away the loneliness, and then become a lonelier society than ever because of it.

This is what The Everlasting Hills brings steadily to our attention. It is a lonely world. We meet three people who were lonely (what could have possessed the boys at the time who ignored the woman in her youth, I can’t begin to fathom). We aren’t told, in the cases of the men, what might have lain beneath their desire for love from another man. There is no recrimination in the movie, no lashing out against negligent parents. There are no villains. Only us sinners, lonely, foolish, longing, confused sinners, in a world unusually harsh and barren.

And then these three people found the Lord.

One of the men used to go to church on the sly, afraid that he might be shunned by his friends if they found out about it. He had seen on television one day a “pirate nun” wearing a black eyepatch, whom he and his partner found hilarious, as they mocked her with pirate lingo; but she surprised him by saying something profound and unexpected about the boundless love of God for every single human being. The good sister from the Order of Blackbeards was Mother Angelica, just after the stroke she suffered some years ago. We too see her on the film—and so we watch what he watched, and can feel something of what he felt.

Finally, after searching on line for the proper form, he went to the confessional. He broke down. “Father,” he blurted out, “I’ve broken all the ten commandments!”

The priest was kind and gentle, with a sense of humor. “You’ve committed murder?” he asked.

“Well, no,” said the penitent. “Every one but that one.”

Confession was the hinge—we might say the cardinal sacrament—for each of the three. Each found a priest who knew that Jesus came to call sinners; who did not make light of the sin, which is but a self-approving way to make light of the sinner and his suffering. They met priests who wanted to welcome them to the feast.

They met priests who knew that the restless heart seeks Jesus and the kingdom of heaven, and who knew where the garden of love was really to be found.

One of the men has now lived chastely with his friend since his conversion. The movie ends not with the cardinal penance, but with the gift of gifts, the consummate sacrament. Never in my life, says this deeply sensitive, honest, and valiant man, have I felt such joy as when for the first time I received the body and blood of the Lord.

If you care about the victims of the Lonely Revolution, you should see Desire of the Everlasting Hills. Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.

Anthony Esolen


Professor Esolen is a teaching fellow and writer in residence at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts, in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Dr. Esolen is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine and the author of many books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008); Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books, 2010) and Reflections on the Christian Life (Sophia Institute Press, 2013). His most recent books are Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching (Sophia Institute Press, 2014); Defending Marriage (Tan Books, 2014); Life Under Compulsion (ISI Books, 2015); and Out of the Ashes (Regnery, 2017).

  • ForChristAlone

    “But in a more important sense the form of the sexual sin is not important. ‘All have sinned,’ says Saint Paul, ‘and fallen short of the glory of God.’ Jesus came to save sinners, and it is those who know they are sick who seek the physician, not those who believe they are healthy. All of us have breathed in the smoke of sin. No one’s flesh is clean of the char.”

    Is it just coincidental that this is written on the Feast of St Mary Magdalen? Let’s reflect on the Priest who heard her confession and brought her to a conversion of heart.

  • grzybowskib

    I have not seen the film Dr. Esolen saw, but there was another documentary released by Blackstone Films earlier this year called The Third Way. It touches on many of the same issues but is geared towards a teenaged/young adult audience. Many of the speakers in The Third Way are not same-sex attracted, but are people who are well known in the Church for their apostolates as chastity speakers and their ministry to young people. So there are discussions from people such as Chris Stefanick, Jason Evert, Father Mike Schmitz, and a few others on how the Church can help same-sex attracted people with the struggles they face. And then, of course, people who have left the gay lifestyle share their stories.

  • FernieV

    Amazingly clear, hopeful and deep. As usual. Thank you

  • Encourage14

    Encourage14 Thank you for your excellent review and for sharing your comments. I hope that Providence College will sponsor a viewing of this documentary for the students you teach! To all who have the opportunity to share this beautiful film, please share the good news of Desire of the Everlasting Hills!

  • Objectivetruth

    I watched the film, it is beautiful! One take away I saw was even though they thought they would be happy and fulfilled in these relationships, they were still lonely. Only Christ alleviated that emptiness and loneliness. Our hearts are truly restless.

    A definite “must see” film.

  • jcsmitty

    Professor Esolen sure knows how to turn a phrase.. Some of the sentences say so much in just a few words! Profound!

    I’m not sure if I haven’t seen this documentary on EWTN some time ago, but if not I did see something quite similar and moving. The desire of many in the homosexual lifestyle to break free shows that there is too much denial in the movement as a whole. Thank God for Courage!

    • Dart Echo

      To make a numbers guy like me appreciate the prose takes some doin’.. but Professor Esolen does everytime.

    • Jim Morlino

      jcsmitty – safe to say you did NOT see THIS film on EWTN – as it is brand new, and at this writing only available to watch FREE online at the link the professor provides above

  • Daniel P

    On behalf of those who struggle with same-sex attraction, Tony, thank you for writing this and giving publicity to this movie. The culture war is pretty toxic, on both sides, and same-sex attraction adults (and especially children) are caught in the crossfire. My hope is that seeing movies like this might be an antidote to the vitriol. It may also help to validate the personal choice for celibacy, on a broader cultural level.

  • Billiamo

    I watched the film this evening, thanks to you. The three people in it radiated the kind of grace that can’t be faked.

  • cpsho

    Prof Esolen writes:
    “But in a more important sense the form of the sexual sin is not
    important. “All have sinned,” says Saint Paul, “and fallen short of the
    glory of God.”
    It true all have sinned; but homosexual acts are abominations in the sight of God. So why would any Catholic want to call himself “Gay”.
    Why would any Catholic think God created him to be tempted to have sex with someone of his own gender?
    Many of us think homosexual sins are just another form of sexual sin. No, they are in fact one of the few sins described as abominations. These same-sex thing is a serious matter and it must be treated as such.

    • Daniel P

      I wonder what Jesus would write on the sand for you to read.

      At any rate, no one here is advocating that we treat same-sex attraction as a “casual” thing, so I’m not sure what you’re driving at. Perhaps you would like to feel that straight people are intrinsically better than people who experience same-sex attraction?

      But Paul surely committed abominations in the sight of God, when he put Christians to death. But are any of us better than Paul?

      • Guest

        There is no such thing as “straight” people. That is gayspeak.

        • Daniel P

          Sure. “Straight” and “gay” are social constructions. But sometimes we use social constructions to communicate.

        • Guest

          They are non-gay

      • cpsho

        No. Paul was a sinner but he repented. We all need to repent; not cuddle our sin and say we are “Gay” but chaste. That makes no sense. A Christian can never (and should never) call himself “Gay”.

        • Daniel P

          I did not comment on defining oneself as gay. I just wondered what the point of insisting homosexual activity is some uber-sin is.

          To be clear, also, it seems like the Bible describes the activity of anal sodomy as an abomination. I think it does speak against same-sex romance, but not with the word “abomination”. (I’m happy to be corrected, if I’m wrong). So you catch a lot of people in the crossfire by throwing that word around. I daresay most gay people haven’t had anal sex. At the very least, a great many gay people haven’t.

          I agree, of course, that we all need repentance — no matter how major or minor our sins.

        • egalitrix

          What do you suggest they call themselves then? There are situations were one’s sexual attraction to people will become relevant, abstinent or not, and Christians may need this label.

    • Objectivetruth

      Sins that cry to heaven for vengeance, from a Catholic Q & A website:

      “There are particular mortal sins that are so evil that they are said to be sins that cry to heaven for vengeance: murder (Gn 4:10), sodomy (Gn 17:20-21), oppression of the poor (Ex 2:23), and defrauding workers of their just wages (Jas 5:4).”

      • Daniel P

        The basic point you’re making is valid, but the website you’re quoting made a rather serious citation error. Genesis 17:20-21 says, “And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.”

        No crying for vengeance there!

        • Objectivetruth

          Don’t shoot the messenger. It’s based upon teaching from the Catechism. Just relaying the teaching:

          1867 The catechetical tradition also recalls that there are “sins that cry to heaven”: the blood of Abel,139 the sin of the Sodomites,140 the cry of the people oppressed in Egypt,141 the cry of the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan,142 injustice to the wage earner.143 (2268)

          • Daniel P


            If you read my reply, I said specifically that your point was valid. But Genesis 17:20-21 doesn’t support it. I think your source meant to cite Genesis 18:20-21.

            • Objectivetruth

              OK. No worries.

          • Eric Conrad

            So by coming to this site, a site that those with SSA visit with the desire to release the grip of lust and sin, and reminding us who are already aware that this has been labeled “a sin that cries to heaven for vengeance,” What are you hoping to achieve? People come here with hope, you come here with what? For what? What do you hope to convey to us, what is your message, is it that we have committed an unforgivable sin? What do you suggest?

      • egalitrix

        Kind of odd that rape isn’t mentioned there, isn’t it?

    • standtall909

      “Why would any Catholic want to call himself ‘Gay'”? Because they’ve not only been given permission by wayward clergy but in some cases actually led to believe they are ‘normal’. “God doesn’t make mistakes.” They seem to twist scripture to justify these people, and actually glorify them in their sin. The headline on an article I read recently seems to fit perfectly: “The Smoke of Satan has turned into a raging fire.” I think that says it all.

  • cpsho

    Every Catholic who call himself “Gay” should read what the Psalmist say:
    “Tremble with fear and stop sinning;
    think deeply about this,
    when you lie in silence on your beds.”
    (Psalm 4 v 4)
    Stop accusing God of creating you “Gay”
    Homosexuality comes from a fallen nature , in a fallen World, constantly being harassed by fallen angels.
    The sooner all Catholics accept this the better.

    • Boo

      I think we should all seriously heed that psalm, whether ‘gay’ or not.
      And yes, all sin comes from a fallen nature, not just homosexuality. But many tendencies to sin are influenced by temperament, upbringing and environment. And yes, Satan will certainly push what buttons he can.
      Did you know though that many ‘gay’ men find that their fathers were either absent or extremely cold, harsh or even violent towards them whilst their mothers were overly attentive, therefore they grew up to identify themselves more with femininity than masculinity? Likewise, many lesbian women found that growing up their mothers were cold and harsh but they were extremely close to their fathers, thus they rejected the feminine influence and identified more with masculinity. Not all homosexuals fit this pattern of course but many do, suggesting there is something to be said for environmental influences. To assume that homosexuality is as simple as a choice is not necessarily the case and not helpful. It is also worth remembering Aquinas’ (or was it Augustine’s?) lesson that soul adjusts itself to the operations of the body.
      Either way, regardless of whether we are attracted to the same sex or the opposite, we must see where our tendencies and temperaments point and with God’s grace correct what needs to be corrected. All of us.

  • FrankW

    Beautifully written. I look forward to the opportunity to see the film, but also share this article and it’s amazing illustration of the truth of who we are as human beings made in the image and likeness of God.

    I almost hate to say this, but reading Professor Esolen’s work makes me jealous; I wish I could write half as well as he does.

    • Let’s speak correctly

      You mean it makes you ‘envious.’ ‘Jealousy’ refers to possessiveness of what is one’s own (like a jealously-guarded secret or God being ‘jealous’ of His people in the Bible). ‘Envy’ is resentment or sadness that one does NOT have something that someone else has (that’s why it’s one of the seven deadly sins; God is ‘jealous’ and that’s OK, but God is never ‘envious’ – He can’t be: everything belongs to Him). Even when ‘envy’ is used to express admiration and not spiritual sadness over another’s gifts, the correct word is still ‘envy’ because one is speaking of something that belongs to someone else and which one does not have oneself.

      It’s a pity that even Catholic theologians are putting us at risk of losing a sense of the deadly sin of envy by sloppily using ‘jealousy’ when they mean ‘envy’. (I don’t necessarily mean on this page; I read it often from theologians when I used to proofread a Catholic website).

  • AugustineThomas

    Beautiful! I got chills up and down my spine during the part about confession and the priests welcoming us wretched sinners to the feast.

  • Ladasha Smithson

    “dating has disappeared”

    Maybe this is a good thing. Dating culture is only ~70 years old, maybe now we can get back to courting.

  • Cap America

    I think the chief problem in all this is that our publicly-accepted Theory of How People Work posits sexual pleasure as the main objective in human life.

    I doubt this. We need a shared sense of what people are all about that is much more sensitive and appreciative of all that people really are and can be.

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    • Caution!

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      • nino

        (english is not my language so excuse me for the mistakes ).
        i haven’t read all your opinions , but i read enough of them to get an idea of your way of thinking . the subject was homosexsuality . THE SIN . you have quoted many sentences of the old testament , you have quoted the sentences of many saints …. and all this has given you peace of mind and the right to tell THE SINNERS ,,, how they have to behave ! and to change their life . well , i was hoping someone would tell me what CHRIST has said about gay people …. well , no one has done this because CHRIST has not said a single word against gay people …. why ? because others have said this ? the levitico …ecc….. or because others were going to say something about this ! …. st paul , saint thomas aquinates …. ecc dont you think this is very strange ? CRIST spoke of everything not against gay people …. when a pharesee asked him what was the greatest comandament CHRIST answered …. love GOD with all yourself , and there is another one similar to this … dont do to others what you would not like to be done to you …. well , this two sentences include all and this all is LOVE …. all the books of teologions , of filosophes ecc are not needed …. GOD IS LOVE , AND LOVE IS GOD ! an atheist that behaves with love in their life , will have the first seat in paradise , and someone who goes to church each day but has not got love will be left at the end . LOVE IS THE WORD AND NOTHING ELSE ! gays have been burned alive by the catholic church during the inquisition , because of all the points you have put in your answers , hitler has killed them in the concentration camps …. have all thees SAINTS and killers read NOT TO KILL ? now the church doesn’t burne gays alive , but does this in a more suttle way … depicting them as the worst sinners …. well , when some gay person , who has had LOVE and COMPASSION for others in his life , will go in front of god , the saints who have spoken bad against gays and made them killed will go down from his altar and kiss his feet ….. and now just the last thing … PHEDOFILY …. CRIST has spoken about this …. A VERY VERY BAD SIN
        can you give me an answer about what i’m going to tell you ? well in 2003 in boston came to light that its cardinal FRANCIS LOW had covered phedophile priests , after the scandal the diocesis sent away the cardinal because of its crimes , and then pope woitila , now made saint , called him and made him the head of the basilica of saint mary majour …. ( nice present ) can you explain this to me ? perhaps phedofile is not a crime , like being gay !!
        GOD BLESS !

  • Frank Attanucci

    Desire of the Everlasting Hills is an excellent movie (just over an hour in length). There is nothing “flashy” about it: the experiences shared by the three people (2 men and 1 woman) completely occupy center stage–even the questions asked by the interviewer are barely audible (but subtitled), so as to minimize his presence. Moreover, I had the
    impression that the questions he asked only nudged those interviewed forward; they were never led in a direction that they themselves did not want to go. At no time did I sense that those interviewed had words put in their mouths, or that they were offering canned responses. Each of them had their own, distinct story to tell; and each of them told their
    story with the utmost sincerity.

  • Guest

    “Courageous” is not the proper name for avoiding gravely disordered actions. Using that word is insulting to those who have truly exhibited courage.