The Present is all we have – and why we must forgive

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Myakka River State Park, Florida

If you’ve ever been in a Catholic church, you’ve surely noticed the tabernacle. It’s a small box-like structure on an altar, and usually there’s a candle nearby, burning 24/7. Inside the tabernacle is reserved some of the bread that was blessed and consecrated at Mass, the liturgical celebration of what we call Eucharist.  Because we believe that Jesus is somehow present in the elements of bread and wine blessed in his name, Catholics refer to this reserved Eucharist as the Real Presence.  I like that term a lot. Whether you hold to Catholicism’s sacramental beliefs or not, there’s something very powerful and meaningful about Presence.  The Present, really, is all we ever have. What, then, am I doing with it? How am I using the gift of this present moment right here, right now? Fr. Rohr offers some thoughts:

Only the false self easily takes offense. The false self can’t live a self-generated life of immediate contact with God. It defines itself by the past, which is to live in un-forgiveness. Forgiveness is the only way to free ourselves from the entrapment of the past. We’re in need not only of individual forgiveness; we need it on a national, global, and cosmic scale. Old hurts linger long in our memories and are hard to let go. We must each learn how to define ourselves by the present moment—which is all we really have. I will not define myself by what went wrong yesterday when I can draw upon Life and Love right now. Life and Love are what’s real. This Infinite Love is both in us and yet it is more than us.

From Daily Meditation for Aug. 1, 2017

Faithfully Extending Faith: Will the Church ever recognize same-sex unions?

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In a recent Daily Meditation (July 17, 2017) from Richard Rohr, OFM guest writer Brian McLaren makes this statement: “Jesus and Paul were not denying their religion . . . ; they were faithfully extending it [emphasis added], letting it grow and flow forward.” McLaren’s point is that Christians in every age must overcome the tendency to let their faith be just another ossified institution of rules, power structures, and laws that fail to fully meet the needs of the contemporary world. To do this, Christians must always look to Jesus. There, McLaren asserts, is where we see the overarching teaching of Jesus on the supremacy of love. “The new commandment of love meant neither beliefs nor words, neither taboos, systems, structures nor the labels that enshrined them mattered most. Love decentered [and] relativized everything else; love took priority over everything else.”

I remember first pondering the supposed conflict between my own sense of self as a gay person and the “long-held teaching of the Church” that homosexuality was sinful. How could this be?, I wondered. How could the Church’s teaching on the purpose and place of human sexual expression be so very different from my own growing understanding of myself as created “in the image and likeness” of God, of someone who is flawed, yes, but who is fundamentally good? I fed my reflections not only with my own lived experience, but with a knowledge base of philosophy and theology expanded throughout my college and seminary years.

The word that eventually came to mind to describe this tension was incomplete. As far as the Church’s main and positive notions about human sexuality were concerned, this made sense to me. The basic relational values of mutual respect, faithfulness, commitment, and openness to new life seemed spot on. But the other notions — those that are negative or proscriptive and which have the effect of being more burdensome than liberating  — these did not seem to fit with the radical message of Jesus to “love one another as I have loved you.”

Knowing that the Church holds to a belief in the Development of Doctrine — that the richness of the Gospel can yield new insights and greater understanding in every generation — could it be that our understanding of human sexuality was also growing, deepening, and extending as we became more aware of the natural (i.e. God-given) diversity in this dimension of human experience?

Take, for example, whether a committed same-sex relationship could be licit, valid, even sacramental. Church teaching holds that the two “ends” of marriage are its unitive and procreative ends — a loving union between two persons who are open to new life. However, the Church recognizes and accepts as fully sacramental those heterosexual unions where there is absolutely no possibility of “new life” in the form of biological children. Think of those with significant health conditions or couples who marry in advanced age. Here, a more generous theology is called for. A theology which sees “procreative” as more than just the begetting of biological children. This more generous theology recognizes how such unions can be procreative by the ways such couples extend themselves, give of themselves, and share their life with family, friends, community. Why could the same generous theology not also recognize the validity and sacramentality of similarly-committed same-sex couples?

Clearly the institutional Church is a long, long way from recognizing not only the sacramentality of same-sex unions, but even their civil legitimacy. All that notwithstanding, is it possible for us, in love, to be like Paul and countless others who have gone before us in faith? Can we lovingly, not fearfully, “read the signs of the times” and — with open ears, eyes, minds and heart —  be willing to see the ways in which the Spirit might be challenging us to extend our faith, so that the joy of the Gospel might be known to all peoples and in every generation?

The Truly Catholic Vision of Religious Freedom

Today's post from Bondings 2.0, On the USCCB's Fifth (And Hopefully Final) "Fortnight For Freedom", prompted me to re-read Dignitatis Humanae [DH], the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on Religious Freedom. After all, if the bishops or others think that religious liberty and the free exercise of religion are under attack in the US, one would think we should be looking to this important document for guidance.

DH clearly and strongly promotes the rights of individuals and social groups "… to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits."

The bishops' concern that religious persons and institutions might be forced by the government to act in a way that is coercive and violates their "own beliefs" clearly finds some support here. However, that nasty 3-word phrase at the end puts a different slant on things: "within due limits." Several times DH references the "just order of society" and the "due limits" on one's religious freedom. Perhaps the clearest statement is in Article 7, which begins:

"The right to religious freedom is exercised in human society: hence its exercise is subject to certain regulatory norms. In the use of all freedoms the moral principle of personal and social responsibility is to be observed. In the exercise of their rights, individual men [sic] and social groups are bound by the moral law to have respect both for the rights of others and for their own duties toward others and for the common welfare of all. Men are to deal with their fellows in justice and civility."

While the bishops and other "religious freedom" advocates look with limited vision to the US Constitution, they seem to have forgotten the teachings of their own Tradition. DH reminds us of the "due limits" and "regulatory norms" which a just and civil society must enact to ensure the "rights of others" are respected. The bishops' original concern related to healthcare, though quickly was extended to the area of LGBT rights. The US Supreme Court has decided to hear a case from Colorado about the refusal by the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Jack Phillips, to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Phillips cited his disapproval of same-sex marriage, which he claims to be rooted in his Christian faith, as the reason.

From a Catholic teaching perspective, it'd be quite a stretch to say that the baking of a wedding cake rises to the level of a "religious act" worthy of protection. If it did, then where would it end? In theory, no end would be in sight. After all, any religious person who takes faith seriously would try to express his/her religious values in all aspect of life, right? If that's true, what's to stop said religious person from hiding behind such "religious freedom protections" for any and all acts in which he engages?

As the bishops of Vatican II rightly recognized, civil society has the obligation to impose due limits and appropriate regulatory norms on the exercise of religious freedom. Such limits and norms must respect the rights of ALL citizens. As we celebrate today 241 years of independence from political tyranny, may we be always strive to be free from tyranny of all stripes, even when wrapped in red, white and blue.

 

Leadership and Vision

Yesterday’s meditation from Richard Rohr, OFM provides more historical reference to the tradition of the “third eye.” Spiritual traditions of both east and west know that there is a middle way, beyond the dualistic, either/or way of seeing. One must find this third eye in order to move beyond “us and them” seeing toward deeper insight and wisdom where everything and everyone belong.

I could not help but think of both the current US president as well as the bishop of Springfield, IL Thomas Paprocki (currently in the news for issuing guidelines that prohibit Catholics in same-sex marriages from receiving a Church funeral) when I read Rohr’s words below.

“One wonders how far spiritual and political leaders can genuinely lead us without some degree of contemplative seeing and action. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that “us-and-them” seeing, and the dualistic thinking that results, is the foundation of almost all discontent and violence in the world… It allows heads of religion and state to avoid their own founders, their own national ideals, and their own better instincts. Lacking the contemplative gaze, such leaders will remain mere functionaries and technicians, or even dangers to society,” [emphasis added].

Two Rainbows — What Is and What is Yet To Be

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“But some things you know deep in your heart: that all human beings are made in the image of God…” That’s from Andrew Sullivan’s wonderful essay on yesterday’s historic Supreme Court ruling. It also includes a phrase that is the title of these pages and expresses a belief I’ve “known in my heart” for as long as I can remember.  The new header above — a double-rainbow after a Spring thunderstorm here in Florida just a few weeks ago — seems to me symbolic.

The lower, brighter rainbow is more clear, more brilliant. It seems closer to the Earth, closer to home, and for me symbolizes the wonderful progress God’s LGBT children have made in seeking recognition and acceptance within civil society. The upper rainbow — less clear, less brilliant, but still there — to me symbolizes the progress that has yet to be made within the Church. I pray for the day when both rainbows will be brilliant and bright, expressive of the full diversity that is within God’s human family, and the welcome, love and acceptance that all People have for one another.

Walter Brueggemann on American Consumerism, Militarism, Neighborliness and LGBT People

A Facebook friend (FBF) recently shared this article from On Faith, an interview with theologian Walter Brueggemann. As the interview demonstrates, Prof. Brueggemann — one of the most influential Old Testament scholars in the U.S. — is pretty clear about how much of contemporary American culture is out of sync with an accurate understanding of the message of Scripture and the Gospel of Jesus.  I suspect there are many who would be afflicted by his words, calling to mind that old adage that one of the purposes of the Gospel is “to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.” Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 7.50.22 AMI particularly find Prof. Bureggemann’s notion of neighborliness on point, especially living in a part of the country where so very, very many people live in “gated and guarded communities,” neighborhoods where entry is limited only to residents. This map (from Gated Communities: Are you in or out? Naples Daily News, July 26, 2013) shows how much of the area in this part of SW Florida is “off limits” to neighbors outside the gate.

On another issue, I was particular edified to read Prof. Brueggemann’s response to the first of two questions about LGBTQ people and how many who claim to be Christian treat them. Here’s what was asked, and Brueggeman’s first words in response.

You talked about the poor and healthcare. What about the LGBTQ community, especially when people use the Old Testament to argue against that community?

The discussion needs to start with what it means to be made in the image of God [emphasis added]. The confession of Christian faith is that all of God’s human creatures are made in the image of God. That means that they are to be treated with dignity, offered maintenance and security, as is necessary.

Brueggemann claims that the starting point of this discussion must be the recognition that LGBTQ people are made in the image of God. That understanding is the very reason for the title of this blog. If we are not able to see in ourselves and others a reflection of the Divine, then what possible hope is there for dealing well with any of the myriad problems this generation or any generation faces? If we can’t see the presence of God in every person — especially those whom we so readily label as “other” — then how can Christians claim to be followers of the One who came to lead all people to God?

After briefly dispatching with concerns about what some of the various texts of Scripture supposedly say about homosexuality, Brueggemann’s concluding words are worth repeating:

The texts that are determinative are those that talk about the love of God that has been shown to us in Jesus. We can’t compromise that.