I’m neither a shepherd nor am I gay, so this does not pertain to me directly, but I do have a question as somebody interested in Catholic evangelization.
People were writing me concerning Cdl. Marx’ alleged suggestion that there be some kind of blessing for gay couples under certain circumstances.
Evidently, what he said is now disputed, and the latest news seems to be that he was just talking about pastoral care. Not being a German speaker, I have no idea whether or if he spoke of “blessing”, nor what that would involve and I certainly do not think the Church can or should pretend that there can be such a thing as a gay “marriage”. It is an ontological impossibility and one that would do violence to the entire sacramental conception of marriage.
However, that said, the question still remains: how do the people who are currently shouting denunciations at Cdl. Marx propose the Church proceed in a world where, like it or not, gay unions are here to stay? Put bluntly, if they do not want some kind of blessing on gay people, would they prefer the Church devise a curse for them?
My guess is no. Very well then, my question is this: what do we want to do, as Catholics committed to the evangelization of the entire world, including gay people? What concrete course of action do we propose for the Church to engage the here-to-stay, not going anywhere, immovable, staring-us-in-the-face sociological fact of a world which not only has gay unions, but has a rising generation of people, gay and straight, who have absolutely no problem with gay unions and who are increasingly alienated from a Church that does, in fact, appear to them to curse gay people? (We’re talking roughly 75% of Millennials here.)
If you say (as I suspect most of Cdl. Marx’s critics do) that the Church should simply do nothing, then at least be aware that “nothing” will, in fact, be read as rejection, not as nothing–by that 75% of Millennials. Mark you, I’m not talking about gay unions per se. I’m simply talking about the mere existence of gay people and the straight people who care about them.
I myself have no idea how the Church should engage such people in terms of institution or ritual since (I repeat) I am neither gay nor a shepherd. But my sense is that shepherds who care about forming disciples are acutely aware of the problem since the path to discipleship is through trust, curiosity, openness, seeking, and finally intentional discipleship and it is a path that is, in the Church’s understanding, absolutely to be proposed to gay people as to anybody else–and to the Millennials the Church is hemorrhaging away.
If the message the Church is sending to every gay person on the planet–and to their straight Millennial friend–is “You are rejected” then it will be only the most extraordinary and motivated person who persists in seeking Jesus in the face of such rejection. And make no mistake, the most zealous and vocal Catholics are typically the ones sending just that message to gays and the straight people who love them. Indeed, they send it even to gay people who have committed to live in chastity and celibacy. I cannot count the number of times I have seen gay Catholics I know–faithful, chaste, celibate ones–spoken of as sinister fifth columnists within the Church and regarded with suspicion simply because they are open, frank, and honest that they are sexually attracted to people of the same sex.
I wrote once about a faithful, gay, deeply devout Catholic I knew and shared my conviction that he died a saint. For expressing this conviction I was absolutely massacred all over the web by a mob of the Enraged Righteous led by Fr. Peter West, who did everything in his power to attack me and a man about whom he knew nothing whatsoever except his orientation. That is not unusual.
The loud and clear message this sends is that, while all other Catholics are judged according to what they do, gay people are judged according to what they are. And since what they are is not going to change, they are, by their very nature, rejected by God–even when they try to obey Jesus and are disobedient to no precept of holy Church.
Building a bridge of trust to Jesus Christ when that is the message of his followers to gay people is death to evangelism. And, I fear, it is *intended* to be death to evangelism for many Catholics. Because for many Catholics, the goal is not to evangelize. The goal is to protect Fortress Katolicus, to drive away all but the most determined converts, and to expel from the Fortress many of the people who are inside it as enemy pathogens. This includes all but the most determined gay people, even those who are perfectly obedient to the Church, and God help those who are not absolutely perfect.
I think the entire “burn heretics, not make converts” approach to the Catholic life is radically wrong and foreign to the mind of Christ. So I return to my question: what do we propose about evangelizing people in a world where gay unions–and an entire generation of people who do not even see a problem with them–are already an established sociological fact?
One thing I suggest is that we consider this:
As he entered Caperna-um, a centurion came forward to him, begging him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion answered him, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment. (Mt 8:5–13).
Similarly, when Jesus met the woman at the well, he knew perfectly well that she was a fornicator and a five time adulteress. And yet, he did not begin there. He began where she was.
That is the classic Catholic approach, it seems to me. Begin with what is possible, not with demanding seven Herculean feats before announcing the love of God.
The first message every sinner needs to hear is that they are blessed by God who loved us and died for us “while we were yet sinners” as Paul tells the Romans. That is not remotely the message we send to gay people. We are in too much of a hurry to tell them they are rejected. We are in that hurry to tell that message even to those gay folk who accept the gospel. And we remind them of it 24/7/365 We don’t see them first. We see their appetite, their temptation and their sin. And we tell them round the clock that if they slip up even once, God rejects them.
The counsel of the gospel is to love them as we love ourselves. And that means to see first the person and their right to life, not to rush on to attacking them. As long as our message is, first and foremost, “You should not be” they will get the message, loud and clear, of rejection first, not of love.
As near as I can tell, that appears to be about 99% of what Fr. James Martin has to say to the gay community–the assurance that God loves, not rejects, them. I don’t see him rejecting the Church’s teaching on homosexuality per se. I see him telling gay people that the first thing they need to know is that God loves, not rejects, them. And for that effort to build a bridge of trust and evangelize, he seems to me to get a ton of hostility and condemnation, just like they do.
So I return to the question: what, concretely, are people proposing when it comes to our sacred obligation as Catholics to evangelize gay people? If you reject the prospect of blessing a gay person, do you wish instead to curse him? And if not, then what exactly do you propose?
My own highly tentative notion is that something like what Mother Teresa proposed with Hindus and Muslims is the way forward, because it appears to be what Jesus did with the Centurion and the Samaritan Woman: meet them where they are according to what they were capable of doing and not expect instantaneous impossibilities. Tell the gay person trying to live according to his or her obligations to others to do the best they can and try to help them do it. This seems to me to be in accord with the Church’s historic habit of gradualism in helping people’s moral progression. Jesus didn’t tell the centurion, “Get out of my sight, slaveowner!” He commended him for the progress in grace he had made. He didn’t tell the Samaritan woman to depart from him. He met her where she was and helped her take a step toward faith in him. At no point, does he order her to go home and break it off with her fifth husband.
I suspect something similar is where the Church will wind up with gay unions. Gay people, like everybody else, will come to the Church for spiritual help sooner or later because the Holy Spirit cannot be denied and gay humans, like all humans, hunger for God. And when they do, real shepherds are not going to slap their faces and send them away any more than Jesus slapped the centurion for daring to approach him while still owning other human beings. Shepherds are going to meet them where they are in all the complexity of their lives.
This will offend Puritans, whose first and last impulse is always to drive the impure away from Fortress Katolicus. But it seems to me that the Church is pretty much bound to take this route. It will not mean sacramentalizing gay unions. Rather, it will mean finding some way to help gay people take steps toward Jesus (who is the only one who can untangle the human heart) where they are.
This is all, I repeat, just the ignorant musing of somebody who is neither gay nor a shepherd. I’d particularly be interested in hearing from priests and spiritual directors on this one. Also gay folk, whether inside or outside the Church. If you are out there, please feel free to sound off in the comboxes.
Conversely, if you are tempted to leap in and call me a heretic, do be aware that nothing I’ve said is, you know, heretical. It’s just speculation rooted in the Tradition. I’m just trying to think with the Church here. So if you feel the need to purge me, stow it.