Monday, October 20, 2014

A review of "Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith" by Eve Tushnet

I am re-posting here my Goodreads review of Eve Tushnet's "Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith" because I believe this book deserves as much attention as it can get.

A poignant conversation story, quite frankly the best book on celibacy I've ever read, and a brilliant thesis on how the Church can become a welcoming environment for those who are gay while upholding Tradition. And it had me laughing so hard you would have thought I was reading Dave Barry.

This book is well worth your time if either homosexuality or Christianity is something important to you, and if both are, then this is absolutely indispensable reading. Eve Tushnet is a celibate gay Catholic who upholds the Church's teachings on marriage and thus finds herself in the difficult position of being looked upon as suspect (at best) by Christians who don't understand why someone would continue to self-identify as gay while at the same time being at odds with most gay communities. This is a difficult road: "I've never been ashamed of being gay that I can recall, but there have been many times when the frequent small, grinding humiliations of explaining my celibacy left me feeling worn down, resentful, and equal parts self-righteous and ashamed."

In order to help gay people live out their vocation, the Church needs to be a place "where we can be honest and where we can begin to come out to ourselves and to others in a space that may be safer than our homes and families." While many Christians are ready to help those who want to wholly renounce their former homosexual identity (Tushnet cites the "ex-gay" movement and apostolates like Courage), these approaches have been found helpful by some but not by all. She stresses that her experience has not been one of "struggling with same-sex attraction;" rather the "reason I continue to call myself gay," she writes, is because "being in love with women has usually made me a better person." The Church needs to welcome those who have found meaning within their gay relationships, although God will call such people to change the way they express their love. Drawing on a deep spirituality centered on the Cross, Tushnet writes: "the sacrifice God wants isn't always the sacrifice you wanted to make. And when you know how ready you are to sacrifice a great deal, as long as you get to do it on your terms, it can feel especially painful and unfair when God asks you for something different, a sacrifice you never wanted. Good gay relationships are often sacrificial. They are loyal, vulnerable, forms of loving service, and a school for humility and forgiveness. But they aren't the sacrifice God is calling you to make." But we in the Church can hardly expect people to rise to such a challenge without our support. "Sexual wholeness is more a property of communities or churches than it is of individuals."

At root her proposal is a re-evaluation of how we in the Church talk about vocations. "Our refusal to honor or even imagine important vocations [for laypeople] other than marriage causes a huge amount of pain, loneliness, and a sense of worthlessness." Along the way Tushnet deftly points out the many ways in which the experiences of celibate gay Christians have parallels with those living other vocations, making her proposal relevant for gay and straight alike. She captures well the peculiar anxieties of this state in life: "Never knowing that there's somebody who will always take your call. Asking yourself who your emergency contact should be, rather than filling in the name without thinking about it. Feeling like you're burdening people when you need them, [...] even when you're really seriously in need." She quotes Joshua Gonnerman, who starkly expresses the problem: "The person who lives celibacy in the world has, in her or his life, the least and frailest support structures of all; yet he or she is expected to live chastity with the most general guidance and the fewest concrete examples."

What, then, can be done? Tushnet's answer (and I'm fully convinced of this myself) is that there must be ways for celibate people to become deeply involved in family life. "Knitting single people more closely into families is one of the biggest things the Christian churches could do to change the culture." She quotes Wesley Hill who recounts that "the 'after 30' friendships that I've made with married people have all depended in large measure on my married friends' treating me not as a frequent guest but like an uncle to their children." This requires families to welcome into the life of their homes celibate single persons, who in turn are called to be more radically available to their married friends. "For single laypeople living alone, it might be worth asking: Are there ways I could get a little closer to offering the on-call love my married and parenting friends so often must provide?" Tushnet admits that this "means giving up a lot of the perks that come with single life" and embracing many of the icky, gooey, sticky realities that come part-and-parcel with small children. "This is the price of admission to friendship with parents. It is totally worth it, but be prepared."

I got a lot out of reading this book, and highly recommend it to each and every one of you who have enough interest in the subject to have read all the way to the bottom of this review. I imagine that the primary audience, those who "find beauty, mutual aid, and solidarity in gay life, even though we believe we've found something much greater in Christ," will understand it on an experiential level that will make it resonate even more deeply. I hope that some day soon someone will write a book for straight celibate people that's this good and this honest. Eve Tushnet has given us something exceedingly well-written, thoroughly funny, and prophetic.

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Homily on the Synod on the Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization

Pope Francis has asked us all to join him in praying for the success of the “Synod on the Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.”  The synod will begin one week from today.  What are the consequences of this Synod?  Well, for one, since it starts next week if you wake up early next Sunday and go to 9:00a.m. Mass you’re likely to hear me give the same sermon over again.  You’ve been warned!

The long title of this gathering, the “Synod on the Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization” gives us three questions: first, What is a Synod? second, What are the Pastoral Challenges facing Families? and third, What is the role of the Family in the context of Evangelization?

A synod is a gathering of Bishops and other invited experts who advise the Pope regarding the situation of the Church throughout the world.  Synods are different from Ecumenical Councils like Vatican II.  Synods do not produce documents.  Synods do not promulgate any kind of legislation or Church law.  Their purpose is simply to advise the Pope on issues he thinks important.

So if your friends ask you, “Hey, is the Catholic Church about to change her doctrine or laws about marriage and the family?” you can tell them, “No, for two reasons.  First, because a synod does not make laws, and second, because the Church’s doctrines have been handed down to us from Christ’s Apostles and can not change.”


This brings us to the second question: What are the Pastoral Challenges facing Families?  The insert in today’s bulletin lists many: “poverty, divorce and remarriage, war, disease, political instability, abortion, the redefinition of marriage, and contraception.”  These issues, which have been discussed at great length within the Church many times, have a continual urgency.  A brief overview of the last few decades may help to shed light on this.

The Catholic Church has always taught that one of the essential goods of marriage is the procreation and education of children, and that the nature of the marital act is intrinsically ordered towards this good.  This property of marriage by its nature excludes contraceptive methods and a contraceptive mentality.  In the year 1930, however, a gathering of Anglican Bishops rejected this truth.  They said this:
“in those cases where there is [...] a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, [...] other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of [...] Christian principles. The Conference records its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception control from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.”

Although these Protestant leaders used a traditional-sounding rhetoric, in effect they told their people that, so long as they felt their situation to be a difficult one (and who among us doesn't feel our personal circumstances to be difficult?) they were free to ignore the Church’s ancient and unchanging teaching on the nature, meaning, and purpose of the conjugal act.

After the Anglicans caved in, virtually all Protestant denominations followed suit.  Even many Catholic Priests were led astray -- although the Church herself is guarded by the Holy Spirit from ever teaching error in her official doctrines.

In 1968 Pope Paul VI outlined the effects contraception would have on society in his prophetic encyclical Humanae vitae:
“Responsible individuals will quickly see the truth of the Church's teaching if they consider what consequences will follow from the methods of contraception and the reasons given for the use of contraception. They should first consider how easy it will be [for many] to justify behavior leading to marital infidelity or to a gradual weakening in the discipline of morals. [...] Indeed, it is to be feared that husbands who become accustomed to contraceptive practices will lose respect for their wives. They may come to disregard their wife's psychological and physical equilibrium and use their wives as instruments for serving their own desires.”
The Pope said that if the intimacy of marriage becomes a means of personal pleasure rather than a life-giving union it gradually leads to an alienation of affections, the seeking of pleasure in ways not faithful to the marriage vows, and thus ultimately to a rise in the divorce rate, which has proven true.

The Pope also warned that in a society where contraception was widely used the State could force contraception or abortion on people against their will.  This happens in China.

This was the trajectory of the world forty-five years ago: the use of contraception was rightly predicted to lead to increased rates of marital unfaithfulness, divorce, and abortion.

What is the state of the world today?  Well, for that we need look no further than the television.  This Fall’s most critically acclaimed show is “Transparent”, where Jeffrey Tambor plays a father who, at seventy years old, finally outs himself as “trans” to his three children.  Tambor’s character “Mort” explains to his children that he feels he has really been “Maura” all along -- that he feels he is a woman despite having a man’s body.

The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” no longer apply. No [they say,] ‘it was not God who created them male and female – society did this, but now we decide for ourselves.’ Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed. But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation.

A line of thought that began in the early twentieth century with contraception -- where children are treated not as a loving gift from God to be welcomed but as a disease to be prevented -- now reaches its conclusion.  The basic concepts of family: father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister -- these are socially constructed realities, and thus arbitrary ones, ones that have no lasting meaning or value for us.

Now we may say, like the people of Israel in the reading from Ezekiel, “The Lord’s way is not fair!”  The Church’s teaching is hard!  Hard to accept and hard to live.  God might say to us in reply, “Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?”  God’s laws are the way in which we find our true and lasting happiness.  When we depart from them we always end up, in the long run, unhappy and unsatisfied.

The way we respond to these situations of the world today is very important.  We must never be hateful or cold towards people, passing judgment or writing them off because of decisions they’ve made.  We must not be like the Pharisees Jesus condemns in the Gospel!  Better to be a prostitute who listens to and accepts the word of God than a “righteous” person who goes to church every week but has no love in their heart.  We must show love to everyone.


This brings us to our final topic: What is the role of the Family in the context of Evangelization?

While society around us abandons and destroys all notion of traditional family relationships, which should bring us great joy in life, then if families live out their Catholic faith they become a light shining in the darkness, offering hope to those who are sad and despairing.

There are two ways that we can be a light to the world.

In a recent meeting in Rimini, Italy, Fr. Antonio Spadaro said that one can see the Church
“as a lighthouse,” a beacon that illumines the way for ships in a storm, [proclaiming:] “I am here, the harbor is here, safety is here.” And this is [...] true. The Church is a rock, [...] indefectible.
But there is another way to give light to those who are in darkness: the torch. A torch does not stand still, but “walks among men, illumines humanity where it finds itself. If humanity moves toward the abyss, the torch moves toward the abyss, it accompanies men in their development.”  It is in this way that the torch “may be able to draw man away from the abyss and allow him to see it.”
This puts an enormous burden upon you, the laity.  I’m here manning the lighthouse -- if anyone comes to the Church I’m happy to sit down and answer their questions.  But for all those who don’t come to Mass, you must be that light, using what knowledge you have to say “No, this is a cliff! this is the abyss! this is not what will make you happy!”  You are the ones who encounter those in your neighborhoods, your circles of family and friends who have not accepted the Church’s teaching.  And you must be the one to lead them, step by step, to safety.

May God grant wisdom to our Bishops and all who will attend this Synod.  Let us take seriously the call to educate ourselves and to pray for the success of this effort of the Church to preach the Good News of the family.


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Monday, April 21, 2014

The Harrowing of Hell

This poem which I composed for an Easter homily was inspired by (and largely cribbed from) William Langland's 14th century The Vision of Piers Plowman.

The crowd crushes inward, each man bearing branches,
“Hooray and Hosanna, Hosanna!” they sing.
“What lancers are listing?” ask those who've come lately.
“'Tis Jesus the Jouster, our Christ and our King!”

Then Christ appeared riding a most noble stallion
Named “Caro” or “Flesh” and “the-nature-of-man.”
The un-holy champ'ion of Satan was riding
a pale horse named “Falsehood” and “Father-of-lies.”

They lifted up lances and lurched towards each-other,
The crowd waiting breathlessly for them to meet.
And just when it seem-ed that Christ would be victor,
The point of a lance pierced his side and his heart.

Then Lucifer laughed from his lair down in Hades,
“This so-called Messiah is dead at my hands!”
When suddenly Light pierced the dark of that dungeon
As Christ rode victorious down into Hell.

The devils, despairing, said “Here cometh Christus!
The Cross comes before Him to undo us all!”
“O Death!” bellowed Christ, “by my Death I destroy you!
And Satan, I've come here to claim what is mine!”

Then Lucifer, terrified, rose to meet Jesus
And vainly he argued that Jesus was wrong.
“Each soul that has perished from Adam on downward
Has come to my kingdom and is mine by right.

“The letter of law—as You know since You wrote it!—
Is 'eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'
Each soul here has sinned and so forfeit his freedom,
You have no right, Jesus, to take them from me!”

His eyes full of fire, Christ cast down the Devil
And, being much stronger, He bound him in chains.
“You know well the Bible,” said Christ to the Devil,
“'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'

“By your own words, Satan, I come to condemn you:
'An eye for an eye, flesh for flesh, soul for soul.'
I, Jesus, the Just One, who never was sinful,
Have paid with my own life the price for each one.”

Then Jesus, extending his arm out to Adam
Clasped hands with his father, that first son of God.
“Too long hast thou lain here in need of salvation.
The Gospel now gives life to all who have faith.”

So Christ freed the captives of Satan's dark kingdom;
In Heaven, our homeland, they wait for us now.
Shall we, dear friends, meet them? Rejoicing forever?
Or stay in our sins and so suffer and die?

Through forty days Lent has prepared us by Penance
To meet Jesus here at his altar with joy.
If faith and our charity both make us ready,
Our Passover's sacrificed; Come, keep the feast!

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