The Spiritual Gifts of Gay Sexuality

Spiritual direction is one of the best -kept secrets of the Catholic Church. This is unfortunate- the process needs to better known and used. This is how Jesuit theologian James L’Empereur describes it:

the process in which a Christian accompanies others for an extended period of time for the process of clarifying the psychological and religious issues in the directee so that they may move toward deeper union with God and contribute to ministry within the Christian community.

I have unexpectedly been able to borrow L’Empereur’s “Spiritual Direction and the Gay Person”, which I would now like to prescribe to all my readers as required reading, with a 3 hour examination at the end of the course. I began reading last evening, and have been devouring it with enthusiasm. I am now about half way through, and not yet ready to offer a full and balanced assessment. (That will come later). Still, every page has important insights that I want to share or explore further. As an appetizer before the main course to follow, I offer some snippets today:

Here are the opening sentences:

Homosexuality is on of God’s most significant gifts to humanity. To be gay or lesbian is to have received a special blessing from God. to be gay or lesbian is to have received a special blessing from God. All humans receive their own special graces from their creator, but god has chosen some to be gay and lesbian as a way of revealing something about Godself that heterosexuals do not.

This is a startling, unexpected beginning, but of course he goes on to explain and fully substantiate it, in a chapter that had me engrossed, and anxious to explore also all his references and sources (a task, I fear, which may be well beyond me.) Elsewhere, he makes another startling claim: he calls the gay state a “charism”, exactly comparable to the charism of celibacy embraced by Catholic clergy. Both are charisms granted to just a few, from which the wider church can learn. Here I was reminded of an observation in one of our Soho Mass homilies, that if “homosexuality” is an environmental threat because it cannot lead to procreation, so is celibacy.) The key manner in which we who are gay or lesbian can teach the wider Church is in the manner of our sexuality, which is not exclusively about genital contact (in complete contradiction to the popular stereotypes), nor is it based in patriarchal patterns of domination and submission.

I should stress here that L’Empereur very carefully does not either endorse or condemn any specific form of sexual expression, whether in committed, faithful relationships, in recreational sex, or in voluntary celibacy: those decisions are to be reached by the person being directed, through the process, and not decided a priori. However, he does argue strongly that for all people, gay or otherwise, the historic dichotomy between sex and spirituality has been destructive. Instead of thinking of spirituality OR sexuality, we should be looking for spirituality THROUGH sexuality , possibly (but not necessarily) including genital sexuality. Gay people, he says, may find this easier than heterosexuals, who are often startled during counselling before , when he asks whether they expect to use their sexual union as a form of prayer.

In this book L’Empereur presents with great clarity and authority a number of the themes I have been grasping at on these pages. Another is the view that authentic Catholic teaching fully supports, not condemns, the homosexual and his/her struggle. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. We know from painful experience of course, that approached from the perspective of sexual ethics, standard Catholic teaching is deeply hostile. L’Empereur reminds us that Catholic teaching is far broader than just sexual ethics. Approached from social justice, which is at least as important to the totality of teaching, a completely different picture emerges, one which demands compassion and support for the marginalised and oppressed, and requires that we work towards justice. This latter perspective has been profoundly influential in my own faith as it was formed under South African apartheid, and why I found Cardinal O’Connors instruction to the Soho Masses to present Catholic teaching on sexuality “in full, and without ambiguity”. This is impossible: “in full” implies from a range of approaches, which are self-contradictory. When we think of the structure of Catholic teaching on homosexuality, far too often we see only the dominating monolith of the official Vatican teaching on sexual ethics, and especially the scaled down, reduced travesty that we find in the catechism. Reading this book, I am reminded that the teaching “in full” more closely resembles a crowded, diverse city, with many strands coming from the Vatican centre – and also important subsidiary nodes, such as those presented by theologians like L’Empereur. Historically, cities grew around single, strong centres. During the twentieth century, the development of private transport led to dramatic changes in city morphology, with the major growth occurring on the suburban or exurban fringes and in suburban business nodes. In some cities, it has been suggested, the traditional centre has virtually disappeared.

We may be seeing the same thing in theology. Comparable to private transport, the emergence of lay theologians and secular schools of theology have privatised the construction of new ideas. Instead of the ancient central monolith dominating the skyline, steadfastly preserving and protecting its traditional inheritance, suburban nodes are bubbling away, creating new forms and structures: liberation theology, feminist theology, gay and lesbian theology, queer theology; theology by discerned experience, theology of spirituality through sexuality – and so many more I have not yet encountered. With so much vitality at the suburban fringes, the “margins” lose conceptual significance. Will Vatican City in time become irrelevant, as some physical central cities have done?

Jayden Cameron thinks so, at the Gay Mystic. Read “Life Finds a Way“.

(I will have more on this important book later – probably repeatedly.)

 

See also:

L’Empereur, James: Spiritual Direction and the Gay Person

Nelson, James: Between Two Gardens: Reflections on Faith and Spirituality

 

Previous QTC Posts:

The Intimate Dance of Sexuality and Spirituality

Finding God in Gay Lovemaking

Homoerotic Sexuality

 

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The Churches and Sexual Wholeness: A Progressive View*

This post has moved to my new domain at http://queering-the-church.com/blog

Do it Yourself Catholicism

Three posts I have seen online in the past couple of days have had in common observations about people of faith moving ahead without on religious matters without ecclesiastical sanction – Christians doing it themselves. At Open Tabernacle, Obie Holmen wrote about the expanding womenpriests movement in “Roman Catholic female ordination“. At Gay Mystic, Jayden Cameron cross-posted two pieces on the parishioners of St Mary’s Brisbane, who say they have been “Liberated with Joy from a Failing institution“, and on the Home Eucharist movement. Before we condemn these out of hand, it is worth giving some thought to history: to the early history of the Church, and also to some lessons from twentieth century secular history.

Some Prominent Women in the Early Church

In the very early Church, there was no distinct, set-apart clerical elite. Even as there emerged distinct roles for deacons and bishops, their roles were markedly different to those we know today. “Deacon” took their title from the Greek for “to serve”, while bishops were “overseers”, leading small local teams – with the emphasis on team work and leading. Worship was in small congregations, led by its own members, who were not professional clergy. Read the rest of this entry »

Sheep Leading Shepherds: Lay Theological Literacy *

This post has moved to my new domain at http://queering-the-church.com/blog

The Impotent, Violent Hierachy.

In an interesting observation on the disgraceful Vatican investigation, Mercy Sr Theresa Kane describes as a sign not of the power of the hierarchy, but of its impotence:

Referring to the Vatican investigation of U.S. women religious initiated last December by Slovenian Cardinal Franc Rodé, who heads the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Kane called it “a sign of impotence in the church hierarchy.”

“Regarding the present interrogation, I think the male hierarchy is truly impotent, incapable of equality, co-responsibility in adult behavior,” she said, not mincing any words. “In the church today, we are experiencing a dictatorial mindset and spiritual violence.”

Kane said there is a proper place for anger. “If we do not get angry, we won’t make change,” she said. And change can come, she noted. Years back, she recalled, women were required to cover their heads when in church — “even using tissue paper, if necessary.” After a while women simply stopped the practice and the requirement ended. She called it a “silent revolution.”

Spiritual violence it demonstrably is, impotence less clearly so, but I think she is right. Real authority does not do reassert itself with these conspicuous assertions of power, but instead is proves itself by the continuing, voluntary cooperation of those governed. I also like her observations on excommunication, and on the possibility of change, and on the possibility of facing excommunication:

Kane, as the nation’s most identifiable advocate of women’s ordination, has been repeatedly asked if she fears a Vatican excommunication. Her response: “I’m not out of communion. The institution got out of communion with me.”

This is the view that I am rapidly reaching.  It is not the ordinary Catholics who are out of touch with the real heart of Catholicism, but the supposed religious experts in the Vatican, and some of the bishops, who are so obsessed with their cloistered lives, power and finery that they have completely lost touch with the realities of ordinary lives.  In their courage and willingness to stick their necks out and speak up against injustice where they see it, including injustice inside the church, against the opposition of the powerful, these women are bearing true prophetic witness to the Gospel message.  Instead of being investigated by the authorities, they should be recognised and celebrated as the true leaders of the modern church.

(Read the full report of Sr Kane’s address, and other news from the 40th anniversary conference of the National Coalition of American Nuns, at the National CAtholic  Reporter,)


Church & Laity: More on the Sensus Fidelium

Michael Bayley at the Wild Reed has already noted how his post on Richard Sipe, with his observations about sexuality and the sensus fidelium, has provoked widespread comment. I want to elaborate now on why this should have been so, and why it is important – and also to address some of the confusion in that comment.

Sipe’s observations were just a few comments extracted from a longer article on the coming reformation of the church: “Sexuality Sets Stage for Church’s Next Reformation, Expert Predicts.” (Arthur Jones, NCR January 2003). Let us not forget this context.  Many other observers have commented on the same idea, not as something to be desired, but as an imminent event. The challenge then, is to identify the ways in which we can accelerate and participate in this Kairos moment. But before venturing into the bigger picture, we must consider the specific points covered in the original Wild Reed post, and the subsequent discussion.

In the short extract posted, Sipe notes that there is a sharp divergence in thinking between the hierarchy and the laity on matters of sexuality, and goes on to remind us that in terms of traditional teaching on the sensus fidelium (SF), a teaching which does not carry with it the support of the faithful as a whole, lacks authority. It was this observation in particular that produced most of the vigorous discussion. Read the rest of this entry »

Articulating the “Sensus Fidelium”: a German Example

This interesting e-mail landed arrived in my mailbox overnight, from “Wir sind Kirche” (We Are Church, Germany) .  The lifting of the excommunication is back in the news, with reports that Benedict XVI was warned in advance about the holocaust denying views of Bishop Williamson, before  he went ahead.

However, the main feature that interests me is just the technique.  I have an impression that in the church we are allowing the neocath right wing to hog the limelight of public visibility, with public outcries and organised appeals to the hierarchy, while representing only a small minority of Catholics. This is odd, as progressives have never been slouches at political organising in the secular sphere, in the US or elsewhere.  Why, then, are we content in the church to settle for simply addressing fellow progressives in blogs or journals like NCR?  Is there any reason why we should not be able to organise more effectively to address the hierarchy directly?

The church has an accepted, but neglected, obligation to pay attention to the views of the people, the sensus fidelium. They not created a vehicle to formulate such a voice.  Where formal structures do not exist, we must create our own.

And now, the e-mail received – English translation by  Google  (edited by myself where I could untangle it).

If you want to support this appeal by a personal letter or an email to the German Bishops’ Conference and / or individual bishops:
The information (email addresses), the BTB and the German bishops can be found here: http://www.wir-sind-kirche.de/index.php?id=128&id_entry=1998 # addr

We are the Church’s appeal to the bishops’ conference: “Hold the course of the council!”
to the Fall General Assembly of the German Bishops’ Conference 21 to 24 September 2009 in Fulda
Read the rest of this entry »