Soho Masses (and Me) on National Television.

The UK’s rule-book Catholics who so visibly oppose London’s gay Masses have been vocal in their fervent hope and prayer that Pope Benedict’s impending visit will bring order to a wayward flock, and bring “unity” (by which they appear to mean whipping everybody else into conformity with their own, very narrow, understanding of Catholicism.) They will be disappointed. Already it is abundantly clear that our Masses will not be stopped, and may well come out of the Papal visit stronger than ever.

The visit itself has led to a constant stream of news and analysis in the British media, including daily short inserts in the BBC’s “Newsnight” programme. A range of longer programmes have also been broadcast, or are scheduled for the weeks ahead. Some of these programmes have specifically featured teaching on homosexuality, and our Soho Masses. Taken together, they amount to vastly more extensive public exposure, and qualitatively more sympathetic publicity, than we have ever seen before.

Read the rest of this entry »

Excluded From God’s People?

Question: Look carefully at this picture of assembled Catholic cardinals, and decide (carefully, now): Which of these, in terms of Pope Benedict’s own reasoning, are “excluded from God’s People”?

 

Answer: If you are to follow the line of reasoning of Pope Benedict himself, in his earlier incarnation as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the answer should be plain to see: all of them.

How so?

Read the rest of this entry »

Come Out, Stand Proud. (The Catechism Commands It!)

Yes, really – in a manner of speaking. Browsing through the Catechism section on sexuality, which you will find under the sixth commandment, I was struck by two passages in particular:

“Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity.” (2333)

and

“Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another” (2337)

Of course, that it is not at all what the Vatican means – the rest of the passage assumes that this can only be done by violating your identity in a heterosexual relationship, which we know from the experts in social science, from the testimony of others, and and from personal experience, is a violation of our identites, not an acceptance.  But then, the Vatican has never been noted for freedom from contradiction.

There are more compelling reasons though, than the Vatican’s mixed messages for coming out, and indeed for coming out in church. For “coming Out Day”, I want to look instead at some of these.

Rereeading Elisabeth Stuart’s “Gay & Lesbian Theologies“, I was struck by the realisation that she puts the start of the formal development of gay & lesbian theology to the early 1970’s.  the first notable text she discusses is Loving Women/Loving Men (eds Sally Gearhard and William Johnson), published as long ago as 1974 -fully 35 years ago this year, and “Towards a Theology of Gay Liberation”, edited by Malcolm Marcourt.

An essential aspect of this early thinking takes its cue from Paul Tillich, and his notion of “the courage to be”. In these terms, it is important to recognise our own experience.

Johnson accuses the church of being over concerned with “intellectual theology”, and  under concerned with the grounding of theology in experience.  It is therefore vital that gay people come out, articulate their experience and reflect theologically upon it, for “we who are gay know the validity of our experience, particularly the experience of our love. That love calls us out of ourselves and enables us to respond to the other. Through our experience we experience the presence of God………..

For Johnson, gay liberation is vital for the liberation of the Church to enable it to better incarnate the Gospel. The essay ends with a call to all gay men in the Church to come out, to  ensure that liberation takes place.” (Emphasis added.)

Previously, I have looked at Richard Cleaver‘s view that coming out is “Wrestling with the Divine” (Know My Name), and Daniel Helminiak‘s that is a “Spiritual Experience” (Sex and the Sacred)John McNeill, former Jesuit theologian and psychotherapist, makes similar points in “Sex as God Intended”.  Today, I want to look at the ideas of  Chris Glaser, who in a full length book presents his view of “Coming Out as Sacrament“. Glaser is one of those treasured writers on gay religion of whom it can said, as with James Alison, Daniel Helminiak and JohnMcNeill, that everything they write is worth reading, and accessible even to non specialists. Glaser writes from a backgroound in the Baptist and Presbyterian faiths, but as a Catholic I find this helpful, in broadening my perspective, rather than getting ini the way of his argument. The starting point for this book was some reflection on the importance of the idea of sacrament to lGBT people, who are so often denied access to the sacraments by mainstream churches.  Talking to a close friend (sympathetic, but not LGBT), this is how his thinking went:

“Having visited our Wednesday night Bible study, she told me that what impressed her most deeply, what she thougth was our sacrament as gay people, was our “ability to be vulnerable with one another” – in other words, to xperience true communion by offering our true selves.  As Christ offers himself in vulnerability,   so we offer ourselves, despite the risks. Being open and vulnerable may be preceivesd as weakness, but in reality it demonstrates our strength.  By sharing our  “brokenness”  – how we are sacrificially cut off from the rest of Christ’s Body – we offer a renewed opportunity of Communion, among ourselves and within the Church as the Body of Christ.”

Later, he added a conclusion that had not occurred to him earlier-

” that coming out is our unique sacrament, a rite of vulnerability that reveals the sacred in our lives – our worth, our love, our love-making, our context of meaning, and our God. “

Later in the opening chapter, he carefully notes the ways in which coming out has deep affinity with not just one, but each, of the traditional seven sacraments of the broader Christian community.  Above all, however, he says there is one where there is an extra special affinity: the sacrament of communion is intrinsic to coming out – it is hardly possible to come out entirely in private.

Coming out in public is important for one’s own mental health, and also for one’s spiritual being.  Doing so in the Church cam help the Church to recognise and proclaim the true Gospel message.  If you possibly can, do it:  quite literally,  for the love of God.

Further Reading:

Barefoot Theologians, Twitching Experience
Homoerotic Spirituality
The Road From Emmaus:  Gay and Lesbians Prophetic Role in the Church
Coming Out As Spiritual Experience
Coming out As Wrestling With the Divine

Homoerotic Spirituality

Jesus Christ, in His recorded words, said nothing at all about sex.  Indeed, He spoke against adultery – which in Jewish eyes was a sin against a man’s ‘property’ (as women were viewed), not against sex.  He spoke against lust – at least, against lusting after another man’s wife; and He spoke against divorce.  But as far as we know, He never spoke a word against sex itself:  not inside marriage, not before marriage, not between unmarried partners, not between men, not between women. Nothing.  Zilch.

How is it then, that the Christian Church, and  Catholicism, in particular, have become so firmly linked in the public mind with the idea of sex as sin? For Catholics, all sex outside marriage is officially taboo.  Even inside marriage, sex is viewed with suspicion unless it is open to the possibility of procreation.  It is only recently that grudging recognition was given to the unitive value of sex – even inside marriage.  Yet it is clear to all that few Catholics pay any more than lip service to the official catechism on sin.  Whether as jerking – off schoolboys (or girls, or adults), as horny teenagers, engaged couples, cheating spouses, as faithful loving couples choosing to limit their families, as lonely divorcees, as gay men and lesbians, or as priests and other religious ignoring their vows of celibacy, the overwhelming majority of us are, in one form or another sexual transgressors in the eyes of the Church.

Is it any wonder that in the public mind, the equation “sex=sin” goes hand in hand with another:   “Catholicism = Guilt”?

The Confessional

 

But I do not want to dig deeper into the unpleasantness today.  (There is time for that later.  I will return to it soon, as part of my continuing series on clerical abuse.)

Other faiths do not make the same connection between sex and sin.  Judaism, for all that it has extensive purity laws and complex moral and legal codes, unequivocally supports and praises the unitive value of  sex, at least within marriage.  Part of the obligation of the spouses is said to include offering each other sexual satisfaction.   Muslims take a similar view:  part of the supposed motivation for suicide bombers in our day is the prospect of a martyr’s reward in heaven:  1000 virgins to satisfy their male needs.   Hindus celebrate sex as part of spiritual practice, with the promotion of tantric sex, the Kama Sutra, and famed erotic images on temple walls.  Many pagan religions employed temple prostitutes (of either gender) to heighten the spiritual experience of worshippers.

Hindu Temple art

It is useful, then to recognise the increasing signs that more and more people are recognising that sexual expression is not only not necessarily sinful, but can be a positive expression of the sacred, and has a close association with spirituality. With great synchronicity, this message was brought home to me from four different sources over the past week.

At the Wild Reed, Michael Bayley has a great piece on this theme.

Shocked? Well, get over it.

Anyway, it’s really not such an outlandish idea – even for Catholics (actually, especially for Catholics!). I mean, if you’re going to dismiss what I’m suggesting, then you’d better be willing to also dismiss any number of saints and their highly erotic experiences of the sacred.

Erotic experiences of God?! (Okay, if you’re still shocked maybe this blog isn’t for you.) But seriously, I appreciate the perspective of Jean Houston, who points out that: “Eros has a mission with the soul. Without Eros, the soul cannot grow; the psyche remains infantile. Eros gives psyche its yearning, its impetus, its desire for the fullness of life.”

Much of the great tradition of mystical writing in the Catholic Church is expressed in clearly sensuous, even erotic language (see, for instance, St Theresa of Avila). Michael  quotes in particular St John of the Cross, whose wonderful mystical poetry is also frankly and explicitly homoerotic:

 

Nude couple profile

“Of course as a gay man, (Michael writes) the thing that appeals to me most about John’s poem is that it depicts his lover as another man:

(from ) On a Dark Night

……..

……..


“Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined
Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!

Upon my flowery breast,
Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping,
and I caressed him,
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.

The breeze blew from the turret
As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand
He caressed my neck
And caused all my senses to be suspended.

I remained, lost in oblivion;
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself,
Leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.”

Go ahead, cross to The Wild Reed and read the full poem, with Michael’s commentary.

 

Gay Spirituality

Gay Spirituality

At Nihil Obstat, Censor Librorum has posted without comment two versions of the ad campaign for “Catholics Support Condoms”.  Leaving aside (for now) the issue of the condoms, what caught my attention was the first two lines in the copy:

“We believe in God.
We believe that sex is sacred.”

Indeed.  So it is, so it is.

 

Essential Gay Mystics

While doing some bibliographical research yesterday for my expanding book pages, I was struck by the number of worthwhile books I came across on the topic, from Catholic perspectives and other traditions, from gay, lesbian, transgfendered and other perspectives .  Thes will soon be added to the Book Club (a small selection are highlighted alongside this post).

Last Sunday afternoon, I was privileged to join a dozen other people from our Soho Masses group to hear Michael B. Kelly, writer ofSeduced by Grace“, discussing his paper Unlikely Prophets of an Erotic God.” Michael has forged a career as a spiritual director and academic specialising in the erotic, and specifically gay men’s erotic experience, as a valuable pathway to the spiritual. He is currently in the United states for an extended visit.  If any of my US readers have a chance to meet or hear him – grab the opportunity.)

 

Seduced by Grace

Seduced by Grace: Michael B Kelly

He too pointed to the rich vein of the erotic in traditional mystical writing, referring also to St Theresa and St John of the Cross in particular , using as illustration the same poem as that posted on the Wild Reed.   He also discussed the obvious fact that far too much of the Church’s writing and teaching on sex has been done by “celibate men in frocks”, who self-evidently either had no practical experience, or were unable to disclose any that they had. To counter this, it is important that we as laity need to speak much more frankly about sex. There was much more, but I will not go into the rest in this post:  he deserves a full analysis later, which I am working on. I do, though, want to point out his central point: while it is clear to many that erotic experience (including gay men’s experience) is valuable in spirituality, this has received limited recognition or scholarly attention.  He is currently engaged in doctoral research, using personal stories as raw material.  He urges us all to speak out openly and frankly of our own experiences, to bring the truth to wider attention.  This is a sentiment I heartily endorse.  I have promised to send to Michael my own stories, and urge my readers to do the same.  (If you want to take me up on this offer, just post a brief comment, and I will send you an email address, if you do not have an alternate access)

 

In the same spirit of openness, I have posted on my personal page on this site, a deeply personal story of my own homoerotic retreat experience. (Health warning:  if you are squeamish or sceptical of claims about ‘mystical’ experiences, by all means stay away.  I would once have reacted in the same way.  But if you are more open – minded, take a look and make up your own mind.  I simply tell it as it happened.)  Read the story at  “6 days that changed my life” .

More  books on lesbian & gay spirituality:

Boisvert, Donald L: Out on Holy Ground: Meditations on Gay Men’s Spirituality

Glaser, Chris: Coming Out to God: Prayers for Lesbians and Gay Men, Their Families and Friends

Glaser, Chris: Coming out As Sacrament

Harvey, Andrew:  Essential Gay Mystics

Helminiak, Daniel: Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth

A Church for Saints and Sinners

The Guardian Newspaper has drawn attention to an article which it claims shows that the Holy See is warming to Oscar Wilde.  This is a little over the top – what the newspaper did, was to praise a review of a book about Wilde:

“Despite the Catholic Church’s condemnation of practising homosexuality, the newspaper has now run a glowing review of a new book about the famously doomed lover of Lord Alfred Douglas. Wilde was “one of the personalities of the 19th century who most lucidly analysed the modern world in its disturbing as well as its positive aspects”, wrote author Andrea Monda in a piece about Italian author Paolo Gulisano’s The Portrait of Oscar Wilde.

In an article headlined “When Oscar Wilde met Pius IX”, Monda wrote that Wilde was not “just a non-conformist who loved to shock the conservative society of Victorian England”; rather he was “a man who behind a mask of amorality asked himself what was just and what was mistaken, what was true and what was false”.

“Wilde was a man of great, intense feelings, who behind the lightness of his writing, behind a mask of frivolity or cynicism, hid a deep knowledge of the mysterious value of life,” he said.”

Nevertheless, it is true that both in the review and in publishing an earier collection of aphorisms, the Vatican has commented a pprovingly on the wisdom behind many of Wilde’s wittty remarks: in particular, that the Catholic Church is a  place “for saints and sinners alone” – and not for respectable people or conformists.

“The Holy See started its unlikely love affair with the Irish playwright and author two years ago when it published a collection of his quips in the book Provocations: Aphorisms for an Anti-conformist Christianity. Wilde’s famous comments “I can resist everything except temptation”, and “the only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it” were included in the book, edited by Father Leonardo Sapienza.

Wilde was baptised into the Catholic Church shortly before he died. L’Osservatore Romano said that the “existential path” which the author trod “can also be seen as a long and difficult path toward that Promised Land which gives us the reason for existence, a path which led him to his conversion to Catholicism, a religion which, as he remarked in one of his more acute and paradoxical aphorisms, was ‘for saints and sinners alone – for respectable people, the Anglican Church will do’.”

This is profoundly true.  The heart of the Gospel is precisely that it is about to reaching out to all  – saints and sinners alike – and not to the rich and respectable, unless they discard those riches and respectability.  Indeed, many of our most revered saints today were at one time or another either clear “sinners”, or viewed with great suspicion or outright hostility by the Vatican establishment.

In a useful comment on the article, Martin Pendergast, well-known in the UK for his outstadning work behind the Soho Masses and the RC Caucus of the LGCM, notes the many reasons why this should not be a surprise, arguing along lines simlar to those used by Mark Jordan in “The Silence of Sodom.”

“Why should anyone be surprised at the Vatican’s official newspaper lauding Oscar Wilde? Its marbled halls are strewn with the finely sculpted, muscular youths of Michelangelo’s erotic fantasies. The erupting sexuality in the Sistine Chapel’s frescos are likewise testament to Wilde’s assertion that the Catholic church is “for saints and sinners alone” and that “we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking up at the stars.”

What might have attracted Oscar Wilde to Catholicism? At one level it might have been the camp ultramontanism of 18th and 19th century liturgy and music. This attracted so many converts of the era, lingering into the early 20th century, with leading figures of the Oxford Movement and later Anglo-Catholic revivals turning to Rome. Cardinal Newman, his beloved Ambrose St John, the hymn-writing Father Faber, and Robert Hugh Benson, were all aesthetes to varying degrees. Was there something in the harshness of Victorian society that encouraged them to seek out alternative values in the Catholic church of those times?

…..

Wilde’s sexual life, which today might be described as exhibiting patterns of sexual addiction, gave him deep insight into what was good, and beautiful, and true, in himself and those whom he loved, from Constance Lloyd to Alfred Douglas. The Vatican newspaper is not romanticising Wilde but noting his real insights into the human condition, its vulnerability and its immense creativity. Wilde’s De Profundis and The Ballad of Reading Gaol are as valuable spiritual and theological classics as Cardinal Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua, or the latter’s passionate letters on the death of Ambrose St John.”


Saint or Sinner:  which are you?

For the full Guardian article, read it here;

For Martin’s commentary, read it here.


Magisterium and Me.

In one his comments on my Catholic Teaching page, Ignatius / Benedict writes that

“I think you’ll be happy in the Anglican denomination where this sort of reasoning evades the Truth.”

I’m sorry to disappoint you, IB, but you will not get rid of me that easily.  I am a cradle Catholic, “gebore en gerore” (born and bred, as expressed in Afrikaans), and could no more renounce my faith than I could my language – or my orientation. Read the rest of this entry »

QTC at Pride

Here I am in front of our Trafalgar Square stall after the London Pride march last week.  (I’m on the left, with a goofy grin and holding a bright yellow copy of Martin Pendergast’s gay catholic reading list).

me at pride stall 2009

And from last year, along with our Joe Stanley, chair of our Soho Masses Pastoral Council.   This was also at our Trafalgar Square stall, after the march- (which is why I was thirsty).

me at pride 2008