“Prepare Ye The Way of the Lord” (Luke 1:67-79)

In today’s Gospel, I see two key take-aways from the words of Zechariah, father of John the Baptist:

One is a reminder that the promise of the Lord that he “that he would save us from our enemies and from the hands of all who hate us” applies to all his people – and that most certainly includes those of us who experience hatred and discrimination in church, allegedly but spuriously in the Lord’s own name.

Another is implied in Zechariah’s words to his son, the instruction to “prepare a way for the Lord”. He is speaking here directly to his son, John the Baptist, but the words are equally applicable to all of us. It is not enough simply to wait passively for the Kingdom of God: it is incumbent on all of us to prepare the way in our own communities, spreading the word that the Kingdom applies to all, excluding none:.

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Pope Francis, on Diversity and Harmony in the Catholic Orchestra.

Pope Francis describes the meaning of “Catholic” as including diversity, and specifically does not equate with uniformity.

If the Catholic right has already  been surprised by our new pope, following remarks during his in – flight press conference in July, confused by his long September interview  with Jesuit magazines, in a state of panic at the thought of the planned extraordinary synod on the family, how will they respond to this?
As part of the catechesis in a general audience, Wednesday October 9th, Pope Francis flatly contradicted a central tenet dearly held by what I think of as rabidly orthotoxic Catholics – those who are convinced that the deposit of faith is precisely defined (in terms exactly matching their own understanding, especially of all matters sexual), that all true Catholics are required to believe and follow absolutely every detail of this deposit as specified in the Catechism,and presented by the Vatican, and that failing to follow these rules, endangers one’s hopes of eternal salvation – and that questioning their validity counts as heresy. For that reason, they believe, it is their solemn religious obligation to correct and rebuke those who differ in their opinions from their own, deeming such rebukes an act of mercy, saving their miserable souls from damnation.
Symphony Orchestra
This view of course, ignores the facts, that embedded in the Catechism itself, and in numerous Vatican documents, are numerous references that contradict this narrow view. There is explicit recognition of the importance of conscience, not all elements of teaching are of the same level of importance, and not all require the same degree of assent. A close reading of the Catechism, furthermore, exposes elements that are self – contradictory (especially on matters of human sexuality). In effect, it is impossible for every Catholic to follow meticulously every line of the Catechism, every detail of every Vatican decree, or for every Catholic to interpret and apply these in the same way, as orthotoxic Catholics expect.
So what will they make of the pope’s very clear statement that their expected uniformity, of practice and belief, is simply NOT a mark of Catholicism, after all? Instead, in describing three meanings of the term “Catholic”, he gave the third as inclusive of diversity. Elaborating, he used the image of a symphony orchestra, in which different notes and tone colours of the many different instruments combine in glorious harmony. The challenge for the right is acute: for them it is an article of faith that the pope, guided by God, must be right – so what are they to make of papal pronouncements that contradict their cetnral conviction that Catholicism requires absolute conformity? Or that their own desire to impose uniformity “erodes the gifts of the Holy Spirit”?
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How Quest is Promoting LGBT Catholic Integrity

I’ve already described why it is that LGBT Catholics need help and support in reconciling two important parts of their make – up, their Catholic faith and inherent affectional orientation. I have also outlined how the integration of our sexuality into the human person is an important part of Catholic teaching, applicable to people of any orientation and spelled out clearly in the Catechism. I repeat the key extracts quoted earlier

“Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity.” (2333)

and

“Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being.

Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another” (2337)

But for lesbian and gay Catholics, is internally self – contradictory, a circle that cannot easily be squared. To do so, lesbian and gay Catholics need mutual help and support, in prayerful reflection, sharing, worship and study.  This is where Quest, and other LGBT Catholic support groups, come in.

QuestLogo

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The Powerful Witness of a Catholic Gay Union.

“Witness” is the root of the very Catholic word, “martyr”.  In this sense, we are all called to martyrdom. Joseph Gentilini’s “Hounded by God” is a powerful, moving example of  of the witness demonstrated by one gay Catholic’s triumphant, faithful witness.

CIVIL-UNIONS

I have just finished reading this book, which I did in two short sittings, over two days – but that is not the way to approach it, to derive the greatest benefit. That is not the way it is structured, nor the intention in the original writing. The structure is a selection of extracts from Gentilini’s spiritual journal over four decades, arranged not chronologically, but in thematic chapters. These extracts are interspersed with excerpts from a previously unpublished autobiography, and supplemented by a chapter reproducing some of the countless letters he has written over the years to Catholic bishops, Catholic papers, to politicians, including a US president – and to Anita Bryant.

So  there is no clear narrative thread, and even within chapters, there is thematic unity and some chronological sequencing, but the extracts do not always flow neatly, from one to another. And that is to the good, for forcing the reader at times, in between skimming from one idea or event to the next, to stop and think deeply about the importance of a particular section, to savour it, to reflect on it, just as one would one reading scripture.

In Ignatian spirituality, journalling is an important form of prayer, ideally undertaken daily. The point is that by reflecting prayerfully on our experiences after the event, and assessing our responses, we are able to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit deep within our hears – “Heart speaking to heart”. Journalling then, is a form of prayer that enables us not simply to speak directly and frankly to God, but also to learn from the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to us. This process of listening (helped by a regular spiritual director) is what enabled Gentilini through many difficult years of substantial criticism and near rejection by his family, and the horrors of reparative therapy, to fully accept himself, first as gay, then as gay and Catholic – and finally to integrate the two.

Many of us who are also gay and Catholic (and others) will have grappled likewise with some or all of the themes that he works through. Through the evident honesty and frankness of his writing (he was writing, after all, for himself and for God, and not for publication), he does more than respond to the voice of the Spirit speaking to him: he channels and repeats that voice for his readers to hear, also.

Perhaps the single chapter  where this is most important, is where he describes a period of sexual promiscuity, contrasted with his subsequent growth in loving and committed union with a loving partner.Throughout his references to nights at the baths or other casual sexual encounters, he often writes of his awareness, afterwards, of feelings of dissatisfaction or worse. Occasions, that is, which may have been pleasurable at the time – but in which God was not present. In contrast, as he describes the gradually developing relationship with Leo, who became his life partner, and especially as he describes in joyful gratitude the continuing pleasure and satisfaction of giving himself in intimacy even into his seventh decade, the pleasures do not fade after ejaculation, or the end of the embrace. This is absolutely a love in which God is present, and several extracts describe explicitly how he and Leo at times find God directly in physical love, in simple touch,  and in dancing together.

This matters for the rest of us. The orthodox doctrine is self-evidently unrealistic (and so disordered), in its insistence that this self- giving in physical intimacy is licit only within heterosexual marriage, open to procreation – and so denied to those with a same – sex affectional orientation. (And to all others who are unmarried, or not yet ready to produce children). In the real world, the majority of Catholics reject the Vatican line – but having done so, what are they to put into its place? Far too many gay Catholics respond as Gentilini did in the beginning, by slipping into a life of promiscuity and hedonism (what some writers on gay spirituality describe as a second closet).

To steer a sound path between the sterility of a single life, devoid of physical love and self-giving, and the recklessness of selfish promiscuity, takes careful discernment. Gentilini’s frank reports of his experiences, and is conversations with God on the subject, can help us as well as him to negotiate the treacherous waters.

In referred yesterday to Duigan McGinley’s view that gay Catholic autobiographies should be seen as “sacred texts”. This descriptor applies to “Hounded by God” more completely than most. The nature of the text, with its origin in prayerful sharing with God, and in its structure, with its series of short extracts not always following directly on each other, lends itself admirably for use precisely in the same way as the primary sacred text, the Bible.  I have now read it in full, to get the flavour and primary message. I will now return to it in small doses, picking up on short extracts or specific themes. I will reflect on them, think about them – even at times pray, not on the texts themselves, but for guidance on what lessons I can draw from them. Some of these reflections and conclusions, I will spin out into posts, here at Queering the Church.

I strongly encourage my gay Catholic readers, unless they are those rare creatures who have already worked out for themselves a completely satisfactory and complete, workable system of sexual ethics, to do so too.

hounded by god

Buy from Amazon.com (USA)

Buy from Amazon.co.uk (United Kingdom)

Books:

Johnson, Fenton: Geography Of The Heart

McGinley, Dugan: “Acts of Faith, Acts of Love: Gay Catholic Autobiographies As Sacred Texts

McNeill, John: Both Feet Firmly Planted in Midair

Sullivan, Andrew: Virtually Normal

 

 

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“He Sent Me to Give the Good News to the Queers”

For today, the third Sunday of ordinary time, the Gospel reading is the story of the Jesus’ first time reading in the temple, in the passage from Isaiah, with the keynote words, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor”.

I have written before on this passage, and how I see this message, which effectively begins his public ministry, as central to my understanding of what Christianity is all about. By appallingly bad timing, today was also the day that the Catholic bishops of England and Wales chose to distribute postcards to all Massgoers, for them to complete and send to their Members of Parliament, expressing their opposition to the marriage equality proposals now before the British parliament. How this divisive postcard campaign, designed to continue and perpetuate discrimination and division under the law between same – sex and opposite – sex couples, is completely beyond me, can be squared with the plain message of today’s Gospel of liberation from all forms of oppression, or from the second reading from Corinthians on how we are all parts of one body, is completely beyond my comprehension.

These words, and those of the hymn “God’s Spirit is in my heart”, one of my favourites, had a particular resonance for me this morning, against the background of my recent personal decision to do precisely this: to spend a much greater portion of my time and energy in “proclaiming the good news” to the the oppressed – those in the LGBT community, so relentlessly (if unintentionally) oppressed by the institutional church, and some orthotoxic Catholics. In doing so, I am conscious of the enormous practical risks I will be taking, with minimal expectations of any form of reliable income to keep me alive, and unsure of precisely what or how I will do this. I was greatly strengthened by the words of the third and fourth verses that we sang as a recessional hymn:

Don’t carry a load in your pack, 
You don’t need two shirts on your back
A workman can earn his own keep, 
Can earn his own keep

Don’t worry what you have to say, 
Don’t worry because on that day 
God’s Spirit will speak in your heart, 
Will speak in your heart.

As luck would have it, it fell to me today to “proclaim the word” at my local Mass this morning, and to read the lessons and bidding prayers. I did so with conviction and passion – but reading into the words of the text what to me was a clear reading, probably NOT in concord with the bishops’ unfortunate and poorly timed message of division.

Here’s a post I published some time ago on the same text – but in a context outside of the Sunday Mass:

******

Last week, I joined the Soho Masses team of Eucharistic Ministers and Ministers of the Word for an afternoon of prayer and reflection on our roles. To help us through the process, we had the services of David, who is an experienced prayer guide, trained in the  methods of Ignatian spirituality. All those present agreed that the afternoon was profoundly helpful in bringing some perspective to their place in serving the Eucharist and the Word in Mass. For me, it also brought a new insight to my activities with the Queer Church, which I want to share with you today.

The text that we reflected on for the readers was the familiar scene in the Temple from Luke 4, in which Jesus reads from Isaiah.

torahreading

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Congratulations to New Ways Ministry / “Bondings 2.0″

New Ways Ministry is an invaluable, inspirational gay-positive ministry of advocacy and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Catholics, and reconciliation within the larger Christian and civil communities, originally set up by Sister Jeannine Gramick and Fr Robert Nugent, way back in 1976/7, after Sr Jeannine was challenged by a question from a young gay man, “What is your church doing for my gay brothers and sisters?”

Since then, the organisation has grown and flourished, in spite of hostility directed from the CDF and others towards the ministry itself, and to Sr Jeannine and Fr Nugent personally. It is today under lay leadership, with Francis DeBenardo as executive director. Their website summarizes their valuable activities as

Through research, publication and education about homosexuality, we foster dialogue among groups and individuals, identify and combat personal and structural homophobia, work for changes in attitudes and promote the acceptance of LGBT people as full and equal members of church and society.

This simple statement does not do full justice to their full range of activities and programs, which include retreats, “Next Steps” workshops, Dialogue Sessions, Pilgrimages, specialist programs for women religious and priests, a “Bridge Building” award, and every five years, a major USA national symposium, designed specifically for Church leaders and ministers, presenting the latest theological developments and pastoral practices in lesbian/gay ministry. Publications include “Bondings“, a regular newsletter.

In November 2011, as Advent began, Frank DeBenardo began a new venture to complement these activities. This is a regular blog (which rather oddly is not mentioned on the website) , named “Bondings 2.0″, after the printed Newsletter. In his opening post, he described the blog as

I am venturing into a new approach to using words: a blog.

As education is a main focus of our ministry, I will attempt to use this blog to help educate people about the many new ways that lesbian/gay issues are being developed in the Catholic church.  As with most blogs, there will occasionally be opinions expressed and, perhaps, actions that we suggest you take to help make our church a more just community for all people.

Words are important.  The mystery of the Incarnation, which we are preparing to celebrate, teaches us that words should heal, unite, reconcile, and do justice.   Most importantly, words are most powerful not when they are spoken or written, but when they are “made flesh” in the real world of action and solidarity.

I hope and pray that the words on this blog will help us all to incarnate the church community and the civil society in which we wish to live.

Stay tuned.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

I began following Frank’s blog soon after. Although its focus is heavily on the American church, I still found much of interest and value. After reading a short announcement about a then upcoming “Next Steps” workshop, I wrote and asked if there was any possibility of doing something similar here, in the UK. There was, and we did.

In the time leading up to the conference, I found myself reflecting deeply on a major gap in LGBT ministry here: we have the very valuable Soho Masses in central London, and we have Quest nationally, but neither of these does or can do the full range of work done in the US, where they have New Ways, CALGM, and Fortunate Families, in addition to gay – friendly Masses in San Francisc0 and New York, and Dignity. I found myself feeling distinctly jealous – and the Holy Spirit, I know from Ignatian spirituality, often speaks to us through our feelings. I found I was often asking myself the same question that Sr Jeannine’s friend was putting to her: “What am I doing for my gay brothers and sisters  (outside Soho Masses)?” There’s the blog of course – but could there be more?

This came more closely into focus when I attended the Next Steps workshop in London last June, and was challenged to commit myself to three realistic and achievable ways in which I personally could undertake to expand my involvement in LGBT ministry. One of the ways I identified for myself, was to look to continue to present this very valuable program in the UK.

The news announced this year of the Soho Masses move to Mayfair has further pushed my thinking, on the urgent need for wide – ranging ministry, not only to those able and willing to attend Soho Masses, and not only to those in Quest, but also to many more who are presently not being reached, and to those faithful  Catholic  mothers of children. Many of these are understandably terrified that if Catholic teaching is sound, their sons may be doomed to hell. They too, need ministry.

And so, in a reverse direction to Frank, who went from wide-ranging ministry to add blogging to his activities, I have been contemplating going from a narrow focus on blogging, to a greater emphasis on direct face – to – face work, promoting the Next Steps workshops, and perhaps adopting and adapting some of the other New Ways methods. Quite how I will be able to do this is as yet unclear to me – but yesterday I had a discussion with the Jesuit Provincial Dermot Preston SJ (whom I know from his time in South Africa some years ago, and worked with in connection with the CLC), on embarking on some serious spiritual direction. Part of what I am looking for guidance on, will include finding a way to do this expansion into more direct, focused LGBT ministry – and assisting others to develop their own.

Stay tuned for more information on my own personal “Next Steps”, as I clarify and develop my thoughts, in the time ahead.

Meanwhile, for light relief, take a look at Frank’s 500th post, Time to Pause for Some Levity, complete with this wonderful and its very relevant cartoon:

Last week, on January 1st, The Washington Post‘s “Style” section printed it’s annual list of what is “Out” and what is “In,”  an annual inventory of what is hot and what is not in American culture.  Listed among the various fads, TV characters, celebrities, and  the latest political lingo was this one little item of Catholic interest:

Out:  Bishops

In:  Nuns

This note obviously refers to the many stories during 2012, when it was proven time and again that Catholic respect for nuns has been on the increase.  This respect is due in no small part to the fact that many nuns view LGBT issues primarily as justice issues.   In 2012, nuns’ support of LGBT issues contributed to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious’ (LCWR) run-in with the Vatican.  Back in April and May of 2012, when the LCWR story was front-page news, the following cartoon ran in many papers and was circulated widely on Facebook and the internet:

 

via  « Bondings 2.0.

A.M.D.G!

(Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam – to the greater glory of God).

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A Strictly Personal Reflection

On Monday afternoon, I will be meeting up with the Jesuit Provincial, whom I happen to know personally, from my CLC days in Johannesburg, when I was the newly appointed regional co-ordinator for Johannesburg, and he was our newly appointed contact person for the J’s, based in Cape Town.

This is a strictly personal interview I’ve been wanting to set up for the past year (about personal spiritual direction and filling a gap in my life without the CLC), but I’ve stalled on doing so up to now. The current fuss, and also some possible CLC developments in my local parish, pushed me off my butt, to finally fix this meeting.
I will have a great deal to talk about, and not enough time. To give him some advance warning of what’s bothering me, I wrote him a preparatory email. As I’m pretty lazy, and don’t like to waste anything I’ve written, I thought it could be helpful to share what I wrote, with my readers. It offers a fairly reasonable account of my current state of mind.
Me
Some information, about me. I’m not going to go into background in any detail, as some of it you already know, and more is freely available on-line. If you want or need more, just ask.
Here are the bare bones of absolutely essential background, followed by observations on my current need.
Historic background
 
The core take aways I got out of my 10 years or so with CLC, were a strong commitment to the importance of trust and surrender, to discernment of mission (and continuing discernment in all things in daily life), and being attentive to the voice of the Spirit, speaking deep in our hearts (and of course, much more – but those are key, right now). In  working through the concept of mission, one of the books we went through, by some American brothers, spoke of finding and opening  our “sealed orders”.
Before leaving SA, I had the most astonishing retreat experience. Discussion thereafter with my retreat director, later with Mike Lewis, deeply colour my response to events since my arrival in the UK. This has left me with a (mostly) unshakeable conviction that these have helped me to find, open, and respond to, my own personal sealed orders: to do as much as I can to promote ministry to LGBT Catholics (and other Christians). This I have come to do through writing at my personal blog, by extensive involvement in the Soho Masses, and wherever else I see a role, and increasingly in my own local parish, and through the Call to Action initiative, in the wider A&B diocese.These activities, and the reading and thinking/discussions that support them, probably occupy the equivalent in time and energy of many full-time jobs, (or even more, as its 7 days a week, with no holiday time).
Present challenges
However, its effectively unpaid – or even negatively paid, as I have some direct and indirect expenses, in travel,, books and computer costs. I have a trickle of income from advertising, Amazon sales commission, and the occasional donation – but even in total, these do not cover costs. As I am partnered, with no need to pay rent or mortgage, and no longer have dependent children to provide for, I do not need a large income, but I do need some. To cover that, I work part-time at two low-grade jobs: six nights a week (usually) I deliver pizza, at less than the minimum wage. When exam times come around, I get to do exam invigilation at Surrey University, so between them I get by.
BUT, as result of my earlier disastrous career crash, and some nasty accumulated debt, my financial position overall is extremely precarious – especially in the longer term.
I am also severely short of any personal time for prayer or R & R, and none at all for serious “entertainment”, or even decent clothing.
There are also some difficulties in my relationship with my partner: difficulties which should be minor, easily resolved by just sitting down and talking – but I’m pretty sure he has Asbergeer’s, and “just sitting down and talking” about us, is just what he cannot do. It also doesn’t help that he’s high church Anglican, and positively hostile to Catholicism and the Vatican, or that with his personal background, he’s uncomfortable with being as fully out and open about sexuality as I am – and even more uncomfortable about activism, so that I can’t talk seriously to him about my work, either.  Between pounding away at my laptop most days, and he at his PC, and me being out most evenings, either working, or at Soho Masses, we don’t get too much quality time together, either.
So, I find myself with a lifestyle which is frankly bizarre and unsustainable. But, convinced (most of the time) that I am simply following through on those sealed orders, I blithely carry on. To sustain me, I have that good old trust and surrender. I’m like the bumble bee.
Do you know about the bumble bee? It’s said to be aerodynamically impossible for the bumble bee to fly – too heavy, with wings too small. Fortunately for it, the bee doesn’t know that, so it just flies, anyway.
Inline images 3
 That’s me, the bumble bee.
Or perhaps Mother Theresa, who is reputed to have brushed aside complaints that there was no money for her ambitious building plans, with “The Lord will provide”.
David Birchall said much the same to me, in Calpe. “When you’re doing the right thing, money usually looks after itself”. And so I’ve found. But its still a heck of a precarious way to plan a pension, when I’ve not been here long enough to qualify for a full state one.
And so, while I continue to push ahead, convinced that I have some kind of hot-line to the Holy Spirit to guide and protect me, sometimes I’ve a nagging little voice that says I’m fooling myself. Perhaps its all spiritual arrogance of the highest order. Perhaps (only remotely possible) I really am possessed by demons (of a “particularly perverse kind”) leading me astray, putting my site under Satanic influence, as some people allege (yes, I kid you not). There are people out there who have asked on-line for Vincent Nichols to call in the exorcists, to bring me to order.
Inline images 2
or, more realistically – perhaps this is all just an elaborate escapist strategy, designed to evade facing up to the very real horrors and responsibilities  of my own life.
Immediate need
I need to step back from time to time, and ask in all seriousness – “but what if I’m wrong?”
And even if I’m right, even if, with the Lord’s remarkable sense of humour and inexplicable judgement, he really has singled me out for what I am firmly convinced is a seriously important and valuable task – what then? How am I to juggle responsibilities, balance all the competing demands on my energies, and still meet responsibilities to my families (all of them), and to creditors – and to myself?
AND now, deal with the new responsibilities around Farm Street, and Haslemere CLC – and my new grandson, expected to announce his arrival any day now.
(and just possibly, squeeze in a little time alone with the Lord, whom I’ve sorely neglected, since that remarkable retreat when he quite directly grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, and gave me a right talking to).
Which sometimes leaves me feeling a total fraud. I’m constantly on about discernment, and the importance of growth in prayer, and of Ignatian spirituality: but without the CLC group to keep me on the straight and narrow, and hold me to account for my life – I very rarely actually practice any Ignatian spirituality, or formal prayer of any kind.
But then, from another perspective, my whole life has become a form of prayer.
That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it.
And now, no more to say, except “Help, please”
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The British “Call to Action”: Continuing the Process

One day last month, while the Catholic bishops of the world continued their synod in Rome to mark the 50th anniversary of Vatican II and the start of the year of faith, I joined something like 400 other English Catholics, in a gathering to promote the “Call to Action”, an English manifestation of the powerful moves for renewal being seen in so many parts of the world.

These events, the current Synod of Bishops in Rome, the global moves for reform, the Year of Faith which commences today, and Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Letter, “Porta Fidei” (The Door of Faith), announcing it, all spring from a common impulse:  remembering and reassessing Vatican II and its legacy. This is a vast subject, with many different aspects deserving our attention. I hope to cover several of these in a series of posts over the coming weeks, but for now, I look only at the one for which I have direct, personal experience – the English “Call to Action”.

A report at Independent Catholic News emphasised (correctly) the “overwhelming” attendance. Organisers originally planned for about 150, but then found about 300 registered in advance, and many more arrived unannounced on the day, from all corners of the country. This was even though there was in fact very little advance publicity for the event, largely limited to private emails, and a late announcement in The Tablet.   ICN estimates attendance on the day as about 400, which seems reasonable. With proper promotion and marketing, turnout could likely have been far higher – but numbers on the day are not what is important. This should be seen as one event in an unfolding process, not as a landmark in itself.

Huge support for ‘A Call to Action’ on Church renewal

Around 400 people attended yesterday’s second meeting of the movement ‘A Call to Action’, which is fostering dialogue about the future direction of the Church and Church renewal in Britain. The organisers were “overwhelmed” by the attendance, which forced the gathering out of Heythrop College in Kensington and into nearby St  Mary Abbots Church. Nearly every diocese of England and Wales was represented and priests, religious and laity were all there in good numbers.

The initiative started off in June when seven priests – Ian Byrnes, John Lally, Patrick McLaughlin, Frank Nally, Derek Reeve, Joe Ryan and Paul Sanders – wrote to The Tablet, calling for a more active encouragement of lay people in the work of the Church, and expressing concern that the call for collegiality made by Vatican II has not been realised. The first open meeting they organised on 18 July attracted 70 Catholic priests and deacons who shared concerns and discussed the future of the Church. In advance of the second meeting, some organisers had met with Archbishop Vincent Nichols at what was described as a “very good meeting”. Fr Joe Ryan of Westminster Diocese reported that “he agreed that something needs to be done” and “will observe our movement”.

Independent Catholic News

What was achieved at that meeting? In practical terms, I suspect, very little. There were no ringing resolutions adopted, no plan of action agreed – but that was not the point. What did happen, was the continuation and expansion of a movement and process for discussion and dialogue, which began with a small group of priests, is now expanding to begin to include the laity, and has the ear and interest of the country’s leading bishop. Practically, the organisers also have a substantial stack of forms with names, contact details and special skills of people willing to be involved in taking the process further. Quite how that will play out remains to be seen – but I expect it will include taking the process down a level, to local dioceses or regions.

The ICN report summarizes each of the four brief keynote addresses that started the day – read them there. I want to offer instead some thoughts and themes that particularly struck me personally.

Dialogue, not Issues

There was repeated emphasis that the intention is to promote dialogue, rather than simply to campaign in favour of specific issues. From their website:

A Call To Action: We are a group of Catholics, many of whom are ordained, brought together by our love of Christ’s church and our anxiety about its future. Still inspired by the Second Vatican Council we want to contribute fully to the life of our church so that we may be a more effective sign of the Kingdom of God. To do this, we believe that an atmosphere of openness and dialogue both with each other and with our bishops needs developing. We desire to help create a climate of trust and respect for all where this dialogue may be fostered.

In his address, Fr Gerry Hughes SJ identified a climate of fear as the core problem facing the church: fear among laypeople of speaking frankly to their priests, fear among priests of speaking frankly to bishops, fear among bishops  of speaking (or writing) frankly to Rome. Conversely, there is also fear in the other direction – many priests are fearful of their congregations. We need to learn to speak more frankly and fearlessly – but that requires the development of safe spaces in which these conversations can take place.

(This is not to suggest that the issues are not important – of course they are. Just some of the issues commonly raised, by keynote speakers, included those of the excessively authoritarian structure and methods of the Church, married priests and women priests, of remarriage after divorce and welcome for LGBT Catholics. However, the first task is to provide a space for talking about these in a spirit of respect and trust).

It also requires that we avoid the trap of seeing this confrontationally, in terms of “us” and “them”, “progressives” and “reactionaries”.

Responding to my recent post on reform in Austria, Phil placed a perceptive comment, reading (in part)

 In our youth the Church was more progressive leaning, today is the hour of the traditionalist. Just as the pendulum has swung before, it will swing again, and another progressive era is inevitable sooner or later.

While we may see a coming more progressive era as a victory, just as the traditionalists see the current era as a victory, it seems reasonable to ask what any of these temporary victories really accomplish. No matter who is ascendant in any given moment, the Church remains divided and endlessly squabbling.

A more penetrating reform, a more real change, might be simply to change the subject away from ideology and towards love.

-Phil Tanny commenting at QTC

I agree – and suspect that something of this sentiment underpins the thinking of the prime movers in this English initiative.

The Omnipresent Holy Spirit

Of the four opening speakers, I was most interested in the words of Thomas O’Loughlin, Professor of Historical Theology at Nottingham University.  One of his points was the importance of recognizing that the Holy Spirit is with us constantly, always and everywhere – not a package to be called down from time to time. When Vatican II was convened, no-one could have expected the extent of the reforms that it introduced, and the permanent transformation of the Church that followed. Just as it is fair to say that the Spirit intervened in the proceedings of the Council, guiding it to a greater conclusion than originally anticipated, it could well be that the same Spirit is currently intervening in the Synod in Rome, and in the assorted movements for reform, guiding them to – as yet, we know not where. Nevertheless, we must trust in the Spirit, working through us all.

Process, not Event.

Several of the speakers referred to the “process”. In conversation at the end of the day, I was struck by how often I was using the word myself. In the nature of the event, having to allow for travel time for people from distant dioceses, time was short. With attendance far exceeding original plans, the organisation on the day was described as “organized chaos” – which I later said (unfairly) was more accurately described as “disorganized chaos”. In the circumstances, it was really not possible for much to be “achieved” – but that really did not matter. There was a clear sense that was happening was just one step in an ongoing process, one which began with a small group of priests, expanded to a larger clerical group, has now brought in many more people (the majority of whom are now laity) – and will continue to grow and reach down to grass roots:

Back in the concluding plenary, Fr Patrick McLaughlin who spent seven years in peace and reconciliation work at Corrymeela in Northern Ireland, spoke of “opening up spaces where people can be listened to with respect and gentleness”. He said ‘A Call for Action’ was not so much about focusing on specific issues, but a movement hoping to inspire grassroots groups regionally to open up serious dialogue, so that “still inspired by the Second Vatican Council we can contribute fully to the life of our Church so that we may be a more effective sign of the Kingdom of God”.

- Independent Catholic News

At the Call to Action website, a series of diocesan forums have now been set up:

England and Wales:

Birmingham Archdiocese

Cardiff Archdiocese

Liverpool Archdiocese

Southwark Archdiocese

 

 Scotland

Glasgow Archdiocese

St Andrews & Edinburgh Archdiocese


Aberdeeen Diocese

Argyle and the Isles Diocese

Dunkeld Diocese

Galloway Diocese

Motherwell Diocese

Paisley Diocese

 For British readers who would like to participate or learn more as the process unfolds, I suggest going to the website and registering as a user. That will enable you to subscribe to newsletters, and join in discussion forums. (Be warned – it’s obviously a  new site, and many of the forums so far are empty, or include only one topic. That should change – and the sooner we sign up, the sooner that will be. )
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The Pentecost Celebration of Diversity, and the Holy Spirit.

Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth. (Ps 1o4)

When I was a parishioner at the Church of the Holy Trinity, Johannesburg, a Pentecost tradition was to decorate the church with 12 large red banners, one on each of the 12 pillars of the church, in 12 different languages: absolutely appropriate for a feast day renowned for its gift of tongues, and absolutely appropriate also, for a parish which is characterised by its own racial and linguistic diversity.  South Africa has 11 official languages of its own, the White population includes a significant minority of Portuguese, Dutch, Italian, Greek, German and other European descent, and Johannesburg in particular now has a large population of migrants from north of the Limpopo – Zimbabwe, Congo, Nigeria and the rest of Africa, with its own plethora of languages. With its central city location and adjacent university campus, the parish reflects the full range of Johannesburg’s population diversity. Seeing this reflected in the church Pentecost decoration was always an inspiring, uplifting experience.

Diversity, however, is more than a matter of ethnicity and language. It also includes age diversity (reflecting in this parish by an age range including university students, young families  through to pensioners), wealth and social status – and sexual diversity. Fittingly, this parish now includes in its activities an impressive, explicit LGBT ministry, about which I will be posting more tomorrow. For now, I simply want to reflect on the importance of recognizing that the Pentecost celebration is one of inclusion, for all.

This is made clear in this extract from today’s second reading:

As a body is one though it has many parts,
and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,
so also Christ.
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,
whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons,
and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.

Whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons“, by extension could easily be read to include “whether straight or gay, cis- or transgendered“. All surely, must mean “all, without exception” – or it means nothing.

Inspiring as it is today to note and celebrate diversity, there’s an even more important message in Pentecost – this is the day that we observe the action of the Holy Spirit, entering and inspiring every one of us – all languages and races, all social classes, all sexual orientations and gender types – and all castes within the church, laity as well as religious sisters, priests and bishops. The priest celebrating Mass this morning in my local parish observed that Pentecost should  be viewed as the birthday of the Church, the day when responsibility was passed by the Holy Spirit to the gathered assembly of Christians, and were told by Christ to set aside their fear, to leave the safety of the locked rooms, to go out into the world and preach the good news.

“I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.
But when he comes, the Spirit of truth,
he will guide you to all truth.
He will not speak on his own,
but he will speak what he hears,
and will declare to you the things that are coming.
He will glorify me,
because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.
Everything that the Father has is mine;
for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine
and declare it to you.”

The message, remember, was passed on to all who were assembled, without disctinction of clerical caste, or any other mark of distinction,. The implications are clear.

For LGBT Christians, we too must not be afraid to stake our claim to full participation and inclusion in the affairs and activities of the Christian community. Guided by the Holy Spirit, we are to preach the good news – and that includes preaching the authentic Gospel of inclusion to those who have distorted Christ’s message to one of prejudice and exclusion.

For Catholics, Pentecost is an important reminder that the Holy Spirit came down upon all – and not only on the ordained priesthood. The rest of us also have the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which we should use to resist any attempts by the oligarchs to abuse their positions of power as a means of control, imposing their will instead of listening, as they should, to the voice of the faithful.

 

A Gay Pentecost, in Art.

At Jesus in Love blog, Kittredge Cherry has continued her fine series of the “Gay Passion in Art”, based on the sequence of paintings byDouglas Blanchard, with a reflection on his image for Pentecost. Here’s her opening passage. For the full series, and a larger image of the painting, co to Jesus in Love blog.

“There appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” — Acts 2:3-4 (RSV)

A winged woman literally lights up a crowd in “The Holy Spirit Arrives” from “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a series of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard. This is a modern version of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came like tongues of fire to the disciples of Jesus. Pentecost is a major church holiday celebrated today (May 27) this year. It is also known as Whitsunday.

In Blanchard’s painting the Holy Spirit herself looks like a flame in her golden gown. She floats above the crowd at an intersection where darkened city streets meet at odd angles. The dusky sky and unlit buildings strike a mysterious mood, making miracles possible. The Holy Spirit carries flares in both hands. Tongues of fire literally flame up from the heads of the people on the streets. Many are arm in arm, forming a circle. Filled with the spirit, they make strange alliances. A soldier, a gangbanger, and a businessman wrap their arms around each other. An old woman and a young woman embrace. The person in the wheelchair appears to be the same hothead who demanded the death of Jesus in 10. Jesus Before the People. Looming behind them is a large building under construction.

via Jesus in Love Blog

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Young Gay Catholic Affirms: “And yet, I am still Catholic”.

At the end of 2011, Cardinal George’s intemperate remarks on “some gay activists” led to a lot of anger and hot air: anger by some queer activists and LGBT Catholics at his words, anger by some Catholics at the the hostile response. One useful commentary that passed me by at the time was by a young gay Catholic, Ian Rogers, who writes at the group blog, “In Our Words”.

What I like about this post is how he moves beyond the controversy to reflect on why in spite of it all, he remains a Catholic.  Now, three months later, this fits in well with the theme I have promoted from time to time, “What gay Catholics Have Done”, which now want to promote more strongly, supporting and complementing the”Faith Gets Better” Youtube campaign. (I have previously shared an earlier post by Rogers, under the title “What Gay Catholics Have Done: Prayed“). I leave aside his introduction on Cardinal George (written before the Cardinal’s very welcome and important apology so suddenly defused the issue), and bring you instead part of his reflection on why, in spite of it all, he is still a Catholic.  He remains in the Church because of its tradition, because he finds acceptance, and because he sees strong evidence that through the work of the Holy Spirit the church is changing (what John McNeill has described as a Kairos moment in the Church).

And yet, I am still Catholic.

I stay because I believe in the Nicene Creed, that little “ditty” we say right before we partake of the Lord’s Supper. I close my eyes and with a heavy breath I utter in an almost Delphic trance: “I believe in God, the Father, Creator of Heaven and Earth…” I understand these words, not the Pope’s words, are my beliefs.

But I also believe in the papacy, though I disagree with most things our Pope says about how to live a moral, sexual life.

I see things with a Catholic eye and aesthetic. Protestant and Catholic worship are different, and I know I can say this because I regularly attend Methodist services after Mass back home. I enjoy the rowdy singing and clapping, the worship with guitars, the rousing speeches the pastor gives when he intones with the Spirit. I imagine I am in an ancient house-church in Turkey and that the people around me are my family. But it is different from how I feel at a Catholic church. Yes, they offer that vital role of support everyone needs. But something is missing.

I feel dispossessed in large auditorium-like churches where pictures of Jesus are stripped of His Sacred Heart, as if actual biology overcame the loveliness of symbolism. I do not like crosses that lack The Suffering Man nailed to it, flesh whipped and head crowned with thorns. They appear to me barren, merely signs without expression. And I find myself asking, “Where are the Saints?” Where is Mary holding her Child, smiling in her secret joy? Where is Joseph, holding his staff of lilies over Mary to adore his adopted Son? And where are the modern saints? What about St. Therese of Liseaux, St. Ignatius of Loyola, or St. Bernadette  Soubirous, whose wellspring supposedly cured my Nana from blindness?

Most of all, where is the Eucharist? I believe in that little morsel of love which God gives in each Mass. Not only is God present to me in church, but he asks me to partake and share of His essence. A flush of joy enters into me when I know He is physically there.

I worship Jesus at bent knees and in adoration of the Eucharist. Tell me what other place can offer this, and I will go.

The truth is that Catholicism isn’t just a religion; it is a tradition that is ingrained. I know that this is the rite by which all my ancestors have worshipped, from century to century. When I go to Mass, I join with them and my family above, with the Saints and the Angels, praising God. Corrupt, wicked prelates have cycled through the church, but this perspective remains the same. And I think the way I see things is beautiful.

I also find acceptance there.

Surprising, I know. But all the priests or people I care to have friendships with affirm me as whom I am. I do not shy from expressing myself, even if that means I make a few enemies or lose a few jobs working in the Church.

Yet, I am not ignorant to my own privilege. I chose a Catholic college that didn’t have trouble accepting the gay part of the LGBTQ spectrum. I know full well that transphobia is a consistent problem on campus. When I go home, I know that I can expect the same old homophobia, which at times is brutal. Once I was intellectually cornered by a priest in confessional on matters of Natural Moral Law. He slyly berated my views on homosexuality and told me that if I were to continue on the path that I was going, I would burn.

I was not able to enter my home parish with comfort for months.

I am still a Catholic.

The questions of “why” will always rattle about my head, but an even greater desire lies deep within to calm them. More questions bubble out. I wonder what other Catholic children would do without queer Catholic role models. What if they are left with only messages from people like the Cardinal? It’s then that I put my battle helmet back on — sometimes without knowing why — and get back to the good work.

Some queer activists believe that true progress will be made when the Catholic Church disappears from history. They believe that with the current flux of people leaving the Church, the Church will slowly dissipate and collapse from within. Afterwards, we will have true morality; sexual shame will be destroyed and people will explore liberal values more fully. Some will even go so far as to say that the Catholic Church is devoid of morality.  This is a simplistic and bigoted opinion, just as bigoted as the Cardinal’s thoughts. They forget that I and many other queers and allies are part of this church and the movement. We are present, we are fighting, and the siege will not be lifted.

I see great shifts happening in our Church. The laity is unsettled. Catholic theologians are moving ideological positions. Conservative priests are losing their moral authority through their hypocrisies. It is like hearing ice crackle underneath a giant glacier. You can sense the tremors in the accepting whispers of the confessional, in personal letters, or more loudly in the outright conversations with some priests. I believe the hoarse breath of clericalism will not be able to hold back the currents. Indeed, I believe the Holy Spirit is flying.

And Catholic opinions are changing. The Public Religion Research Institute published statistics in 2011 that state that though Catholics are more likely to hear negative messages about homosexuality, Catholics are more supportive of legal recognition of same-sex couples than any other Christian denomination. Furthermore, it also states that the majority of Catholics (56%) do not believe that sexual relations between homosexuals is a sin. Among the general population, only 46 % believe it is not a sin. The official Vatican positions are rigid, but many American Catholics question them.

-Read Ian Rogers’ full reflection at  Still Here: Confessions of a Queer Catholic

(emphasis added)

Catholicism is far, far more than a few disordered lines in the Catechism about sexual ethics, or the minority of orthotoxic Catholics who use  those few lines as a cover and excuse for their bigotry, or the hysteria in some quarters over gay marriage. Rogers is right to highlight the evidence that most Catholics are not like that. Empirical evidence shows clearly that Catholics are more tolerant and supportive of diversity than other religions, that they do not see homosexuality in itself as a moral issue, and are less likely than other Christians to hear their pastors preaching about the subject (leaving aside the campaigns against gay marriage, which oppose legal recognition of gay relationships, not against the relationships themselves). There are notable incidents of people who have been deeply wounded by  hurt or rejection in their local parishes, but they are exceptions. Most LGBT Catholics who enter parish life find acceptance and welcome, just as Rogers has done.

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