Benedict XVI & Joseph Ratzinger – Reason to Hope?

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter (April 19/20, 2008)
Dignity/NoVA and Dignity/Washington

Last week, in anticipation of the visit to the US of Pope Benedict XVI, our presider and homilist, Fr. Joe spoke to us very passionately about the voice that he – and, by extension, each one of us – has a right to claim as a child of God created fundamentally good, in the image of the divine. Not yet knowing what the forthcoming visit of the Pope would bring to the Church here in the US, not knowing what the visit might mean for us here in one of the two local Churches on the Papal itinerary, and not yet knowing what the Pope’s visit might mean for us as gay and lesbian Catholics, Joe lifted us up with his words that were rooted in faith, in confidence, and in hope. Despite the efforts of too many Church leaders in our own country and around the world to say that our voices and the voices of our experience as GLBT people have no place in conversations within the Church, Joe powerfully reminded us that the vision of what it means “to be church, to be God’s people” cannot be limited by those who have been called to a particular church office, or who hold a particular church ministry. Rather, each and every one of us – baptized as we are into the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – has both the right and the responsibility to be continually formed by the Word of God, to be nourished by the Eucharistic presence of Christ, to exercise our ministry of the baptized as part of that “royal priesthood, a holy nation,” and to live out our faith as full members of the Catholic Christian community.

As the week unfolded, I suspect that many of us listened and watched the coverage with more than just passing interest as we got to know this man, Benedict XVI, more and more over these past several days. Not only was I interested in watching how the media covered this visit, but I also wanted to hear Benedict’s own words and read the texts of the Pope’s various homilies, commentaries and statements as he met with the bishops, with Catholic educators, with clergy and religious, or with representative at the United Nations.

The reason I wanted to be so attentive to the words of Benedict the XVI – as well as one of the reasons it was so good for us to hear Joe’s words in anticipation of his visit – was to see if there might be any difference between the words of Benedict XVI and the words of Joseph Ratzinger. As head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the words of Joseph Ratzinger – especially words spoken about God’s gay and lesbian children (and it was almost always “about,” rarely “to” and never “with”!) – were often so harsh. It was Joseph Ratzinger, after all, who spoke of homosexuality as having a tendency toward an “intrinsic moral evil” and that this inclination of the homosexual person is an “objective disorder.” It was Joseph Ratzinger who said that this “inclination” is “essentially self-indulgent,” and that committed gay unions are “pseudo” unions, and that the laws in societies which recognize civil unions or gay marriage are “gravely unjust” and that they should be opposed at every level. And, it was Joseph Ratzinger who said that men and women who raise children within the context of a same-sex relationship – no matter how loving or stable or committed that relationship might be – do “violence” to these children. Because we as gay and lesbian Catholics have been all-too familiar with these less-than-hopeful, less-than-helpful words from the past, I know that I at least was hoping and praying to catch a glimpse of something different during this current visit.

As the week went on, we may not have seen or heard an epiphany of something dramatically different about the Church’s understanding of the lived experience of faithful gay and lesbian people, but there were, to be sure, many good things that the Pope said.

  • He spoke repeatedly about a fundamental element of the Catholic intellectual perspective, namely the unity of faith and reason and how these ways of knowing are in complementary service to the unity of the Truth.
  • He spoke about academic freedom, and that in virtue of this freedom, educators, professors and researchers are “called to search for the truth wherever careful analysis of evidence leads.”
  • He recognized the value of diversity and of diversity of thought, telling the religious and priests gathered in New York that we need “to open ourselves to points of view which may not necessarily conform to our own ideas or assumptions. Thus we can value the perspectives of others, be they younger or older than ourselves, and ultimately hear ‘what the Spirit is saying’ to us and to the Church (cf. Rev 2:7).”
  • He even spoke of the human limitations that all of us are subject to, recognizing that the “splendor of the Church” is sometimes “obscured by the sins and weaknesses of her members,” and even stating publicly that our own bishops often badly handled the painful situations in which minors were sexually and spiritually abused by clergy.

More important than anything he said, however, is the significance of one thing he did. I have no doubt that what will be remembered as the defining event of this trip was Benedict’s private meeting with victims of clergy sexual abuse after the public Mass here in Washington. These men and women – all from my own home archdiocese of Boston – had the opportunity to speak with the Pope and to receive from him directly and personally his own “mea culpa” on behalf of the entire Church.

As he stated repeatedly, the main theme of Benedict’s trip to the US was, “Christ our Hope.” In his statement before leaving Rome earlier this week, Benedict said that, “With the various groups I shall meet, my intention is to share our Lord’s word of life. In Christ is our hope! Christ is the foundation of our hope for peace, for justice, and for the freedom that flows from God’s law fulfilled in His commandment to love one another”.

With that in mind, let me share with you the words of the Czech writer, dramatist, and also the first President of the Czech Republic. On the topic of “hope,” Vaclev Havel wrote the following:

“Hope is an orientation of the spirit,
an orientation of the heart.
It is not the conviction that something
will turn out well,
but the certainty that something makes sense,
regardless of how it turns out.”

As GLBT Catholics, we still don’t know “how things will turn out” under this or any future papacy. But we do know in the depths of our spirits and in the recesses of our hearts that we ARE God’s beloved children; we do know that we ARE sons and daughters of a God who has created us in the image of the divine. We do know that we ARE sisters and brothers of Jesus who not only strengthens us on this our earthly pilgrimage, but who has gone before us and even now is preparing an eternal dwelling place for his faithful disciples. As people of faith and hope, there is nothing that makes more sense to us than this. Let us, therefore, truly embrace the words of Jesus, words that we hear him speak to his disciples during the “farewell discourse” of today’s reading from John’s Gospel. “Do not let your hearts be troubled… have faith in me… for I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

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