Category Archives: Spirituality

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 )

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 Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary

"All Will be Well, and All Shall Be Well" : Julian of Norwich, 8th May

There is no way that we should be thinking of Julian as gay or lesbian, but we should certainly think of her as queer (and as, she was undoubtedly female, in spite of her name). There are two reasons for including her here. The first is her pioneering unequivocal feminism. These are shown by her gender bending references in her book to God as mother – and even to Jesus as “mother Jesus”, which are habits for us too to acquire in our prayer. In her own career, she was remarkable for producing the first book to be written in English by a woman. Can we think of her as the first feminist theologian?

“The Mother can lay her child tenderly to her breast, but our tender Mother Jesus can lead us easily into his blessed breast through his sweet open side, and show us there a part of the godhead and of the joys of heaven with inner certainty of endless bliss.

 

The second is the fundamental nature of her spirituality, which was centuries ahead of her time, and can be especially valuable to those who, like the LGBT community, feel threatened by an accusatory and hostile  institutional Church.  Here, it is important to note that her optimistic spirituality, as indicated in the well-known quotation in my headline, is not simply a Panglossian, mindless “always look on the bright side”. There is a very sound theological basis for it, made clear in an expanded formulation of the idea:

“And so our good Lord answered to all questions and doubts which I could raise, saying most comfortably: I may make all things well, and I can make all things well, and I shall make all things well, and I will make all things well, and you will see yourself that every kind of thing will be well”.

All will be well – because God has promised to make them well. Hope is a virtue – and optimism a theological obligation.

Julian (not her birth name) was born in 1342. At the age of 30, she fell dangerously ill, coming close to death. At this time, she experienced a series of mystical visions on the Passion of Christ and on the love of God. After her recovery, she became an anchoress, and recorded her experiences which she described as “showings”, in her book. She is renowned for her insistence in these on God’s unbending love and care for Her people, which was unusual for a time when religion was seen in much stricter, more judgemental terms of avoiding eternal damnation.

Read “The Showing Of Love” on-line

The “Umilta” website has an astonishing collection of links to scholarly work on Juliana and her times ( including this useful one : Equally in God’s Image  Women in the Middle Ages

Friends of Julian describes itself as the  “official” Julian website. I don’t know on what authority they make the claim, but the site is at least attractive and informative.

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St John of the Cross: 14th December

John of the Cross was born in Fontiveros, in Spain, in about 1542. He spent some time as a Carmelite friar before, in 1568, Saint Teresa of Ávila persuaded him to pioneer the reform of the Carmelite order. This was a difficult task and a dangerous one: he suffered imprisonment and severe punishment at the hands of the Church authorities. He died at the monastery of Ubeda in Andalusia on 14 December 1591: the monks there had initially treated him as the worst of sinners, but by the time he died they had recognised his sanctity and his funeral was the occasion of a great outburst of enthusiasm. His works include two major mystical poems – he is considered one of the great poets of the Spanish language – and detailed commentaries on them and the spiritual truths they convey. He was canonized in 1726 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1926.
He is important for queer Christians, especially gay men, for two reasons. First, because he is a great teacher of spirituality, and the cultivation of spiritual practice, by enabling a more direct experience of the divine, is an excellent way to immunize ourselves from toxic and misguided teaching on human sexuality. Second, and more interestingly, because his language at times uses imagery which is plainly homoerotic, and so easily usable by gay men in their own prayer.

Continue reading St John of the Cross: 14th December

St John of the Cross: 14th December

John of the Cross is important for queer Catholics, especially gay men, for two reasons. First, because he is a great teacher of spirituality, and the cultivation of spiritual practice, by enabling a more direct experience of the divine, is an excellent way to immunize ourselves from toxic and misguided teaching on human sexuality. Second, and more interestingly, because his language at times uses imagery which is plainly homoerotic, and so easily usable by gay men in their own prayer.

From the Calendar of LGBT Saints:

1542-1591

St. John of the Cross was one of the great Spanish mystics, whose outstanding Dark Night of the Soul is still read by all interested in Catholic mysticism. He also wrote a series of intense religious canticles. St. John, like other mystics such as St. Theresa of Avila, used the language of courtly love to describe his relationship with Christ. He also discussed, with rare candor, the sexual stimulation of prayer, the fact that mystics experience sexual arousal during prayer. With the male Christ of course, this amounts to a homoeroticism of prayer. It must be said that St. John was not entirely happy with this aspect of prayer. He was beatified by Clement X in 1675, canonized by Benedict XIII in 1726, and declared a Doctor of Church Universal by Pius XI in 1926

Quoted at The Wild Reed:

(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.”

 

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Hunter Flournoy’s “Erotic Body of Christ”

In the modern Western church, we have developed an unfortunate tendency to think of the person of Jesus Christ as definitely male, but also decidedly sexless, neutered. This is patently ridiculous. As one who was fully human, he will most certainly have possessed sexual attributes, physical and emotional. Fortunately, modern theologians are rediscovering this – as earlier Christians understood, and the Eastern churches still do.

Kittredge Cherry is an ordained MCC pastor, and a published writer  whose novel “Jesus in Love” considers the erotic attachments that may have existed in Christ’s life. At her blog, Jesus in Love, she posted an interview early last month with Hunter Flournoy, a psychotherapist and shamanic healer who teaches “Erotic Body of Christ” workshops for gay and bisexual men:

Based in North Carolina and New Mexico, Flournoy has been leading workshops and ceremonies in awareness, creativity, healing, passionate living and personal freedom for 19 years. His next Erotic Body of Christ workshop will be March 17-20 at the Kirkridge Retreat Center in Delaware Water Gap, PA. He has just launched a new website, eroticbodyofchrist.org, full of valuable resources for uniting sexuality and spirituality.

Others have also written of the value of incorporating the erotic into spirituality, either as professional theologians and spiritual directors, or from personal experience. In doing so, they are returning to the earlier tradition of the church, in which the great mystics did not shirk from the erotic, but incorporated erotic imagination into their spiritual lives and writing.

Here are some extracts from Kittredge Cherry’s interview with Hunter Flournoy:

Kittredge Cherry: Who is “the erotic Christ”? How does the “erotic Christ” relate to the “historical Jesus” of scholarly research, the gay Jesus or black Jesus of liberation theology, and the traditional Jesus of churches?

Hunter Flournoy:

We are Christ, the anointed one, and His Body is our own, as individuals, as a community, and as a world. At one point, the New Testament says, Christ had only one body – the body of Jesus – but he poured out his Spirit on the World, anointing us all, making us His body. That body, in the eastern traditions of Christianity, is a passionately erotic one; our erotic experience is the place we encounter God most directly, and the energy of Eros — our sensuous experience of pleasure, desire, ecstasy and union . . . is the fuel for our journey of Theosis, or union with God. Eros transfigured through our act of giving ourselves and receiving each other completely, becomes agape. The erotic body of Christ is not a scholastic conceptualization of Jesus – it is a visceral experience of God through our bodies, individually and collectively, modeled by Jesus, lived by the erotic Christian mystics throughout the ages, and felt directly in our own experience.

KC: When and how did you first get involved with the idea of the erotic Christ?

HF: My first intimation of Christ as a living reality in my body goes back to my earliest communion at about age ten. My whole body thrilled when I knelt at the altar rail and the priest’s hand brushed against my own as he pressed the wafer into my palm and lifted the chalice of warm, sweet wine to my lips. I felt that it was Jesus there before me and in me, in everything, penetrating everything and taking it all into him. As I matured, that experience only deepened; every sensation seemed to be infused with a passionately loving presence, and sometimes I would see an astounding light shining out of other peoples’ eyes, kindling bliss in my whole body.

I tried to suppress this unsettling experience for years, since the Christianity of my youth had no room for it. I didn’t realize what a deeply Christian experience it really was until I discovered a small eastern orthodox monastery in New Mexico. There I learned that Christianity had once been something very different: experiential, sensuous, mystical, and profoundly grounded in the sacredness of our bodies and our world. Though many of the eastern churches have more recently become mired in a frightening cultural conservatism, they kept a breathtakingly erotic, incarnational Christianity alive for two thousand years.

KC: Many LGBT people have been wounded by the false teaching that homosexuality is a sin. What message does the erotic Christ have for them?


HF: Our sexual energy is the most powerful tool we have to shatter the illusion of separation, which is what the original Christians meant by “sin.” The essential question we must ask ourselves is, am I using sex to bring myself alive, to overcome separation and incarnate the divine, or am I using it to medicate or avoid my own experience of being alive? This was the original understanding of chastity: it calls us to the highest possible relationship with our own sexual energy. All sexual experience can break down the boundaries and defenses we use to separate ourselves from each other and from God – we become one body, one being. Sex can also teach us how to give ourselves totally (kenosis) to each other, how to receive each other completely (plerosis), and how to surrender to the transfiguring power of our own erotic experience. As LGBT people, we also have an innate understanding that our erotic experience, our pleasure, desire, ecstasy, and union, can serve a purpose other than reproduction. Our erotic joy is a source of profound creativity, deep empathy, and a wild ecstasy that can take us out of who we are into a far greater sense of being.

(Read the full interview at Jesus in Love)

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Put Christ Back Into Christianity: The Body of Christ

Absolutely fundamental to the Christian religion is the belief that God, as the second person of the Trinity, took on human form and became man. Jesus Christ, whose incarnation we celebrate at this time, was fully divine – and also fully human.

I want to stress here that word “incarnation”, not just the nativity, so familiar from Christmas cards and Nativity plays. Yes, like all other humans he began life as an infant – but he lived and ministered as a man, a real man, fully human, with all that entails. We celebrate the incarnation explicitly at Christmas, but also constantly in the life of the Church, and especially in the Mass. At the consecration, we hear the words, “This is my body”, and on receiving communion, “Body of Christ”, to which we reply, “Amen”. But like so much in tradition, this response has shifted subtly over the millenia.The original response carried rather more punch.

In the early church, when the presbyter administered the holy communion to the faithful, saying “Corpus Christi”, the body of Christ, the response was not “Amen”, as we now have it, but “I am”. Do you see how radical that is? You -I- we- are the body of God, in our humanity.

-Fr Bernard Lynch, cited in “From Queer to Eternity

There is another, fundamentally important implication that must follow from Christ’s fully human nature – his sexuality. Outside the realm of speculation, we have no specific knowledge of the nature of his sexual feelings and responses, but as an adult human male, we can be certain that they were there, even if we do not know what they were.

At the heart of Christianity is the astonishing claim that God became fully human in Jesus Christ a nd took on human flesh. With a body, circumcision, erections, ejaculations, sexual attractions. With eyes that noticed beauty, skin sensitive to the massage of oil and the touch of a woman’s hair.  Spittle that he rubbed on the eyes of a man born blind. A taste for good wine and feet that could dance the night away at Cana….Is this not what Jesus took on in the Incarnation?

-Michael Sean Paterson, in “From Queer to Eternity

Does it matter that he was male? Well. Catholic tradition certainly thinks so. That is a major part of the insistence on an exclusively male clergy.  How do we know that Christ had erections and ejaculations? That follows from his male biology. As any man knows, especially young men (and Christ died while still young) the male genital responses can be completely involuntary (even being used in some research studies and government programs to identify orientation).

So why is the Christian Church, and especially the Catholics, so afraid of the body, and of sexuality in particular? Other religions do not fear sex: many celebrate it to some degree  (some religions have even identified divine patrons of homosexual love). The Christian antipathy to the body and sexuality do not come from the Gospel and from Christ himself. The likeliest explanation I have found is that it arises from a combination of a distortion of Greek Stoic philosophy and a belief in the imminent parousia – but as my concern here is specifically with Christology, I will not explore that question further here.

The modern Catholic Church’s extreme resistance to the body has not even been a constant part of its tradition. We know for instance that many of the most celebrated saints and teachers in the mystical tradition of the church used starkly erotic, bodily imagery (including obviously homoerotic imagery).  The same attention to Christ’s physical body was also once evident in the visual arts.

Today, we are so accustomed to the sanitised images of the white male in a flowing white robe, familiar from children’s Illustrated Bible Stories and the like, that it is easy to lose sight of the real, human man behind these images.  The representations we commonly see, whether as pictures or as crucifixes, would typically suggest that he had no genitals at all – and completely obscure the fact that he was crucified, and carried the cross, entirely naked. It was not always so – as the art historian Leo Steinberg has demonstrated, Renaissance artists in their depictions of Christ’s body did not shirk from indicating the genitals, and even the erections he would surely have experienced.  Mark Jordan describes this misrepresentation of Christ’s body as a “corpse” of Jesus created by official Christology.

Much Christian theology claims to be about a divine incarnation. It is also, and perhaps more emphatically, a speech or managing that incarnation by controlling its awkward implications. Some particularly awkward consequences can only be managed by passing over members of the body of God in prudish silence.  Looked at in this way, the history of Christian theology can be seen as a long flight from the full consequences of its central profession. The big business of theology has been to construct alternate bodies for Jesus Christ – tidier bodies, bodies better conformed to institutional needs.  I think of these artificial bodies as Jesus’ corpses, and I consider large parts of official Christology as their mortuary.

In stressing the overwhelming probability that in his humanity, Jesus Christ would have experienced sexual feelings and physical, genital  responses, I do not want to argue that these were homoerotic responses to other men – but they may have been, as some scholars surmise. However, it would also be wrong to assume that his responses were either asexual or necessarily heterosexual.

What does this mean, in practical terms, for our religious practice as gay men (in particular)? I suggest that there are two hugely important consequences. The first is in our practice of spirituality, and our spiritual growth in personal relationship with Jesus. Recognizing his full bodily, male humanity, we should feel free to incorporate this into our prayer. Following the advice of Chris Glaser, we must allow our sexuality to complement our spirituality, not restrict it  – and vice versa. Unlike the official theologians of the Catholic Church, we must not run away from the full truth of Christ’s body. For Catholics, this also means we must take seriously the nature of the Eucharist itself. On this, I close with some words from Gerard Loughlin, in his introduction to “Queer Theology“:

The consecrated bread and wine are not metaphors for the body and blood of Christ, but really God’s body and blood, given for us to eat.  Pope Benedict XVI does not shy away from this when when he acknowledges that the “marriage between God and Israel” is now realized as union with God through sharing in Jesus’ body and blood. Certainly the Eucharist is as intimate as sex – taking another’s body into one’s own – and just insofar as it unites men and women with Jesus, it is gay sex as well as straight sex, gay marriage and straight marriage.

It is thus not possible for Christians schooled in the gospels and traditions to believe that gay people are ordered to an “intrinsic evil,” since all are ordered to God, and those ordered to God through their own sex are ordered as were the two Johns – the beloved and the baptist – who were ordered to Jesus ; a lover who does not discinguish between the sex of his brides, who welcomes all alike. Christ is the lover of both St theresa of Avila and St John of the cross.  …. It is not possible to place gay people outside Christ’s eucharistic embrace, the very space where we learn “the concrete practice of love.” For eucharstic communion “includes the reality both of being loved and of loving others in turn”.

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