Bondings 2.0: “Patiently Waiting for the Desert to Bloom With Abundant Flowers” (3rd of Advent)

Pope Francis writes that, after we perform a recollected reading of the text, we ask ourselves some questions about the Scripture passage. What does this text say to me? What about my life needs to change? What do I find pleasant or attractive in this text for my life? Francis says that we need to avoid the temptation to apply the passage to other people. Now, this hits home! During the Scripture readings at Sunday worship service, I sometimes find myself thinking, “I hope so-and-so heard that!”

With Francis’ advice at hand, I read and reread the Scripture texts for the Third Sunday of Advent to figure out what God was saying to me. Isaiah speaks of a joyful time when all will be made right and good: feeble hands and weak knees will be strengthened, blind eyes will be opened, and deaf ears will hear. But until this time arrives, the epistle of James cautions us to be patient, just as the farmer waits for the rains to water the precious fruit of the earth. We are not to complain about one another, but look to the prophets as examples of the patience God asks of us.

The Gospel reading gives us an example in the prophet, John the Baptist. John preached a stirring message of repentance for sin and baptism with water to cleanse the body and soul, but John waited patiently for a Messianic figure, who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. From his prison cell, John sends his disciples to ask Jesus if his waiting time is over. “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” John is an example of patience.

via Patiently Waiting for the Desert to Bloom With Abundant Flowers | Bondings 2.0.

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Romans 1 – A Message of Inclusion for Gay Christians.

Conventionally, when people speak of “Romans 1” in the context of homosexuality, they are thinking in terms of the end of the chapter,verses 26 and 27,  with their apparent condemnation. of homoerotic acts. There are two basic flaws with this assumption. As James Alison and others have pointed out, the division of the text into chapters and verses is relatively modern, and arbitrary. It is inappropriate to read these verses in isolation, without consideration of the full context. Reading the whole of Chapter 1, immediately followed by chapter, gives quite a different perspective on the intended lesson – that the passage as a whole, as of the full letter to the Romans, is a condemnation of hypocrisy.in judging others.

Part of a Syriac ms of Paul's letter to the Romans (source, Wikipedia)

Part of a Syriac ms of Paul’s letter to the Romans (source, Wikipedia)

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Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary

Historically, October 7th was the feast of Saints Sergius and Bacchus – and so of particular relevance to same – sex lovers, and to all gay or lesbian Christians. In the modern Catholic lectionary, however, it is celebrated as the “Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary”.

rainbow rosary

The lectionary readings for today’s Mass (which do not refer directly to the rosary), have much fruitful material for queer reflection. Continue reading

Catholic Responses to Sex and Greed (18th Sunday of O.T,)

Anybody paying attention to press reports of Catholic Bishops’ public pronouncements, could be forgiven for thinking that the most important parts of Catholic identity, and of the Gospel message, is an obsession with sex (especially of the same – sex type, including gay marriage). The reality is quite different.

Today’s lectionary readings put things into clear perspective. Take this verse from Paul, for instance (as presented in the missal translation for the church in England and Wales):

That is why you must kill everything that is in you that belongs to earthly life: fornication, impurity, guilty passion, evil desires, and especially greed, which is the same thing as worshiping false gods.

Colossians 3:5

Especially greed.

Sexual sin is certainly in there, but note that fornication does not refer to sex per se, but to the trivialization or commercialization of sex. Impurity and guilty passions, evil desires can all be interpreted as referring to sex – but only to inappropriate sex. Sex is not necessarily impure,guilty, or evil. In the right context, it can equally well be healthy, life – giving, and an experience of the divine. It all depends on the context, on the quality of the relationship, and on the attitude underlying the experience. It is hard, however, to imagine any circumstance in which simple greed is good, as we are reminded in the Gospel.

Watch, and be on your guard against avarice of any kind, for a man’s life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs.

– Luke 12:15

For LGBT Christians of any denomination, it’s important to keep this in perspective. Although we are often told that homosexuality is “obviously”  contrary to scripture, this is simply not true. Christ himself had nothing at all to say in opposition to same – sex relationships, and little enough on any kind of sexual matters, but a great deal to say, as here, on the evils of greed ( Think of the rich man told to sell all his goods to follow him, or the aphorism that it easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than to enter the kingdom of heaven, or the instruction to consider the birds of the air, and the lilies of the field). In the entire Bible, there are only a handful of texts, of dubious relevance, that even appear to condemn same – sex relationships, but many, many more that strongly condemn greed.

Even the infamous story of Sodom, so often used to support claims of biblical opposition, and which gives its name to the legal offence of sodomy, has nothing at all to do with sex. Instead, the bible is clear elsewhere, on the nature of the sin of Sodom:

Ez 16: 49-50

Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom; pride, fullness of bread, and prosperous ease…..; 

“prosperous ease”  : again, too much obsession with material comfort, not sexual sin.

This does not let gay people off the hook. It’s an uncomfortable fact of gay reality, that for too many of us, once we find some personal peace with our orientation and come out as gay, we slip from one closet into another. Rejecting the perceived hostility of conventional religion, we may reject religion altogether. Rejecting the conventional norms of suburban family life, we may enter instead a ghetto, geographic or mental, of the urban gay stereotype – obsessed with the socially approved fashions, home decor, and gourmet foods – to say nothing of clubs, pubs and designer drugs.

Gay men in particular should take comfort in today’s readings, in the reminder that their sexual lives are not implicitly the great sinful evil that the popular imagination presents. But we must also guard against the very real danger of the sin of greed, and preoccupation with material comfort and pleasure, at the expense of more spiritual lives.

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Delivering God’s Message – to LGBT Christians (16th Sunday of OT)

in the extract from Colossians that forms the second reading for today, the 16th Sunday of Ordinary time (Year C), there is very little that must   be done to make clear it’s direct relevance to LGBT Christians. All we really need is to think carefully about the pronouns. In addressing his readers as “you”, Paul is using the plural form. He is addressing all the members of the church in Colossus – and by extension, all the members of the Church, everywhere. “All” certainly includes LGBT people,as it includes all minorities, of every kind.

Conversely, when Paul writes “I”, he is describing himself, as one directly chosen by God to spread the message of Christ. But we know that we all are chosen to be disciples, we are all called to apostleship. We too, are called to spread the message – by example, if not also more directly in words.

Here’s Paul’s text:

24 Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.

25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—

26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people.

27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you,the hope of glory.

28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.

-Colossians 1:24 – 28 (New International Version)

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Let Us Remember, March 19th: St Joseph

Saint Joseph is frequently presented as a model of fatherhood. For LGBT Catholics and other Christians however, he is also a powerful symbol of just how little the Holy Family resembled the model  of “traditional” marriage and family to easily touted by those seeking to twist the clear evidence of scripture to force it into their own heteronormative model of family.

 Rather, Christ’s family was distinctly queer, as I have written previously for the Feast of the Holy Family:

This week, (that is, the week after Christmas) the Catholic Church celebrated the Feast of the Holy Family – so often an occasion of trial for those Catholics who are not living in officially approved families of Mom, Pop, kids, pets and picket fence. Subjected year after year to the same -old, same-old shallow sermons on the joys of family life, single people, the divorced, childless couples and queer Catholics can easily find that this Sunday is a very pointed reminder of how easily and thoughtlessly we can be excluded from the Church community. Most of the standard preaching on the Holy Family though is entirely misguided – the true nature of the Holy Family is very far from a celebration of the modern, but inappropriately named,  “traditional family” .

Not a “Traditional Family” (Raphael)

Two items that came to me this week reminded me of this. My colleague Martin Pendergast sent me a link to the Holy Family reflection by Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, with the observation

We had a good Pastoral Letter from +Vincent Nichols for The Feast of the Holy Family – no ‘family-values’ ranting, thank God!

Martin is right. Although there are the usual references to children, there is no prescriptive definition of “family”. It is perfectly possibly for those who need it, to read this statement as inclusive of families of all kinds. There is is also an important expansion of the concept of family, one that has important implications for the community of the church, and for those of us who for one reason or another feel on the margins of the church family:

The family of the Church, too, has a deep, human wisdom to share. It is intertwined with the stories of our families. St Paul describes so much of it in that second reading we have heard. Today we think about how to share and build our family wisdom. By doing this we strengthen the very foundations of our society. We need time together. We need to listen to each other’s experience. We then come to appreciate the wisdom that is part of our family tradition, something to be passed on in love.

All the members of a family also need to practice respect for each other. Yes, we respect each other in our differences. We may rejoice in those differences. At the same time we strive to keep up a shared standard of behaviour.

Christ’s Queer Family

 

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Lepers, Social Outcasts – and the Church

In today’s Gospel, we read “There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha”. Who are the lepers in the Church of today? My parish pew leaflet this morning has the important observation:

The message of Jesus is inclusive, it is Good News for everyone, Jews and lepers alike. His townspeople didn’t like this; it was too much for them, and so they set out to kill him.

Would you react any differently to the people of Nazareth if you were told that God welcomes immigrants, people of a different colour, and background, the social outcasts of today? In the eyes of God, all are welcome, everyone is equal.

And we could adapt the question above, to

Would you react any differently to the people of Nazareth if you were told that God welcomes people of a different affectional orientation, or gender minority –  those who are far too often, the social outcasts inside the church of today?

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At Gospel for Gays, Jeremiah Bartram has an extended reflection on this Gospel passage:

  Finding the gay Jesus  

gfg_iconThen he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.  They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”  He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’  And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”  And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.  But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.  There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”  When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.  They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.  But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

– Luke 4, 21-30; reading for Sunday, January 31.

Commentators

NRSV:  Jesus gives examples showing that “foreigners sometimes experienced God’s aid when Israel did not.”  V. 28:  “The hostile reaction comes in response to Jesus’ references to Gentiles, not to his apparent messianic claims (v.21).

Hardy makes the interesting observation that “there is no obvious reason why these people would have thought of casting this well-known proverb in Jesus’ teeth” – but that the taunt was thrown at him later, during his crucifixion (Mt. 27,42).  He thinks that Luke is using this scene as a “trailer” for the treatment Jesus was to receive elsewhere.  Likewise, he notes that the two Old Testament examples cited by Jesus – which so enrage the crowd – are more relevant to his later activity than to the present situation.

Those two examples:  Elijah, the widow of Zarephath and her son survive a famine because God miraculously extends her meager supply of flour and oil to feed them all (1Kings 17); and Naaman, a Gentile military commander, is healed of his leprosy when he follows Elisha’s instructions and bathes seven times in the Jordan (2Kings 5).

– continue reading at Gospel For Gays.

“He Sent Me to Give the Good News to the Queers”

For today, the third Sunday of ordinary time, the Gospel reading is the story of the Jesus’ first time reading in the temple, in the passage from Isaiah, with the keynote words, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor”.

I have written before on this passage, and how I see this message, which effectively begins his public ministry, as central to my understanding of what Christianity is all about. By appallingly bad timing, today was also the day that the Catholic bishops of England and Wales chose to distribute postcards to all Massgoers, for them to complete and send to their Members of Parliament, expressing their opposition to the marriage equality proposals now before the British parliament. How this divisive postcard campaign, designed to continue and perpetuate discrimination and division under the law between same – sex and opposite – sex couples, is completely beyond me, can be squared with the plain message of today’s Gospel of liberation from all forms of oppression, or from the second reading from Corinthians on how we are all parts of one body, is completely beyond my comprehension.

These words, and those of the hymn “God’s Spirit is in my heart”, one of my favourites, had a particular resonance for me this morning, against the background of my recent personal decision to do precisely this: to spend a much greater portion of my time and energy in “proclaiming the good news” to the the oppressed – those in the LGBT community, so relentlessly (if unintentionally) oppressed by the institutional church, and some orthotoxic Catholics. In doing so, I am conscious of the enormous practical risks I will be taking, with minimal expectations of any form of reliable income to keep me alive, and unsure of precisely what or how I will do this. I was greatly strengthened by the words of the third and fourth verses that we sang as a recessional hymn:

Don’t carry a load in your pack, 
You don’t need two shirts on your back
A workman can earn his own keep, 
Can earn his own keep

Don’t worry what you have to say, 
Don’t worry because on that day 
God’s Spirit will speak in your heart, 
Will speak in your heart.

As luck would have it, it fell to me today to “proclaim the word” at my local Mass this morning, and to read the lessons and bidding prayers. I did so with conviction and passion – but reading into the words of the text what to me was a clear reading, probably NOT in concord with the bishops’ unfortunate and poorly timed message of division.

Here’s a post I published some time ago on the same text – but in a context outside of the Sunday Mass:

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Last week, I joined the Soho Masses team of Eucharistic Ministers and Ministers of the Word for an afternoon of prayer and reflection on our roles. To help us through the process, we had the services of David, who is an experienced prayer guide, trained in the  methods of Ignatian spirituality. All those present agreed that the afternoon was profoundly helpful in bringing some perspective to their place in serving the Eucharist and the Word in Mass. For me, it also brought a new insight to my activities with the Queer Church, which I want to share with you today.

The text that we reflected on for the readers was the familiar scene in the Temple from Luke 4, in which Jesus reads from Isaiah.

torahreading

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“The Civil Partnership Celebration at Cana”.

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.  When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”  And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?  My hour has not yet come.”  His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.  Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.”  And they filled them up to the brim.  He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.”  So they took it.  When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (although the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk.  But you have kept the good wine until now.”  Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. John 2, 1-11; Gospel for Sunday, January 17.
For a specifically gay reflection on the Gospel, Gospel for Gays” is exactly what it says:  a site with a particular focus on Gospel  reflections by Canadian Catholic blogger Jeremiah. For this week’s Gospel on the wedding at Cana, Jeremiah asks us to imagine the scene as a “gay” wedding.

This is not as far-fetched as it might at first appear. There is an intriguing little bit of history buried in the name of the village – “Cana”.  This is not the same as the “land of Canaan” we know from the Old Testament, but if it were, the idea of a miracle at the gay wedding feast would have been entirely feasible.. Canaan is one of several middle eastern lands where it is known that same sex marriages were recognized in law.  (Egypt and Mesopotamia were some other examples). We must also remember that for Jesus Himself, it is highly unlikely that a same sex marriage would have bothered him in the least.  We know for example, that he did not hesitate to heal the Roman centurion’s “pais“, or slave almost certainly used for sexual purposes, and probably with an emotional component added to the relationship;  among his closest friends were the household of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, who at the very least represented a most unusual household by the strictly gendered standards of the time,  but for whom the reported relationship of “sisters” may have been a euphemism for a lesbian relationship; He explicitly stated that “eunuchs” (the closest equivalent to the modern idea of “gay men”) were welcome in the Kingdom of heaven.  At this evening’s LGBT Mass in Soho, our celebrant, Fr Sean Middleton, introduced his homily with a (jocular) reference to the “civil partnership” at Cana.
Fr Middleton also raised some important points which struck a chord with me, in connection with the reading from Paul, and the recent observations of Pope Benedict on creation and homosexuality.  Recall that the reading from Paul to the Corinthians was the well-known passage on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Listening to the words, I remembered how many psychotherapists and spiritual directors state clearly that sexuality is a gift, and that to is a gift that comes to different people in different forms – one of which is a homoerotic orientation. Elsewhere, Paul teaches that celibacy too is a gift, not given to all. Referring briefly to Benedict’s claim that “homosexuality” is a threat to creation, because if the whole world were gay, humankind would become extinct, Fr Middleton pointed out that exactly the same argument applied if the whole world were to embrace celibacy (and I’ve never read that Benedict has condemned celibacy as a “threat to creation”. )
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