Collect for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity

Lord of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things: graft in our hearts the love of thy Name; increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of thy great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Dona Eis Requiem, Part VII

And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.

—Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

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This link will take you to Part VI, which also includes links to Parts I-V.

Throughout Dona Eis Requiem, I’ve touched on things that LGBT people need from Christians. To conclude this series, I’d like to make some concrete, practical suggestions. I’ve gone over those things that fall under the Works of Mercy (to pray for the living and the dead, to shelter the homeless, to comfort the afflicted), and some points of courtesy (in language and demeanor). Now, with those as the preparation, I want to turn to the realization of those guidelines.

1. Balanced preaching, including preaching against homophobia. I’ve rarely, if ever, heard a homily against gay marriage that did not include a reminder that it’s wrong to hate gay people. I have also never heard a homily against gay marriage that left me with the impression that the preacher liked gay people in the slightest. Not that I was sure he didn’t; but, apparently, love and respect weren’t important enough to merit more than a reminder. To put the same problem another way: though it would be at least equally orthodox, I’ve never heard a sermon about showing love to LGBTs that included a mere reminder of the Church’s teaching on marriage.

This matters for several reasons, one of them being the risk of scandal it gives to those outside the faith: a casual reminder sounds like saving face, not conviction. But it also matters because—if I may trust my own limited experience—the sort of person who listens to and tries to heed a homily, is not often the sort of person who needs to be told that the Catholic Church doesn’t approve of same-sex marriage. They know that already. There are people who don’t know what the Real Presence is, or what infallibility is, or the difference between the Immaculate Conception and the Virgin Birth, who can tell you that the Church is against gay marriage. Preaching to the choir is not only boring and useless, it carries a danger within it: that of reinforcing and exacerbating any homophobia, active or latent, that the choir has within it. If the message they hear is consistently heavy on political opposition and not at least equally heavy on love, love that doesn’t need to be explained in order to look like love, a distorted relationship between Catholics and LGBT people is likely to result. Homilies against arrogance and prejudice are as important as homilies against fornication and heresy.

2. Teaching on virtue, celibacy, vocation, and discernment. Last week I spoke with a priest who gave me a much better perspective on celibacy and vocation (not that I’m ready to embrace it, exactly, but I’ve got a less unhealthy notion of what I would or will be embracing). He brought up a question that I don’t think I’d ever considered before, that of why Jesus was celibate. The obvious answer is that, if He had had a wife, His principal love would have had to go to her: Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honor, and keep her, forsaking all other? With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow. That is an exact statement of His relationship to the Church. Marriage would have meant giving Himself totally to one person; celibacy allows him to make that total gift to humanity.

Moreover, every virtue, chastity included, is a positive quality rather than an exclusion of something else; it excludes sin as something that inhibits the positive quality, not arbitrarily. Chastity has to be not only believed but preached as the integrative, co├»nherent self-mastery of soul and body together. And again, while a vocation can’t be forced, it’s also not exactly a choice in the conventional sense. It’s what you were made for, and, if freedom means the power to do what comes naturally (and sin, objectively speaking, is that which interferes with our natures, whether obviously or subtly), then freedom comes from obeying and pursuing your vocation, not from the opportunity to pick between options.

In the language of the monastic fathers, all prayer, reading, meditation and all activities of the monastic life are aimed at purity of heart, an unconditional and totally humble surrender to God, a total acceptance of ourselves and of our situation as willed by him. It means the renunciation of all deluded images of ourselves … Purity of heart is then correlative to a new spiritual identity—the ‘self’ as recognized in the context of realities willed by God. … What am I? I am a word spoken by God. Can God speak a word that does not have any meaning?1

All of which is genuinely great, and it explains a lot about celibacy. What it doesn’t do—and maybe no book or homily could do it—is give us content for living as celibates. Give yourself to God is a universal command, but we live in particulars, and have to fill the time somehow. Discerning our specific vocation as celibates can be difficult, confusing, and dreary, and being given the universal command over and over is, well, only so useful. Not being the Savior, how do I give myself to humanity-in-general?

This lack of content shows through in the language used to describe the four main states of life: marriage, priesthood, consecrated life, and ‘the generous single life.’ That phrase, at least to me, is soggy with afterthought. That doesn’t mean non-consecrated lay celibacy isn’t a real vocation; but I don’t think it’s unfair either to say that the Church has given little of her energy and time to any living and life-giving theology of what that is. Because, as it stands, it sounds just as negation-centered as defining celibacy in terms of not having sex. Doubtless each one of us has his or her own peculiar mission as a celibate; but we need guidance to find it, we need to be given tools to discern the concrete. General platitudes, however true, leave us as rudderless as we were before.

3. Speak and act against the oppression of LGBT people. For the American, this will above all mean the oppression of LGBTs in other countries: Russia, India, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, and Tanzania all have laws against homosexuality ranging from restrictions on freedom of speech to the death penalty, and the cultures that undergird those laws frequently exhibit anti-gay violence. Speaking against that sets a good example, to those inside and outside the Church, and is consistent with the Christian teaching that all men are made in the image of God and should be treated with dignity; and, more to the point, acting against it (Rainbow Railroad is one way of doing so) saves people’s lives. It’s no small thing to help a person escape a Chechnyan concentration camp or a Ugandan prison.

Navy blue: same-sex marriage legal
Cyan: same-sex marriages performed elsewhere recognized
Sky blue: same-sex civil unions legal
Pale blue: unregistered same-sex cohabitation
Grey: no recognition of same-sex relationships
Beige: restrictions on liberty of expression about LGBT issues
Yellow: same-sex activity illegal without enforcement
Orange: same-sex activity punishable by imprisonment
Deep orange: same-sex activity punishable by life imprisonment
Brown: same-sex activity punishable by death

Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.2

4. Let us work alongside you. Christians are much given to telling gay people not to define ourselves by our sexuality. Well and good; but we kinda need you to cut that out, too. Let us be teachers, priests, therapists, soldiers, youth pastors. Of course a person with psychological problems or sexual addiction wouldn’t necessarily be cut out for such roles, but psychological problems and sexual addiction don’t really have anything to do with being gay. They’re abundant among heterosexuals. Reluctance to allow LGBT people a role in ministries and leadership is based either in ignorance of the facts about us—an ignorance which, sad to say, is commonplace among Christians—or in bigotry. And neither bigotry nor ignorance is helpful to the Church, or to the person discriminating, or to the one discriminated against.

Whatever our vocations may be, we must fulfill them, and if we don’t then both we and the Church will be deprived of a good that God meant to give us: quench not the Spirit. If our attempts to pursue our vocations are thwarted by our fellow believers, the consequences can be tragic. A repressed vocation is as dangerous as a repressed passion, for both, being rooted in our natures, will find other and perverted modes of expression if their natural growth is cut. This doesn’t mean you don’t weed the garden of nature, but, as the parable of the wheat and the tares hints, weeding should not be undertaken prematurely or hastily.

To sum up the series: love us; and take care to think out how to love us in ways that we will recognize as love. God emptied Himself, taking on the likeness of a servant.

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1Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer, p. 46.
2I John 3.16-18.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful post! I think the future of the Church is going to include non-consecrated lay celibacy in a big way, it's just that it hasn't really been a focus yet because historically, most celibates were consecrated and lived in community. I know several heterosexual lay celibates who are also frustrated by the lack of guidance and recognition for their vocation.

    Thank you for sharing what your priest friend said about Jesus's celibacy. It also makes sense in regards to Our Lady - her celibacy was ultimately a gift to the whole world.