How Change Comes About

This thought from Richard Rohr’s daily meditation seems apropos after last evening’s discussion in which the Dignity/Washington community continues to consider whether “to have women presiders at Eucharist”:

In the second half, you try to influence events, work for change, quietly persuade, change your own attitude, pray, or forgive instead of attacking things head on.

Presiding at Eucharist — An Open Letter to the Dignity/Washington Community

A (Long) Open Letter to my friends at Dignity/Washington

Dear Friends,

This evening, a Dignity/Washington “Task Force considering the issue of Women Presiders at Mass will facilitate a 1-hour community dialogue … to express thoughts and opinions on this issue.”

Wine-and-BreadFor many years, D/W was my spiritual home, a place where I was privileged, along with other LGBT Catholics, “our family and friends,” to gather regularly for the celebration of Eucharist. As I am not able to be present for this community dialogue, I’d like to do the next best thing. I’d like to say from afar what I wish I could say in person. So, I am putting in writing my thoughts and ideas on this fundamentally significant issue. I say it’s “fundamentally significant” because, for us as Catholics, the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our lives as Christians. That phrase from the Second Vatican Council (Lumen Gentium, ch. II) reminds us that it is most clearly in the public celebration of Eucharist that we tell the world who we claim to be, and that we are united with all of our sisters and brothers throughout the world and even across the centuries who share this same apostolic faith. It continues to be a truism that any Catholic can go into a Catholic church anywhere in the world and join in the Eucharistic celebration — even if that celebration is in a different language and an entirely different culture — and still feel very much “at home.”

At the beginning of this dialogue, it’s essential to define some terms and then clarify what this discussion is really all about. Without those definitions, I contend that the conversation would be one of mere emotion and opinion, and as such, would be incomplete.

First, what does “presider” mean? In liturgical practice, a “presider” is any person who leads a community during a liturgical prayer. It is a term that has meaning precisely in the act of doing. Thus, in the Catholic context, it is a functional term only. There is no such thing as a presider outside of the act of presiding. The term should not be confused with terms referring to an office or position in the Church (such as “Pastor” or “Catechist”), nor with terms that denote one’s sacramental character. “Pastor,” for example, indicates someone who holds an official position as the leader of a local parish and “Catechist” is someone who has been designated to teach and guide those seeking full initiation into the Church (as in the RCIA process).  “Baptized” and “Confirmed” and “Ordained” indicate the sacramental character of a person who has received those respective Sacraments. By way of illustration, consider the Abbess of a community of nuns who leads her religious sisters daily in praying the Liturgy of the Hours. Each time she does this, she is “presiding.” While engaged in the act of presiding at morning and evening prayer, it would be correct to say she is the Abbess and that she is functioning as the presider at those particular liturgical celebrations. Outside of those times, she would still be Abbess, which is the formal office which is hers as the leader of her community. Outside of those times of liturgical celebration, however, it would be somewhat meaningless to refer to her as “presider” because there is no “presiding” going on. Similarly, there have been many times when the D/W community has had prayer services of various types and a community member — male or female — has led that prayer. At such times, that person could properly be called “presider” because he or she was engaged in the act of presiding over the celebration. Once the act of presiding is over, one is no longer a presider.

Second, what does “Mass” mean? Mass is a term which Catholics use to refer to our primary liturgical celebration. The Mass is the celebration of the Eucharist, and the Eucharist is at the heart of the Sacramental life of the Church. One of the hallmarks of the D/W community’s celebration of Eucharist is that it has, heretofore, always adhered to the Roman Catholic Church’s norms for what is called a “valid” celebration of the Eucharist. The apostolic Christian Churches of both the East and the West have, for two millennia, recognized the importance of “validity” in celebrating the Sacraments. For example, in order for the celebration of Baptism to be valid, water must be used, along with the invocation of the Trinity. If someone were baptized simply “In the name of Almighty God,” that baptism would not be considered valid Christian Baptism, because the Holy Trinity was not invoked. For some sacraments, one essential element for validity is the “minister of the sacrament.”  Catholic and Orthodox Traditions have always identified a validly ordained priest as the minister of the Eucharist. Thus, as a way of expressing its own commitment to our Catholic identity, Dignity/Washington has always celebrated Eucharist with a presider whom the Catholic Church recognizes as a validly ordained priest. (I used this phrase very deliberately, because I suspect that those who would like to see a change in D/W’s current practice would state that there are women who have been ordained as priest. It is not my purpose — nor do I think it should be D/W’s purpose — to enter the contentious discussions about the validity/invalidity of any such ordinations.) It is this fact — that D/W has always celebrated Eucharsist with a presider whom the Catholic Church recognizes as a validly ordained priest — which has allowed many leaders of the D/W community to answer in the affirmative when a visitor or potential new member has inquired, “Is this really Catholic? Is that a ‘real’ priest?” Those leaders could honestly answer, “Yes, it is really Catholic, and yes, that’s a real priest.”

It is my perspective that this practice has been the hallmark of D/W community. Were it not, I know that I and many others would never have called D/W our spiritual home, because it would have felt illegitimate to call our celebrations of Eucharist “Catholic.” While there is no doubt that many Catholics — myself included — believe that women should be admitted to ordination within the Roman Catholic Church, the sad fact is that this is currently not our Church’s practice. I wish it different — but it’s not.

It’s About Sacrament (and not sex or gender)

Catholicism takes Sacraments seriously.  They are the glue which binds us together. They mark not only significant moments in our individual lives, but also have, at their very core, the Mystery of Faith which brings us into the Christian family and which nourish, strengthen, and restore us throughout our lives. Because Sacraments are so central to the life of the Universal Church, no individual community — no parish, no diocese, no religious order — has the liberty to change by their own authority the fundamental character of how the Sacraments are celebrated. To do so would, in a significant way, “break communion” with the rest of our brothers and sisters around the world with whom we are united each time we gather “in word and in sacrament” to hear the Word of God and to be nourished by the Real Presence of Christ in Eucharist.

And so, I believe that the question posed by the D/W Task Force is fundamentally not about women, no matter how strongly we feel about the inclusion of women and their many gifts in the ranks of the Church’s ordained ministers.  The question IS about whether or not the D/W community wishes to continue to celebrate Eucharist with presiders whom the Catholic Church recognizes as validly ordained priests.  The question IS about whether the D/W community wishes, in all honesty, to be a Catholic community and not just a “Catholic-like” community.

Pope Francis and Hope for the Future

pope-francis-gay-quoteMost of us have been overwhelmingly surprised and pleased by the ways in which Pope Francis has made positive overtures to the LGBT community in the months since his election as the Bishop of Rome and the Successor of St. Peter. For the first time in decades, LGBT Catholics have legitimate reason to hope that the years ahead might be very, very, very different than what was imagined only a few months ago.

Until now, the D/W community can correctly state that what has separated us from the wider Church was not of our own choosing.  If D/W strays from its practice of celebrating Eucharist with presiders whom the Catholic Church recognizes as validly ordained priests, that would no longer be true. The D/W community could no longer state that any distance between us and the wider Church was not of our creation. Rather, we ourselves would have taken steps to further separate ourselves from the institutional Church. A decision to move in this direction is a decision one would anticipate if D/W wished to become its own independent denomination rather than a community that proudly proclaims its status as an integral part of the Roman Catholic Church. Given the hope that fills the Church now under the leadership of Pope Francis, now is not the time to move further away from the Church we love and the Church we call home.

It is my prayer that Dignity/Washington will continue to be a place where LGBT Catholics not only are welcomed — for we are welcome in many gay-affirming Christian Churches — but that it will also continue to be a place where, through the community’s wonderfully rich, beautiful, and inspiring Eucharistic liturgies, LGBT Catholics, our family and friends, feel very, very, very much “at home”!

In God’s Peace!

Tim

Is there room in our lives for another?

This is a question I’ve been meditating on in recent weeks, perhaps even longer. In his daily meditation continuing his reflections on Eucharist, Richard Rohr puts it this way:

Somehow we have to make sure that each day we are hungry, that there’s room inside of us for another presence [emphasis added]. If you are filled with your own opinions, ideas, righteousness, superiority, or sufficiency, you are a world unto yourself and there is no room for “another.”

As a gay man “of a certain age” who is also single and would prefer not to be, I wonder if the history of my own life sometimes gets in the way of having youth’s openness to possibility, to new experiences, and especially to new people whom God may bring my way?  I ask this of myself, but also wonder if it might be true for others who have also lived for some time, perhaps many years, establishing their own daily routines, interests, and ways of spending time? Are our lives so utterly fulfilling that there is no longer any room for “another”? How do my/your “independence” fit with our “interdependence” as neighbors, acquaintances, friends, dates or partners? As Fr. Rohr says, if there is no emptiness or hunger, then what is there to be satisfied? To be sure, only God can fulfill that ultimate emptiness and hunger so eloquently stated by Augustine — “My heart will not rest until it rests in Thee” — but are there not hungers at the level of human relationship and intimacy that we are called to fulfill for one another?

Just as there is possibility within every springtime bud, is there not great possibility within every human heart and soul?

Catholics need more understanding of Catholicism

There are lots of elements to the on-going story about the denial of communion to a Maryland woman, Barbara Johnson, by Fr. Marcel Guarnizo at her mother’s funeral. One element that will never get any headlines is the low level of understanding even regular Church-going Catholics have about our faith. I remember hearing years ago a religious education professional lamenting the fact that while her parish was filled with many accomplished and well-educated people, when it came to their “religious education,” they stopped progressing at about a 4th grade level.

I’ve been reminded of that time and again as I read comments posted by supposedly informed and practicing Catholics who’ve been sharing their thoughts about what happened in Gaithersburg: who was right and who was wrong? what should official Church leaders do in response? etc.

Today’s “On Religion” section of the Washington Post (p. B2) prints just two comments that demonstrate exactly what I mean:

joestrong701: The priest should be commended for faithfully following the Catholic Church teachings. If you want to be a lesbian, you can’t claim to be being a Roman Catholic. I love basketball, but at 6-2, I can’t sue the Knicks for not picking me to be their center.

And…

Ivegstsyo: The priest denied her Communion because her lifestyle is considered immoral by the Catholic Church. As a priest, he is supposed to deny communion to those who don’t listen or follow Church teachings/doctrine. He was just doing his job. It was nothing personal. Just because you choose to live a sinful life doesn’t mean that the Churchhas to accept who you are.

I don’t know if either of these commenters is Catholic, but if they are, they should consider going back to their CCD/religious education program and take some more classes. “Church teachings” implies much, much more than what one may remember from a catechism class and certainly much more than what can be found through a Google search. It includes areas of study such as fundamental theology, sacred scripture, systematic theology, sacramental theology, ecclesiology, christology, pastoral theology, liturgy and canon law. Perhaps some in depth understanding of these various disciplines and how they fit into the teaching and practice of the Church might better equip them to offer comments about what might have been appropriate actions in the situation now receiving such attention.

It’s true that Church teaching says that we as Catholics should be properly disposed to receive the Eucharist, and that those who are “…obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion,” (cf. Code of Canon Law, #915). It is equally true, however, that the primary assessment for such disposition rests with the individual, and no one else. Only I (and God) can judge my conscience, and only I — taking responsibility for ensuring my conscience is well-formed — can judge my suitability for receiving Eucharist, remembering especially the words we pray immediately before Communion: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you…”

For those who look to the “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin” standard, it would be almost impossible in almost any real-life situation for a minister of the Eucharist to be able to make such a judgment with any certainy. Even if a pastor or priest knew well the spiritual lives of his parishioners, how would this judgment be expressed at a Eucharistic liturgy where so many others are often distributing communion? Perhaps pastors should provide lists to all the Ordinary and Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist assigned to each Mass with categories of those “Known to be unfit for communion”? Clearly, such an idea is preposterous, as are attempts by ministers of the Eucharist to judge the worthiness of those who come to share in the Lord’s table. After all, who is to say that even the most notorious mass murderer in history who approaches to receive communion has not — at that moment — made a “perfect act of contrition” and committed to receiving sacramental reconciliation as soon as possible, thus being properly disposed to receive Communion?

Every word in that phrase — “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin” — is important. Every word is there for a reason, and every word demands that those who may even consider not admitting someone to communion be absolutely certain and have no doubt whatsoever before taking the potentially scandalous action of denying communion to anyone.

Perhaps, however, the most compelling argument is this: If we really believe that the Eucharist is the real presence of Jesus, why would we want to get in the way of a sinner encountering the Lord? After all, isn’t He more likely a candidate than any of us to change the heart and mind of the worst sinner in our midst?

TFTD – Christ our Hero

From Richard Rohr’s, On the Threshold of Transformation: Daily Meditations for Men:

Day 4: The Holy Grail

In culture after culture, much has been written about blood.  It holds deep, archetypal meanings in all storytelling, both as the ultimate energy of life and the ultimate symbol of death.  The Eucharist speaks to this dramatically; we are taking in the essence of another, and it speaks on a cellular, physical level. This is deeply transformative if we allow it to be. Quite simply, we become what we eat and drink.

This experience has lost some of its power. In ancient rites, men sometimes drank the blood of their elders and heroes. The Eucharist has at times become an antiseptic caricature of the original Supper, complete with lace on the altar and priests dressed in silk. This distracts us from the graphic symbol:  we are drinking the blood of our hero — Christ — and are now one with him.