A Final Note on CDF, Blessings, And the Role of Priests

A Final Note on CDF, Blessings, And the Role of Priests March 17, 2021

I said my main thing about the CDF statement on blessing same-sex unions already & I think that was fine, lol, but even at the time there was one strand I wondered if I should explore further. I noted that in Western traditions of vowed friendship, in which friends became kin to one another and accepted the obligations as well as the joys of kinship, a priest’s blessing was not actually traditional. The friends’ commitment to one another was displayed and solemnized by their promises, and sometimes by public ceremonial acts like exchanging the Kiss of Peace or hearing Mass together.

The clearest Scriptural model, the covenant between David and Jonathan, has very public consequences but takes place in private. Likewise the promises of Ruth and Naomi. When Jesus gives John and Mary to one another as kin on the Cross, bringing John into the Holy Family because of John’s devotion to Him, this is of course about as public as it gets, and Jesus is our High Priest, but this is the only Scriptural example I can think of in which you can suggest that a priest participates in forming kinship through friendship.

So I’d like to talk briefly about why that’s important and why I nonetheless do think priests can and should bless such relationships.

First, look, you do not need permission! You already have permission to love someone of the same sex, to promise to care for them and unite your life with theirs as you follow Christ together. If you are a Catholic seeking to live obediently, in the way of life given us by the Church our Mother, this path has already been laid out for you as one possibility. (And several traditional rituals are described quite clearly by Alan Bray, lol I think in Gay & Catholic I give you the page numbers. I did that because I thought you might find a use for them!)

Second, I worry that an over-focus on whether priests are gonna bless our promises to one another is not good for us as individual gay Catholics. This is different from the question of what’s good for priests and for the Church as a whole, which I will talk about in a moment. I have three reasons for this concern: First, the part of you that longs for social honor for your love is not necessarily the best part to cultivate, since social honor is more likely to be a temptation for Christians than a path to the humility of Jesus. (Again, this is separate from the questions of whether your love is good and holy, and whether it should receive social honor from others.) Second, thinking about this stuff too long can get you caught up in wanting priests’ or other people’s approval. If you are openly gay and an orthodox Catholic a lot of people are never gonna approve of you–not in this life. It sucks and I’m sorry, and I know it’s cavalier to say, “It’s their loss,” which is true on a spiritual level but doesn’t pay the rent. And third, most importantly, seeking the approval of priests can distract us from the fact that Jesus already sees and is pleased by our love, and by our desire to love Him and others. I know the Litany of Humility is not right for everybody, consult your spiritual physician before taking etc etc, but one reason I like it is that it reminds me that my relationships with other people may be complex and painful without diminishing even by an iota the love God bears for me.

Anyway, that paragraph is more or less my own examination of conscience on this issue, and if it doesn’t apply to you, lol you’re doing better than I am. I need the reminder not to get distracted: not to spend so much time in public defense of my community that I lose track of how God sees us.

So, nonetheless, what does it do for the Church when priests bless same-sex unions which are intended to be lifelong, devoted, chaste, and self-giving?

First, blessings ask God’s favor, and we can all use blessings on our good activities.

Second, a public blessing makes it more obvious that the community is expected to support the love between these two people just as they would support other forms of love and care.

Third, not everybody is a Western Christian, and my understanding of the Eastern traditions of kinship through friendship is that they derive from monastic models and often involve blessings by priests. You can learn more about that here. hashtag fight eastern catholic erasure.

Fourth, it is vanishingly rare to find people who even know that there are models of devoted, chaste same-sex love within Catholicism. Some kind of public blessing and/or ritual, or making the already-existing rituals more publicly present in the life of the church, would help people* understand what is available to them. It would also be a chance for the people involved to make clear what they hope to accomplish with one another, by God’s grace. Weddings are often occasions for us to learn how the Church sees marriage, and how Her vision of marriage may contrast with our expectations; so too a blessing for same-sex pairs might be an occasion to explore the Church’s vision for their love, in contrast to the understandings most common in “the world.”

* and not only gay people! It would be fine if this stuff were just for us, but in fact it is for anyone who wants to promise lifelong devotion, care, and kinship to someone of the same sex. That describes a fair number of straight people who have experienced the joys of a life-shaping friendship. When I talk about vowed friendship I frequently find that straight people are surprised and grateful that the Church has language for some of the deepest loves of their own lives.

Fifth, lol I like ritual and this could be beautiful in itself.

And finally, so many gay people really suffer in our churches, in spite of the nice words in the Catechism about respect and compassion. It’s worth bending over backward to find ways of saying, Your longing to love and make your life with someone of the same sex doesn’t separate you from us. We see the beauty that love can offer. We aren’t afraid of your love.

If such blessings become more common there will doubtless be plenty of bad unintended consequences, because that’s what life is like. I already fear that I focus too much on the model of two men or two women uniting their lives through promises, when that is only one form of love, alongside life in community, service to those in need, art, teaching, childrearing, what you might call “normal” friendship without the adornment of vows, godparenthood, etc etc. At some point it will be worth discussing the reasons this model is so attractive to contemporary gay Christians; imo economic factors play an under-discussed role. People really need a life partner they can rely on, especially since both our culture and our economy are set up to favor two linked individuals over a broader network of community or extended family. Ultimately that pressure toward the couple, over the community, is atomizing, placing way too much pressure on partners to be everything for one another. (Tim Otto writes well about related questions in his gay book, Oriented to Faith.) That said, in any person’s own life, finding a partner is an experience of connection rather than atomization. It’s a defeat of individualism even when the outsized role the couple plays in our culture is the result of individualism.

I think exploring Scriptural and traditional models of same-sex love is healing and illuminating even for gay people who (like me) end up taking other paths of love. But I don’t want to make an idol of vowed friendship the way our church cultures often make an idol of marriage. Nor do I see vowed friendship as “the solution to the problem of gay people.” a) It is not just for us, it’s extra relevant for us because we fear that the Church only sees heterosexual love as real, but it is a gift for all of you guys; and more importantly b) we are not actually a problem!

Similarly, weaving a priest’s blessing into unions of friendship may make the priest’s approval or participation seem necessary in a way it traditionally (in the West) has not been. Priests are a mixed bag, she said judiciously, and there’s freedom and flexibility in not needing to rely on them in this area.

Well, I intended this to be short and it isn’t. I hope it is nonetheless useful to those trying to understand the possibilities for lives of fabulous obedience–flamboyantly Catholic, queerly traditional.

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