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

Monarch Butterfly

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?

Clinton/Kaine vs Trump/Pence – a study in religious contrasts

Hillary Clinton and running mate Tim Kaine

Hillary Clinton (r) and running mate Tim Kaine

From the perspective of Christian faith, it’s hard to imagine a more stark study in contrasts than that between the recently announced presidential/vice-presidential teams. Tim Kaine gave a rousing speech yesterday (July 23, 2016) when he appeared for the first time after being chosen by Hillary Clinton as her running mate. Kaine proudly declared, “Soy católico … I’m Catholic…” and his speech was filled with explicit references that show how deeply his Catholic Christian faith has formed his values and directed his life’s work. Kaine impresses as profoundly influenced by his Jesuit education, his missionary work in Honduras, and his commitment to the teachings of Jesus as a lawyer who worked to defend the housing rights of the poor. The Clinton/Kaine duo proclaim that their lives were formed by a faith that asked how they could help others. It is a faith that puts belief into practice, living out the social, communal dimension that Christianity absolutely requires.

Trump/Pence, on the other hand, seem to be much more formed by or comfortable with the so-called “Prosperity Gospel” (an oxymoron if ever their was one).  While there are some Christian leaders in the Evangelical tradition who recognize that this “gospel” is an aberration of historical, biblical Christianity, there are many others who have succumbed to its allure. This philosophy is uniquely American. It is the spawn of the marriage between 19th century Protestant fundamentalism and that brand of American individualism which puts the self before others, the individual before community, and one’s own success ahead of or at the expense of others’ success. Its focus is on “my rights” and not the common good. To be clear, this focus on the “rights” of the individual can be exploited on either end of the political spectrum. It’s the same right espoused by gun-owners, abortion advocates, and the increasing number of laws that permit assisted suicide. At its root, the “Prosperity Gospel” makes two basic claims: First, if your faith is strong enough, God will shower you with earthly riches, wealth, and worldly success; and, second, if you have earthly riches, wealth, and worldly success, then these are signs of God’s favor.

Perhaps it does need to be stated, but this view of the Christian Gospel — preached by such megachurch leaders as Joel Osteen (who, by the way, has no theological training) and Joyce Meyer — bears so little resemblance to the actual teachings of Jesus that it cannot be rightly called Christian. It is a “gospel” without humility, without prudence, without a sense of justice. It lacks a belief that the goods of this earth are for all God’s People, not just the industrious few who stake their claim first, whose might trumps right, or who know how to manipulate the economic and legal systems to their advantage. On the contrary, as Pope Pius XI wrote in his encyclical Quadragesimo Anno (1931),

Therefore, the riches that economic-social developments constantly increase ought to be so distributed among individual persons and classes that the common advantage of all, which Leo XIII had praised, will be safeguarded; in other words, that the common good of all society will be kept inviolate. By this law of social justice, one class is forbidden to exclude the other from sharing in the benefits,” (no. 57).

To anyone schooled in the social justice tradition of Christianity in general and Catholic Christianity in particular, this quotation will ring true. Pius XI’s reference to his predecessor, Leo XIII, is a reference to that pope’s encyclical, Rerum Novarum, which is generally considered the first papal document in modern times to spell out some of the basic principles Christian faith requires for a socially just society. From the perspective of Christianity and its two-thousand year tradition, there is no doubt that the Gospel of Jesus does not exist without Jesus’ “new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” (John 13:34). Come November, each of us must decide which of these two teams contending for the highest offices in the land have lived lives that most exemplify the common good the Gospel requires.

Will I live for God or mammon? – Homily for the 8th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle A)

March 1/2, 2014 — Readings

When I first looked at the readings for today, I couldn’t help but focus on that word “worry,” which we hear Matthew place on the lips of Jesus in this passage that comes in the middle of Matthew’s long Sermon on the Mount.  Some scripture commentators refer to this as “The Great Sermon” because it includes so much of what is at the core of Jesus’ message and because it presents Jesus’ teachings in such a straightforward way.  So it is in this “Great Sermon” that we hear Jesus tell us not to worry about our lives or any aspect of our lives. We are not to worry about food or drink or clothing, because worrying about these things will, as Jesus suggests, “add not a single moment” to our lives.  I think this word, “worry,” grabbed my attention for two reasons.  First, it reminded me of that little prayer which comes right after the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer that includes the line, “… and protect us from all anxiety.” Worry, after all, is anxiety. It’s that experience in which we get all worked up about one thing or many things and we dwell on difficulties or problems that are either real or imagined.  The second reason I was drawn to this word is because I spend much of my time as a therapist working with people who suffer not just from “ordinary worry” – if there can be such a thing – but who are so filled with worry and anxiety that it gets in the way of their ability to function fully in daily life.  You may be surprised to know that Anxiety is so prevalent in our culture that in any given year, over 18% of American adults have a diagnosable anxiety disorder.  That’s a lot of worry!

Although Matthew places this passage in the middle of The Great Sermon, it wouldn’t be out of place if it came at the Sermon’s beginning. It is in The Great Sermon that we hear Jesus’ teachings about who is truly blessed in the Beatitudes; we hear Jesus call upon his followers to be “salt of the earth” and “light of the world”; and, it is in this Sermon that we are challenged by Jesus’ command – not suggestion, but command – to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  I suggest, however, that before we can understand true blessedness, or begin to be light and salt for others, and especially before we can allow our hearts to be softened so that we do love our enemies and pray for those who despise us – before we can do any of this we must first ask and answer a basic question. For us and for every Christian that question is the one that Jesus suggests in today’s Gospel passage:  Will I live for God or will I live for ‘mammon’?

‘Mammon’ is an Aramaic word and while it does mean money or property, it also more broadly means anything in which I put my trust and in which I find my security. For many ‘mammon’ might actually be money or tangible resources, for others it could mean professional success or accomplishments or reputation or another person or – as we are reminded this weekend as Oscar’s Red Carpet is rolled out in Hollywood – it could even mean my looks and outward appearance.

Now professional success, accomplishments, reputation, relationships and even caring for our physical bodies – these are certainly not bad things nor are they values to be disdained. They can, however – if we let them – distract us from what is most important in our lives – our lives as individuals and our lives as a community of believers. Only when God is valued above every other value will the subordinate but necessary values of food, shelter, livelihood, and human relationships fall into their proper place.

We must never forget that those first persons who heard Jesus preach this and other sermons were probably quite poor. As he taught them about genuine values and priorities in one’s life, they may have heard these in the midst of experiencing want. For some, their poverty may have predisposed them to seek God’s reign with pure, unencumbered hearts.  For many more, I suspect, their poverty and desperate need for the essentials of life became obstacles from focusing on God, trying simply to survive in a world and culture that had little room for them and their needs.  As I thought about this, I tried to place myself in the shoes of an individual or community who knows first-hand the pangs of hunger or the lack of adequate shelter. I wonder what it would be like today for such a person or community who is hearing these words just as we are, words of Jesus telling me not to worry about the things I don’t have yet sorely need, wondering when God will provide for me enough food to eat and clothes to wear, just as God provides for the birds of the sky and the flowers of the field?

While you and I are hopefully filled with gratitude for the food and drink and clothing and shelter and every other blessing that we do have, what are we to do when we know that others in our world are not so fortunate? In remembering that Jesus calls both poor and rich alike to trust in the love of God and not be consumed with fearful fretting and useless worrying, perhaps we should also remember that the God of Isaiah and the God of Paul and the God of Jesus promises to love us and all creation with a love that goes beyond even the greatest of human loves we can imagine. This God knows the needs of the hungry, the homeless, the addicted, the refugee, and those on the margins of society. This God knows the needs of the aging, the dying, and the victims of injustice, violence, and greed.  And so the question, “Will I live for God or will I live for ‘mammon’? remains for us to answer each and every day.  If I choose to live for God, what then does this mean not simply for what I believe, but what does it mean for what I do?  How will I live for God today? If I do live for God, then how does God’s care for all creation inspire me to similar caring and compassion for others?

Live in the Light — Homily for the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

January 25/26, 2014

 Readings

CSC_0044Listening to that first reading from the prophet Isaiah, you might wonder whether or not we had forgotten to turn the pages of the lectionary from a few weeks ago, as this reading and its memorable phrases are so very reminiscent of the readings from Christmas. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing.”  In fact, those are the very words which open the reading from Isaiah for the Christmas Liturgy at Midnight.  How appropriate they are for that particular liturgy, celebrated as it is in the darkness of night and drawing a stark contrast between the literal darkness of that time of day, and our belief that in Jesus darkness is dispelled and God’s Light – more so than the dawning of daybreak – enlightens the world in a new and permanent way.

We then hear – as we do during these early Sundays of this Cycle A Liturgical Year – a passage from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians. The Christian community in the Greek city of Corinth was founded by Paul during what is known as his 2nd Missionary Journey – probably around the years 50 to 52. This Corinthian community – which probably numbered in the hundreds – was clearly very important to Paul, who lived and stayed with them for over a year. They would gather for prayer not in the synagogue or some church or other public building – for there were as yet no such places – but rather they would gather much like we are doing today, in the home of someone who has opened their doors in hospitality and welcome.

Because Paul was so very fond of this community that he founded, it should be no surprise that he writes such a challenging letter to them.  He writes about many things in this relatively brief letter, especially when he hears that there is division and in-fighting among them. Having heard that they have divided themselves into factions and cliques, Paul wastes no time in telling them why he is writing, urging them to have no divisions among them, to be of the same mind and the same judgment. It’s not difficult for us – some two millennia later – to see how the issue Paul addressed head on way back then must somehow be inscribed in the very essence of what it means to be human. After all, has much changed since then? Aren’t we, no matter what the context, so very good at putting people into categories and camps – labeling others and even ourselves so that our attention is on what separates us rather than what unites us?  Is human society or even the Christian community any more united or “of the same mind” today than it was two thousand years ago? For those of us who claim to be disciples of Jesus, are we following someone – or, more likely something – else more closely than we are following the One in Whose footsteps we claim to walk?  If we were to look at a “Family Tree of Christianity,” we would see that there are some 1,200 organized Christian groups or churches in the US alone, and over 30,000 such groups worldwide. What do you suppose Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, would think of that?

If the evidence seems to show that divisions among Christians have not diminished but have increased, then what does this say for us who gather here today, allowing ourselves to be challenged by the Scriptures and nourished by the Eucharist?  For Paul, what was important was not being part of a certain group, but rather being a Christian meant dying with Christ so as to live in his Light.

But what does it mean to “die with Christ”? What does Paul’s vision of Christianity say to us who, believing that Jesus has dispelled the darkness and brought his saving Light to the world, are called to bear forth the Light of Jesus and the Peace of Christ? How can we – how can I – make that Light and Peace of Christ more present in a world which, at times, seems so filled darkness? We need not look far to see a world still burdened by wars and the lust for power, by senseless violence and death, by poverty and suffering that cry out for relief.

In the Gospel reading we hear Jesus call his first disciples, men who gave up all that they had – however much or little – to follow him. Jesus’ call to Peter and Andrew to “Come after me…” is no less our call today.  As Jesus’ own ministry will show, the “Kingdom of Heaven” he preaches refers not to some heavenly after-life, but rather to daily life lived here and now.  That Kingdom, that Reign of God, is much less about the future than it is about the very real presence of this day, this moment. However, in order for God’s Reign to be revealed in the present, Jesus calls us to repent. Repentance means ensuring that our values are in sync with Jesus’ values, that our words and our actions are truly “what Jesus would say and do.” Like those first disciples, we are called to make people, not things, the focus of our lives. Nothing – no thing – can ever be more important than the relationships we have with one another, and nothing should ever blind us to seeing the face of God in every human person.

I’m sure you’ve all heard the song that begins with the words, “Come! Live in the Light. Shine with the Light and the Love of the Lord!”  It goes on to state what it means to live in that Light, who is Christ. As we go about our lives this week, let us keep in mind the challenge of those words to be the Light and Presence of Christ to all we meet. As the hymn says:

Come! Open your heart! Show your mercy to all those in fear!
We are called to be hope for the hopeless, so all hatred and blindness will be no more!

Sing! Sing a new song! Sing of that great day when all will be one! God will reign and we’ll walk with each other as sisters and brothers united in love!

We are called to act with justice. We are called to love tenderly. We are called to serve one another, to walk humbly with God. (We are Called, by David Haas)

Richard Rohr: Patriotism as the False Sacred

Today’s meditation from Richard Rohr probably sounds like blasphemy to millions of American fundamentalists, especially those who believe in that oh-so-not-Christian idea of “American Exceptionalism.”

“Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9) was proclaimed by the early church, as their most concise creedal statement. No one ever told me this was a political and subversive statement, until I learned a bit of Bible history. To say “Jesus is Lord!” was testing and provoking the Roman pledge of allegiance that every Roman citizen had to proclaim when they raised their hand to the imperial insignia and shouted, “Caesar is Lord!” Early Christians were quite aware that their “citizenship” was in a new universal kingdom, announced by Jesus (Philippians 3:20), and that the kingdoms of this world were not their primary loyalty systems. How did we manage to lose that? And what price have we paid for it? (More)

Homily for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

Dignity NoVA/DC
January 26/27, 2013

Scripture Readings

Before I say anything about the scriptures we just listened to and what they might mean for us today, I think I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge that – as Americans – we are gathering today as a different people than we did one week ago.  While many people who listened to the President’s Inauguration speech on Monday may have had to look up what his references to Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall meant, no one could misconstrue the meaning of his words when he went on to say this:  “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”  Regardless of whether we voted for Mr. Obama or not, or whether we agree or disagree with his stance on this or that political issue, there can be no doubt that – for us as gay and lesbian Americans – a page of history turned last Monday.  There can be no doubt that his speech marked the dawn of a new era and the beginning of a new chapter in the long road of LGBT Americans to see our full acceptance and inclusion in American society.  For this, I’m sure you join me in being very thankful to God.

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View from Whiteface Mountain, New York

Sadly, the corresponding chapter in the history of our Church has yet to see the full light of day.  But let me suggest that the pages of that chapter are being written right here and right now, week in and week out, as we gather to celebrate in Word and in Sacrament the faith of our ancestors – a faith that, as today’s scriptures remind us, brings healing and liberation to those who both listen to and live God’s Word in daily life.

By now you all know that last fall marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.  One of often repeated beliefs frequently heard after Vatican II is that the Church is most fully itself when it gathers for Liturgy.  Today we have 3 scripture readings that remind us of this – two of them call to mind the Liturgy of the Word, and one of them reminds us of the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  Ezra the priest reads to the people who have recently returned to Jerusalem form their long captivity in Babylon.  Jesus of Nazareth, “as was his custom,” entered the local synagogue, reads to a gathering of people who surely knew him well, and tells them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

And finally Paul, in that unusually long passage from his first letter to the Corinthians, reminds a somewhat troubled and fractured community that they are, indeed the very Body of the Christ in whose name they have been baptized.  When you hear those words, “Body of Christ,” I suspect that for many of us the first thing that comes to mind is the Eucharist – the bread which we will soon bless and break and share among us.  Those are, after all, the words to which we say “Amen!” when the minister of the Eucharist offers us the Communion.  Using the image of the human body, however, Paul provides us with a related and dare I say deeper meaning of what “Body of Christ” means.

Paul is writing to a group of Christians in about the year 55 – some 25 years or so after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  This small group of people – perhaps 50, but probably not much more – had embraced Paul’s message when he had traveled to the Greek city of Corinth the year before.  They had heard him preach, been baptized in Jesus’ name, and had made an initial commitment to what we today would call Christian discipleship.  In the year since Paul had gone to preach elsewhere, Paul has learned that things aren’t so good in Corinth.  He’s heard that there is tension and division and jealousy; that some people are straying from the message he had taught, that others are living what we can euphemistically call “less than virtuous” lives, and that they were neglecting the poor in their midst.

It is to this small group, this Church, that Paul writes. He probably knew all the people at least by face if not by name, just as we know one another gathered here.  He also knew that this was quite a diverse group of people – men and women; Jews and Gentiles; young and old; married and single and widowed; rich and poor; some free and sound bound in servitude and slavery – each with their own gifts and shortcomings, their own weaknesses and strengths. Knowing all this, Paul goes on great length comparing this community, this local Church, to a body.  Just like any human body has different parts that all must work together for the good of the whole, so must every member of this body work with all other members for the good of the whole.  And just like every part of a human body as its own unique purpose and function, so too does each member of this body have his or her own unique talents and skills and blessings to contribute to the greater good of the whole.  And so for Paul, the Body of Christ refers to you and me, gathered as we are in the name of Christ.  His words are clear: “… you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.”

Even though the Church today is very different than it was in Paul’s day – much larger and even more diverse than two thousand years ago – Paul’s message remains unchanged:  Through Baptism into his death and resurrection and through the sharing the One Bread and the One Cup, we are all members of the One Body of Christ.

As LGBT Catholics, we’ve often heard quite a different message from many quarters within our Church, haven’t we?  We’ve been told in subtle and not-so-subtle ways that we either are somehow de-formed parts of the Body of Christ, or that we aren’t even a part of that Body at all.  You and I know in our hearts that such claims are patently false.  We reject positions that would disparage our full humanity or our full Christianity – positions that would seek to exclude us from the Body of Christ.  And yet, hearing such claims as we sometimes do, we can feel like the hand or the foot or the eye that says to those other parts, “I do not need you.”  In our anger at being rejected, we can reject in turn those who dismiss us … especially those who wield great power within the Church and who … unlike the President in his speech … would never even speak the word “gay” let alone engage in fruitful dialogue with God’s LGBT sons and daughters.

And so for us, if God’s Word is to be fulfilled in our hearing, then there is a new challenge.  Like our Corinthian ancestors, we are called to see fellow members of the Body of Christ not only in the faces of one another gathered here – people whom we know and care for and even call friend – but also we are challenged to see as members of the Body of Christ those who may still be blinded by prejudice and bound by ignorance.  And … if our blindnesses are healed … we may even have cause to see some signs of hope for our Church.

Some gay Catholics were pleased, for example, to see seeds of hope in this week’s statement from the Bishops of France where, as you probably know, the issue of same-sex marriage is being hotly debated.  While their statement would hardly be endorsed by gay rights groups, the French bishops’ statement at least:  Recognizes that homosexuality has always existed; Rejects homophobia in any and all forms; Recognizes that there can be value in loving, committed same-sex relationships; and Recognizes that the concerns and needs of gay people themselves must be listened to directly.

The passage of Scripture that Luke tells us Jesus declared “fulfilled in their hearing” was from the prophet Isaiah.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

May these same words of Scripture reminding us that we are Members of the Body of Christ, united in love for one another and called to bring God’s love to a world and a Church that is broken, be fulfilled in our hearing and usher in a new era of healing and liberation for all God’s holy people.

(material for parts of homily is drawn from a variety of sources, including homilies by Fr. Joseph Komonchak, In verbo veritas).

(c) Copyright 2013 – Timothy J MacGeorge

“The mystery of the Incarnation…..”

FeetCloseup“….is precisely the repositioning of God in the material world once and forever. Continual top-down religion often creates very passive, and even passive-dependent and passive-aggressive Christians. I know this as a Catholic priest for over 40 years. Bottom-up, or incarnational religion, offers a God we can experience for ourselves. We have nothing to fight or prove, just something to know for ourselves. This is what we are about to celebrate at Christmas.”

from Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation