Category Archives: Spirituality

Conscience Formation, Spiritual Formation, and The Holy Spirit

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David Ludescher, a regular OT reader, has put to me some important questions on the formation of conscience. These arose in response to my post on empirical research findings on the current state of British Catholic belief, and some observations I made on the implications for our understanding of the sensus fidelium (on sexual ethics and priestly ministry in particular).

These questions were put in a comment box, which I have reproduced in an independent post for easy reference. Just follow the link to read the questions in full. This is my response:

 

David, I cannot offer a “methodology” on the formation of conscience. I’m not sure such a mechanical, formulaic approach is possible or desirable. (If it is, I do not have one). I do however, have a few important principles that I apply, and some specific techniques and strategies that I apply, or have applied in the past. These I am happy to share.

Before getting to the important issue of conscience formation, just a word on how it applies to the sensus fidelium. I agree completely that this is not a concept that is useful for personal conscience formation. In raising it, I did not in any way want to imply that our decisions should be based on the results of opinion polls – that would be mere ethical mob rule, which is poles apart from my own thinking. However, it is important in assessing the validity of claims that one or other belief is part of “church teaching” – or is simply part of Vatican doctrine.

Your primary request was for my thoughts on resolving the first question you put:

So, how does a Catholic, wishing to be a faithful Catholic, Christian, and human, go about determining a methodology for discerning how to inform one’s conscience?

I fully accept and agree with your assertion that the primary influences on conscience should be (a) Holy Scripture, (b) assisted and guided by the teaching of the Magisterium. However, there are some serious caveats against relying on these alone, which is why (c) the final arbiter is the individual person – an observation which raises its own difficulties. I take these in three bites, before moving on to two other important considerations.

Holy Scripture

is a vast assemblage of texts, written in languages, literary idioms and historical contexts remote from the language and conditions we are used to. The Pontifical Biblical Commission has warned that there are grave dangers in simplistic readings of specific texts. Rather, a proper understanding of Scripture requires that we approach each with a true understanding of several contexts: the context of the passage in the Bible as a whole; the historical context in which it was written; and the modern context in which we wish to apply it. We also need careful attention to the language and literary idiom in which it was written. Few of us have the skills to properly apply all of these skills in our own study of Scripture. This is why we need the help and advice of specialists, notably in the form of the magisterium.

Magisterium

That alone does not resolve the problem, as much the same difficulties arise. The full magisterium is an even greater assemblage of texts, written (except for the earliest materials) largely for specialists, and in language that is foreign to us. This is why we have the Catechism, which is an attempt to make the magisterium available in a more accessible form to non-specialists. The Catechism has the opposite disadvantage – in its simplification and distillation of a vast body of work, it has lost much of the subtlety and nuance of the full teaching.

There are also more serious difficulties with the entire concept of relying on the Magisterium. Unlike Holy Scripture, there is no claim that it is divinely inspired, nor is there any agreement (that I am aware of) on a fixed, unchanging selection of work that is agreed to be canonical to the exclusion of all others. We know that some key theologians and their works are fundamental, but we also known that some teachings that were once thought to be inviolable have been abandoned, while some secondary writers come in or out of favour, have been  forgotten or been  rediscovered.

We also know that it is human nature that the people in any institution will have a tendency to exaggerate their own importance. So, in evaluating the Magisterium we need to adopt at least some caution, if not outright scepticism, to Church claims about the importance of its own authority.

I have stressed some of the difficulties of simplistic reliance on Magisterium, especially as reduced to the Catechism, but I emphatically do not reject it. I welcome and value the teaching authority of the church: but that is teaching authority, not legislative power. Any good teacher will welcome and encourage a student who criticizes the teacher, provided that he can do so on well-reasoned grounds. Such critical evaluation of the magisterium in its application to conscience formation is appropriate to adult, educated Catholics.

The Individual Person.

Here we have the ultimate conundrum: if Scripture is too vast, remote and complex to yield to simple interpretation by non-specialists and requires the help of the magisterium; and if the magisterium is even more complex and inaccessible to ordinary people, requiring ultimate evaluation by the individual – where is that ordinary Catholic to find the resources to provide that evaluation?

External Knowledge

The first answer, I submit, is to recognize that the magisterium, as produced by Vatican-approved theologians, is not the only source of human knowledge, or even of theology. There was a time when the only theologians were priests or monks, and more specifically bishops and abbots. There was even a time when virtually all (West European) human knowledge was produced or preserved in the Church. Those days are long gone.

Today, we have countless important theologians outside of the Catholic clergy: both in other Christian denominations, and Catholics outside the priesthood, as religious women and lay people. There voices too should be read and considered.  We must also recognize that there is knowledge outside of theology: history, physical and biological sciences, anthropology, medicine and psychology all have useful things to say about the human condition. Some of their findings impact on theology – and so on conscience.

Theologians once accepted without question that creation occurred precisely within a space of seven days. In the light of palaeontology and cosmology, most people now accept that the “seven days” of Genesis are not to be read so literally. In the same way, we need to consider the findings from secular knowledge when evaluating traditional teaching on many issues of theological ethics.

But all of this is simply expanding the sources we need to draw on,  and we cannot possibly expect to have more than a superficial understanding of any single one, let alone the full range of sources I am now recommending: Holy Scripture, Magisterium, church history, secular history, natural history, anthropology and social science, medicine, psychology, and even more.

The task would be impossible, except for the most important source of all.

God, Heard Through Prayer.

I started by rejecting the concept of a mechanical “methodology” for conscience formation, which I did primarily for the connotations of the word as all “head stuff”.  One of the treasures that I took away from the dozen or so years of experience I had in a Jesuit parish and in the Ignatian –based Christian Life Community (CLC), is the importance of balancing “head” and “heart”. All of the foregoing is essentially intellectual head-stuff, but the Lord speaks to us in the quiet of our hearts.

Central to the Ignatian approach to decision-taking is the idea that we need to apply both. First, we must apply our intellects to gather and assess the factual information as best as we are able. Then (or in parallel, in an extended decision), we take  the factual material to prayer, and allow the Lord to speak to us directly in our hearts. It is entirely appropriate, I believe, that conscience is often described as the “still small voice” within us. It is the voice, I believe of God in God self – if only we can learn to hear it.

The Jesuit theologian has written that we all have the potential to find a direct experience of God. When we do, there is nothing that the Church, or even Scripture itself, that can countermand what we learn directly from the ultimate source. And so, to approach this final state of conscience formation, we need to set the neglected task of spiritual formation.

Spiritual formation.

For me, this is a badly neglected area of Catholic education. Perhaps times have changed since I was at school, perhaps it is something that cannot be really appreciated until we have reached a certain maturity. Whatever the reason, I suspect that most Catholics underestimate the importance of prayer not simply as a means of talking to the Lord, (or just asking for favours, in prayers of petition), but as a means of listening for guidance.

How we learn to do so is a vast subject itself, which I do not have either the space or the expertise to go into. But noting its importance, I can now summarize my approach to the formation of conscience:

  • Use Scripture, and the Magisterium, to the best of our ability. We will never achieve full understanding, but we can constantly extend the knowledge that we have.
  • Extend and balance that understanding with additional information, we can access it, from secular source.
  • Add in the one area where we are all experts – our own experiences. Share these with others, and learn also from their stories.
  • Take the whole lot to regular prayer – and listen to the Holy Spirit speaking directly to your heart.

Spirituality and LGBT Catholics

Among many notable interviews that Fr James Martin has done about the impact of this book, “Building a Bridge” on finding a path to full inclusion of LGBT Catholics in the life of the church, is one done with Giacomo Sanfillipo, at Orthodoxy in Dialogue, a website that is pursuing much the same aims for Orthodox  Christians.

Much of the discussion will be familiar from other interviews and reviews elsewhere. However, I was struck in particular by Fr Martin’s concluding observation, on the value of  spirituality and prayer, to both sides in this debate.

It is certainly my own experience that a grounding in spirituality and prayer is the strongest possible defence against any potential harm from Vatican doctrines or hurtful rhetoric from misguided bishops. When one is struggling with messages from the institutional church, I find that it is always best to apply direct to the source of Christianity, in prayer and biblical reflection. One thing we can be sure of, is that however much it may seem that the church rejects us, God never does.

Here’s Fr Martin, concluding the interview:

GIACOMO: Your closing thoughts?

FATHER JIM: One thing that has surprised me, and even baffled me, is that most reviewers have completely ignored the entire second half of the book. The invitation to dialogue, which we’ve been talking about here, is only the first half of the book. The second part is a series of Scriptural meditations and reflection questions designed to help LGBT people reflect on their relationship with God, with the church and with themselves. So it’s surprising that very few reviewers bothered to review the whole book. It really is the most remarkable thing. When have you ever heard of reviewers only reviewing one half of a book?

Now why is that? I’ve been thinking a lot about why that is.On the secular left, perhaps they simply cannot enter into any sort of conversation about spirituality, or they think that spirituality is useless. You know, if you don’t believe God exists, then it’s going to be hard to appreciate an invitation to prayer. On the far right, perhaps they cannot admit that these passages might have something new to say to them about LGBT people. When I’m feeling in a darker mood, I wonder if it’s because a few on the far right, even in the church, feel that LGBT people can’t have a spiritual life. Or that they don’t deserve one. Or maybe, on both sides, on the far right and the far left, people are more comfortable with debate than they are with prayer.

Krzysztof Charamsa: “”God loves me, because I love my husband”(German Interview)

It is always worth paying close attention to press interviews with Msgr Krysztof Charamsa, the Catholic theologian at the CDF who came out as both gay and partnered, on the eve of the 2015 Synod on /marriage and family. There have been several of these, initially on the occasion of his coming out, and later with the launch of his book, in the original Italian and the later translations.  Sadly, as far as I am aware, none of these have yet appeared in English.

I therefore provide below, my own free translation (based on a modified Google translation), of his most recent (German) interview with Berliner Zeitung. In this post, I present the interview in full, without comment. My responses will follow, in a series of follow-up posts.

Openly gay Msgr Krysztof Charamsa (left), with partner

Ex-Monsignore Krzysztof Charamsa “Gott liebt mich, weil ich meinen Mann liebe”

(Translation: “God loves me, because I love my husband”)

We meet in the breakfast room of a small hotel at Hamburg main station. Krzysztof Charamsa, 44, has presented his book here. He wears a light, waisted jacket, with a blue handkerchief, if I remember correctly. A white shirt. Blue jeans. He looks very elegant. The most striking however is orange glasses. Krzysztof Charamsa laughs and loves to cry. I had not imagined the Grand Inquisitor of the Catholic Church so. Not even one of his staff. Krzysztof Charamsa is a Pole, but speaks German. Very rarely does he search for a word.

What is Spinning?

This is my sport: cycling in the gym. At the bottom I am struggling, everything is going through my head. I can think clearly.

One does not step forward. This is your favourite sport?

It is like liberation. You kick wildly into the pedals. They sweat. You are exhausted. But you do not have to worry about anything. Your head is free. It hits the spot.

That’s why you wrote a book about the “immutability of God”.

My dissertation. At that time I did not know Spinning. I was looking for security, for a solid foundation. It seemed to me to offer me a God who is self-sufficient. This was a God who does not lean toward his creature. No God of friendship, no God in the world, in history. A very sad image of God, I find today. I’ve been thinking about why we’re going to suffer during my studies. Where we have a gracious God. That was my determining question. I have no answer. But today I think it was my homosexuality, my suffering for it, which made suffering such a big subject. I did not know anything about the pleasures of love, nor of gay love.

When masturbating did you have homosexual fantasies?

Yes.

That was not nice?

I was anxious. I spent my puberty in communist Poland, in the Catholic Church. Both hyper-homophobic facilities! With whom could I have spoken? How? I had no words for it. I had feelings of guilt. I would have had them, even if I had been heterosexual. But my gay fantasies increased my insecurity.

You were ten, eleven years in Hamburg. You  must have seen homosexuals at least at the Hauptbahnhof.

I did not see them. Because I could not see them. In the world I lived in, there were no homosexuals. People just did not talk about them. They did not exist. As one says in Chechnya today: homosexuals can not be suppressed, because they do not exist. This is the way the Catholic Church behaved.

How many homosexuals are there in the Catholic Church?

Nobody can tell you. There are no surveys. I can only g. Based guess. Based on my experience. I was in priestly seminaries, I taught. I have always lived among priests. I was not a monk who lived in a single monastery. I believe that, cautiously estimated, fifty percent of the Catholic clergy is homosexual.

The total population is assumed to be 10%.

The priesthood is a fantastic space to conceal homosexuality when it is not socially accepted. For this reason the priestly life attracts many homosexuals. It does not matter that you are not interested in women. One is always in male company.

A homophobic organization of homosexuals

This is the dilemma of the Church. Hence much of the suffering and despair of the priests. Homosexuals are persecuted and at the same time homosexuality is celebrated. Aesthetic. Pope Benedict XVI has greatly aggravated the hatred of homosexuals. At the same time, however, under his pontificate, it was as gay as never before in the modern age: the red shoes, the peaks, tassels, and fringes that were on display everywhere. “Soon we will all have to wear lace underwear,” one of the papal ceremonial masters complained. See for yourself on Youtube how Ratzinger and other dignitaries of the Vatican look at the naked torsos of the brother Pellegrini! That same Ratzinger writes that homosexuals can not love. They have, he says, only this morbid desire.

Perhaps the Ratzinger’s own – deep-rooted – life experience … He is doomed to non-love.

That I do not know. But I do know that is precisely the situation in which many thousands of priests find themselves. The situation I was in, it took very long before I realized: it is not homosexuality that is sinful, but the church. Many, many homosexual priests are very good priests.

You were a member of the Congregation for the Congregation for twelve years. You persecuted the devil on behalf of the church. Then, on October 3, 2015, you publicly declared to the world : I, Krzysztof Charamsa, Catholic priest and member of the Congregation of the Faith, am gay, and this is my partner, Eduard Planas, whom I love. You changed from Saul to Paul.

I inherited the place, which became free, when Georg Gänswein became Ratzinger’s private secretary. I inherited his computer, his office, his chair. Paul followed the truth. When he persecuted the Christians, he believed that he had to do so for the sake of the truth. Then he recognized his error and became a Christian. I thought God was against my homosexuality, so I fought it. Then I discovered that God had nothing against my homosexuality. He had given something against which my love was strugling. I was an official of a truth office, a Stasi. I was perfect in this office. I put together, for every question, the views that the Church had represented over the centuries. The new knowledge of science did not matter. The church was in possession of the truth. This treasure was to be lifted. I did not do that as a cynic. I did it because I believed in it.

This was the purpose from one minute to the next.

I had nothing but a suitcase and my husband. That was a liberation. And peace. The first time: peace. A new security. I am a believing man, so I know: That was a gift from God.

You always have to get everything from the top!

Yes, yes. Of course I also have to develop energy and strength. But they also come from God. Life needs a foundation. If you have that, you can let go. This was the experience of Paul. This was also my experience. But it took me a long time to realize that the ecclesiastical texts against homosexuality speak about me. In the Catechism, for example, it says of homosexual relations: “They violate the natural law, for the transmission of life is excluded in sexual act. They do not arise from a true affective and sexual supplementary need. They are in no way to be approved.” Today I know that the catechism preaches homophobia and not the love of God. That’s why I introduced my partner at my coming out. This was a theological statement. I wanted to make it clear: I’m not looking for sex. I’m looking for love. Sex I can have anywhere. For me, it’s about love. Homosexual love.

Is the doctrine that the Father has the Son nailed to the cross in order to save mankind, not unloving?

The suffering, the self-sacrificing God – that is the mystery of religion.

This God, who always kills whole tribes of nations, would not you weep for the dead of Sodom and Gomorrah?

It is impossible to understand how God can allow this. But I believe it is his respect for human freedom. His respect for our freedom. It is the limit of the action of God.

But the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah did not perish because they were fighting each other. God eradicated them.

In the Old Testament there is this image of God. Jesus corrects this. The relationship between God, suffering and freedom is the greatest question of religion. That is their secret. I took the liberty to first acknowledge my homosexuality before God. He accepted me. When I did it before the church, she rejected me.

Sodom and Gomorrah?

When you read the text in the Old Testament, it was not about homosexuality – the later tradition shifted the emphasis to the sexual – but about xenophobia and the refusal of hospitality. Lot receives the strangers, in truth God’s angels, with friendship and is attacked by his fellow citizens. It is – in this the story is quite topical – about the correct handling of refugees and migrants. The Sodom of today is my home country Poland. No one is willing to accept refugees. There is no place for a Syrian family in all Poland. Poland is Catholic, but no one opens strangers to his house. This is just one example of the terrible confusion in the Catholic Church.

Men’s Retreat, Spain

For many years now Fr David Birchall SJ has been running retreats for men by the sea in Calpe, Spain, on the Mediterranean. Fr David writes:

“These have always proved popular with the vast majority of participants. The dates are 14-21 of June, and the presenter is Fr Russell Pollitt SJ, a South African Jesuit who can be relied upon for a lively, thought and prayer provoking retreat. “

The men who have attended in the past, as i have done, would certainly confirm that these are indeed highly popular, and simultaneously valuable as both high quality spirituality, and also extraordinarily good value time to simply relax in amenable company, on the Spanish coast.

Calpe 2017The daily programme features a spiritual focus in the mornings, with afternoons left free.  From the brochure:

This retreat is a combination of mornings with a presentation of a theme and material for reflection, some prayer, time to ponder and share. A substantial lunch, with space for a siesta will follow. Early afternoon is free. Late afternoon sessions are followed by Mass. The day’s programme ends with a stroll to a restaurant for the evening meal.

This structure works well, enabling both formal time for prayer and reflection, and also time to relax with and bond with others (perhaps on the beach?), or in quiet time alone. When I first saw publicity for these retreats several years ago, I was puzzled: was this a genuine retreat, or just an excuse for a men’s holiday in the sun? In fact, it’s both, with good reason. The free time in the afternoons and evenings (often over a sing-song and drinks) is valuable in building community, and some informal sharing (including faith sharing) that reinforces the more formal spiritual work in the mornings.

The retreat director this year will be Fr Russell Pollitt SJ, director of the Jesuit Institute of South Africa.  Of interest to gay Catholics, is that during his time as parish priest of Holy Trinity parish, Johannesburg (my former home parish), he responded to a need identified by a group of parishioners, and started an LGBT support group within the parish. When the group later asked him for approval to join in Johannesburg’s gay pride march, he not only agreed, but joined the parade himself, for that part of the route within the parish area.  For this retreat, says the brochure,

Fr Russell will be helping us look at and ponder on our encounters with Jesus. He will do this by using scripture, some of the writings of holy men and women of Reform and Catholic tradition, as well as some of the major documents of Pope Francis whose writings are addressed not just to Catholics but all people of goodwill.

Fr Russell says, “In the book of Revelation we are told that Jesus stands at the door and knocks. Pope Francis suggests that he is knocking from the inside, wanting to get out of a Church that has locked him up. We are being challenged to think differently and creatively about God, faith, the Church and life in today – our personal encounters with Jesus will free him, free us, fuel our creativity and shape our vision”

It’s also worth noting that this retreat is extraordinarily good value. “All-inclusive” here, really does mean “all”, apart from airfare.

The cost of the retreat includes

✔ Accommodation in rooms with en-suite facilities. (Many rooms are twin-bedded but we shall allocate all rooms as singles unless requested otherwise )

✔ Full board, which usually involves a three course meal at a beach-side restaurant.

✔ Drinks – soft and alcoholic

✔ Transfers from Alicante airport to the house in Calpe.

✔ All costs of the retreat giver and materials.

For more details, see the full retreat brochure – Retreat for men in Calpe, Costa Blanca

 

Coming Out as Wrestling with the Divine

At this time of Pride, marking the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, I wanted to post something on the important legacy of visibilty and coming out. (Now the 41st anniversary – this is a re-post)

After mulling over some thoughts on what to say, I picked up Richard Cleaver’s “Know My Name” for re-reading, and was delighted by the synchronicity of finding that his Chapter 2, “Knowing and Naming”, deals with exactly this subject.  So instead of rehashing or expanding the ideas I presented in my opening post 6 months ago (“Welcome:  Come in, and Come out”), I thought I would share with you some of Cleaver’s insights.

First, Cleaver points out that in addition to the modern association of “coming out” with escaping the closet, there are two other important contexts. It can also call to mind the Exodus story of coming out of the land of Egypt, of escaping slavery and oppression; and it was used before Stonewall to mimic the English debutante ritual of “coming out” into society, of achieving the first recognition as an adult in polite society .  For us then, coming out is both a liberation from oppression and an acceptance and a welcome into a new society.  He then continues by arguing that coming out in the modern sense is an essential first step in hearing the Gospel message of liberation .

To do so, he points to the well-known costs of nto coming out:  psychological self-oppression,  increased suicide risk (especially in the young), and the arrests for sexual activity in restrooms / cottages of men who are usually married or otherwise closeted.  Against that, he contrats the perosnal rewards of coming out.  After speaking the truth to ourselves, the next stage, of meeting with others like ourselves,

“is generally even more of a transforming moment than the private recognition and acceptance of our gayness….Coming out publicly (a continuous process, not a single  event) brings a sense of freedom that must be experienced to be believed.  Coming out is one of our many seasons of joy.”

This is a sentiment which, from my own experience, I heartily endorse, and to which I would add the observation that  ”Joy is an infallible sign of the Holy Spirit.”

He then turns to some possible costs of coming out: active discrimination, including in employment; difficulties in securing adequate access to children; a misguided steering into inappropriate marriage, in the expectation of a ‘cure’;  and finally the hostility or even misguided interference of the churches.  This leads to a stinging repudiation of the Church’s involvement:

“It is no surprise that whether we leave or stay, we react to the church with suspicion.  Something about what the church is teaching, something about how the church conceives itself, is not right.  In the case of the church’s relation to gay men and lesbians, we can dissect out two particular explanations for this suspicion.

First, the church has allowed itself to subordinate the commandment of love to the demands of heterosexist culture, defying Paul’s injunction, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” (Rom 12:2) ……It is.. the result of the church’s long-standing obsession with sexual activity, which leads to a reduction of the lives of lesbians and gay men to the realm of sexual experience.”

“This brings me to my second suspicion about the church, which is why it is willing to accmomodate itself to the mind of the age, to compromise with bourgeois culture:  it hopes to maintain its authority and thus its institutional power in society by preventing lesbians and gay men from speaking about their own experiences. The institution benefits.. from a theology that permits it to hand down decisions without any data even being collected, let alone examined“.  (Emphasis added).

To which I add once again that this is why I am convinced we need to be out and visible in the church.  As long as we remain closeted and out of sight, as long as we refrain from speaking of our own experiences, we are complicit in our own oppression.

Cleaver then goes on to discuss several well-known Gospel stories, drawing from them important lessons for us in the LGBT community.

Reflecting on the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, he avoids some of the better known observations, and makes two other  points.  He notes that while recognising her sexual noncomformity, Jesus notably does not admonish or condemn her, nor does she express repentance.

“Jesus is no welfare caseworker… his goal is to transform society, not to ‘fix’ those who suffer injustice so that the existing social order may run more smoothly.”

The second point is that after the initial exchange, the woman proceeds to put to Him some “theological” questions on worship.  The story, notes Cleaver, is not about promiscuity at all, but about “who is capable of doing theology” .

This point on doing theology is made again when he looks at the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10).  While Martha works, Mary sits and listens to Jesus speak.  Mary complains, but the reply is that Mary  “has chosen the better part”. In Jewish society, women were expected to do the domestic work, only the men participated in religious study or debates, and the sexes sat apart when guests were present for meals.  It would have been unheard of for women to participate in religious discussions, yet Christ not only condones this, he commends her for it.  Jewish women and other social outcasts were expected to be invisible:  but for the Lord, no-one is invisible, all are welcome to join in making theology.

In telling of the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19 -31), Cleaver compares Lazarus with the LGBT community “outside the door” of the church, while the rich man is compared with the institutional church, which even by its indifference  contributes to our oppression.

His final biblical reflection is an extended discussion of Jacob’s wrestling with the angel at Peniel (Gen 32:  22-32). For Cleaver, there arae two important themes in this story:  the wrestling itself, and the act of naming. From this he reflects on the importance to us of naming honestly our oppression.  Noting that

“We learn to name our oppression by struggling with it”,

he insists that we should present ourselves in full frankness and honesty, implying that we should resist the temptation to mimic conventional patterns of morality out of a mere desire to avoid offence:

“The strategy of putting forward only “acceptable” images of ourselves is doomed to failure… We should be forthright about who we are.”

For me, the 3 key lessons from Cleaver, all of which I endorse whole-heartedly, are:

In spite of the obvious dangers and costs, coming out publicly is invigorating, liberating and life-giving;

We need to extend the  ”coming out” process into our lives in the Church, where we should expect to be fully visible, and to speak out frankly and honestly of our views and experiencces;

and that by doing so, we will be exercising our right to share in making theology, in spite of the efforts of the institutional church to exercise a monopoly.

“We must speak with our own voices, in all their imperfections, when responding to God’s overtures.  Moses stuttered;  Israel limped.  What matters is not image but inegrity.  If God calls, we must know who answers. We answer to our true names, because these are the names God calls us by.  The cost of learning them is wrestling with the divine.”

Amen to that.

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Ignatian Spirituality and LGBT Inclusion

In referring to my own faith journey, I have often referred to the value that I have derived from my time exploring Ignatian spirituality, in a Jesuit parish, and in the Jesuit – sponsored lay movement, the Christian Life Community (CLC). It has given me a firm conviction that there simply is no contradiction between a life of integrity as an openly gay man, and my Catholic faith. This conviction, developed over many years, was based initially on extensive Ignatian prayer, spiritual direction, and an extraordinarily intense, genuinely mystical, Ignatian directed retreat.

In my earliest encounter with the Jesuits and sexuality, I was told by a parish priest that “faith” is not a matter of the intellect, but of experience.  Based on that definition, I have the faith. Conversely, one definition of theology, is “faith seeking understanding”. I have the faith – what I have been doing these past dozen years or so, has been a search for understanding. All that I have learned, from explorations of the bible, of LGBT and church history, social anthropology, natural science, and theology, has left me more convinced than ever, that this is indeed so. “Gay Catholic” is not an oxymoron, but for those of us with a natural same – sex affectional orientation, a simple statement of personal integrity and honesty.

The notable Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner has written that it is possible for each of us to experience what he calls a “personal encounter with God”. Once experienced, he notes, nothing can stand between us and that experience: not the Church, not the Bible itself. It is my firm belief that in the retreat I referred to earlier, I was blessed with just such an experience – thus reinforcing even further my deep conviction that for gay Catholics, coming out and accepting that sexuality as part of our “sexual identity” is no more than adherence to an important Catechism command.  And so, I strongly advise anyone still struggling to reconcile sexuality and Catholic faith, to explore the riches of Ignatian spirituality.

There is no need to do this alone. My own experience was immeasurably helped by membership of a Jesuit parish, and a particularly strong CLC group, but there are other routes. The Jesuits have a well – deserved reputation as a gay – friendly order of priests, for which the evidence is clear. Of the explicitly gay welcoming parishes worldwide, a high proportion are Jesuit led.   In many countries, there are Jesuit priests who run spiritual retreats, specifically tailored to LGBT needs and concerns. One final indicator of the value of Jesuit support, is found in the program for the “Ways of Love” conference, to held in Rome this October, as part of the foundation meeting of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics. Of the 10 headline speakers for this conference, three are Jesuit priests, and two are religious women in orders shaped by the Ignatian tradition.

One of these, works directly with the CLC community. In a notable article earlier this year, he describes how openly acknowledging their sexuality, enabled a gay CLC group not merely to find acceptance by other CLC groups and the national CLC community, but also to break down prejudice, and even develop straight allies.

Read his full article in Spanish, or below, in an English translation, courtesy of Gionata.

A.M.D.G.

(“Ad maiorem Dei Gloriam”).

Continue reading Ignatian Spirituality and LGBT Inclusion

"Heal the Broken – Hearted"

“Healing” is the central them for today’s Mass (5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, year B). This healing can be either physical (as in Mark’s Gospel, where Jesus heals Simon’s mother – in- law, among others, or it can be emotional and spiritual, as clearly expressed in the response to the psalm:

Praise the Lord who heals the broken-hearted.

For LGBT Christians, it is this spiritual healing that will have particular relevance. Just like everybody else, we too will have need for physical healing at different times and to varying degrees, but will also have a particular need to be healed from the hurt and pain unnecessarily inflicted on us by some elements of Church teaching, and by some other Christians, in defiance of the clear Gospel message of inclusion and love for all. When we feel hurt in this way, we need to remember that while some people may reject us, God will never do so. When we turn to Him,  Christ will indeed “heal the broken- hearted” – and we can receive that healing either by turning to the texts of the Bible (especially the Gospels), which really are “Good news”, as Paul says, or even better, by applying direct, in prayer

There is more to the day’s reading though, than just the reminder of God’s healing for us. There is also an implicit command to take that message, and offer it to others, so that they too may be healed. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul stresses that preaching the gospel is “a duty which has been laid on me”. That duty however is shared by us all, as Pope Frnncis spelled out in “Evangelii Gaudium”.

(Readings for the day:

  • First reading: Job 7:1-4,6-7
  • Psalm: 146:1-6
  • Second reading: 1 Corinthians 9:16-19,22-23
  • Gospel Acclamation: Jn8:12 or Mt8:17
  • Gospel: Mark 1:29-39 )