Tag Archives: Narrative theology

Telling our LGBT stories is prophetic.

Telling our stories” is important because our experience directly contradicts the absurdities contained in official Vatican doctrines.

For example, the CDF “Letter to the bishops on the pastoral care of homosexual persons” consistently presents a false dichotomy, in which heterosexual relationships are described as loving, conjugal, mutual  self-giving, but the same-sex counterparts are seen as no more than indulgent self-gratification.

This is patently absurd. It should be obvious to anyone paying attention to the real world, that many heterosexual encounters are also no better than self gratification, or otherwise fall short of the noble ideal of loving, mutual self-giving. Conversely, the experience of many lesbian and gay Catholic couples shows very clearly that our relationships too, can be fully loving, mutual self giving.

Increasingly, some Catholic bishops are coming to understand this. During the 2015 bishops synod on marriage and family, Cardinal Christoph schonborn of Vienna described one gay couple he had come to know, and how their relationship was demonstrably about love and mutual support. As Fr James Martin SJ reports in his book Building a Bridge,

Around that time, Cardinal Schönborn spoke of a gay couple he knew who had transformed his understanding of LGBT people. He even offered some qualified praise for his friend’s same-sex union.

The cardinal said: “One shares one’s life, one shares the joys and sufferings, one helps one another. We must recognize that this person has made an important step for his own good and for the good of others, even though, of course, this is not a situation that the church can consider regular”.

It should come as no surprise that Cardinal Schonborn and others like him who have first hand knowledge of lesbian and gay couples, are in the forefront of Catholic leaders promoting improved pastoral support for LGBT Catholics, even to the extent of support for same sex unions. In the Protestant churches there are countless examples of pastors who have come to support gay marriage after conversations with gay couples in their congregations, which have shown them that these relationships have much in common with those pastors’ own marriages.

Telling our stories is furthermore important to bring home to our church leaders just how much existing doctrines are not merely misguided, but are also downright hurtful and damaging.  There is abundant statistical evidence that LGBT youth in particular have much higher rates of suicide, self harm and substance abuse than their straight peers. They are also more  likely to run away from home, and then perhaps to fall into prostitution as a means of simple survival. Furthermore, there exists solid research evidence that to some extent at least, these difficulties faced by LGBT youth are aggravated by real or perceived  church teaching and practice.

For still others, our stories tell of how the desire to comply has led us into inappropriate and ultimately destructive heterosexual marriages, or to simply walk away from the church entirely. Both of these are part of my own story.

In “Building a Bridge”, Fr James Martin S.J. expands on the established Catholic teaching that Catholics must show “respect compassion and sensitivity” to gay people, by pointing out that this is impossible without first listening to us and our stories. That, in turn, is impossible unless our stories are out there to be heard.

Related posts:

LGBT Catholics’ Prophetic Responsibility

Narrative theology: The value of LGBT lives

WHY Our Stories Matter

Our Stories As “Sacred Texts”.

WHY Our Stories Matter

I wrote yesterday about the new attention some theologians are paying to “narrative theology”, which draws on people’s life experience in their real world situations as a source for theological reflection. The importance of this was highlighted in the Rome study day for selected bishops from Germany, France and Switzerland in preparation for the 2015 Family Synod, when a third of the programme (and two of the six papers) were devoted to it.

One of these papers, by Prof Dr Alain Thomasett SJ of the University of Paris, had the title Taking into account of the history and biographical developments of the moral life and the pastoral care of the family”.  In this paper, Thomasett tackles head on the challenge presented by what Catholic doctrine  describe as “intrinsically evil” sexual acts, and the difficulties this doctrine presents for many Catholics in real life situation. This difficulty certainly troubles gay and lesbian Catholics, but not only them. (Thomasett also refers directly to those who have divorced and remarried, who will be a central focus of the Synod, and to married couples practicing contraception). The key to resolving the problem, he argues, lies in making a firm distinction between objective judgement of the acts, and the moral culpability of the people, which can only be assessed in the context of their particular situations and purpose. Continue reading WHY Our Stories Matter

Joseph Gentilini – Hounded by Heaven

I first came across the phrase, “The Hound of Heaven” when it was used by my religion teacher, an O.M.I. priest, at secondary school in Johannesburg, many years ago. At first I had difficulty understanding the concept, unable to grasp the idea of God as a dog. But then, I did not yet appreciate the difference in sense between “dog”, as any canine (in my experience, always a household pet), and “hound” – as a working dog, chasing down the object of its pursuit. Once I did finally get the point, it became a vivid metaphor that has never left me.  An explanation at the Neumann Book of Verse, quoted on Wikipedia, conveys the sense of the metaphor:

 The name is strange. It startles one at first. It is so bold, so new, so fearless. It does not attract, rather the reverse. But when one reads the poem this strangeness disappears. The meaning is understood. As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and imperturbed pace, so does God follow the fleeing soul by His Divine grace. And though in sin or in human love, away from God it seeks to hide itself, Divine grace follows after, unwearyingly follows ever after, till the soul feels its pressure forcing it to turn to Him alone in that never ending pursuit.

The Neumann Press Book of Verse, 1988[2]

Hound of Heaven

Joseph Gentilini, whom I referred to earlier this week for his long ministry of writing to the American bishops about matters of gay inclusion in church, has used the image in the title of a forthcoming autobiography, “Hounded by God”. This image is entirely appropriate, as a description of how for years he felt tormented by a perceived conflict between what he knew to be his natural affectional and sexual orientation, and the formal, proclaimed sexual doctrines of the church  – conflict which led nightly, to thoughts of suicide. Many Catholic gay men and lesbians will have no difficulty recognising this experience, as one that they too have endured.

In Hounded by God, the author writes about his struggle to integrate his homosexuality with his personality and his Catholic-Christian spirituality. He grew up in the late ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s when homosexuality was considered either a mental illness or a major sin. In 1968, he had his first homosexual experience. Feeling shame and trying to repress his feelings, he spent over six years in therapy.

Raised a strict Roman Catholic, Joseph confessed his many “sins” to a priest and attended Mass daily. He felt hopeless in accepting his homosexuality and living happily as a gay man, repeating nightly, “If it gets too bad, I can always kill myself.” By 1974, he knew that therapy was not changing his sexual orientation and felt desperate.

Some older Catholic, but perhaps rather fewer younger people will also recognize the resolution of the conflict – that while the institutional church may appear to reject us, that is never true of God, who like a hound will follow us relentlessly, as God did in pursuit of Joseph, until we are able to recognize and accept God’s unconditional love for us all – no exceptions.

Joseph experienced God as hounding him to accept his gay identity and to believe that God loves him as he is. His autobiographical journal reveals his gradual awakening to live his vocation, not only as a gay man in relationship with his partner and with God, but also as someone willing to share his journey with those who struggle with their homosexuality and their faith.

The two passages quoted above are from a summary of the book that I received yesterday by email, together with  two reviews, in advance of publication later this year.  These gay Catholic biographies are important. Dugan McGinley  has written an entire critical analysis of the  genre “Acts of Faith, Acts of Love”, which he has  sub-titled “Gay Catholic Autobiographies as Sacred Texts”. To call them “sacred” texts may appear to many to be a step too far, but I think the description is entirely appropriate. These stories, if they are honest and sufficiently reflective on the writer’s life of struggle and resolution, can help us all in a similar predicament to find illumination and support in our own search for reconciliation, with God and the Church.

This could be particularly true of this book. Whether we know it yet or not, it will certainly be true that whatever our response to the Church, whatever our perceptions of its doctrines or pastoral practice, whatever our decision or strategies in our lives so far, to deal with and attempt to reconcile the conflicts that we, like Joseph, probably felt or perhaps still feel about our sexuality and our faith – God is constantly chasing us down, hound – like.

I look forward to reading this book once it has been published. I hope you will look out for it, too. Meanwhile, to whet your appetites, I include two short reviews, but theologian John  McNeill, and by Mark Matson, a former president of Dignity USA,

St. Augustine put it beautifully into words: “You made us for yourself, Oh Lord, and our- hearts will never rest until they rest in you.” Most of us go through life covering over that yearning at the heart of every human, distracting ourselves with the desires of this world. Not so Joseph Gentilini. God gave Joseph an extraordinary awareness of that call to union with God.

In his autobiographical journal, Joe spells out his painful journey as an active gay man, from revolt against that voice of God to final acceptance with God’s grace of his gay identity given to him by God—a remarkable journey which brings hope to all of us that God’s call to union is to the authentic self. God dwells within us, and the only way to union with that God is through the authentic self.

John McNeill, theologian, former Jesuit priest and author

and

Anyone who has had their sexuality shamed by their religious tradition should relate to Joe’s story of staying connected to his Catholicism while rejecting the teaching of Catholic Bishops on homosexuality and replacing it with a truly authentic spiritual connection with his Creator. He give the reader access to his most intimate thoughts, fears, and experiences—all of which provide the fuel for a seminal work in LGBT spirituality.

Mark Matson, former president of Dignity USA

Books

John McNeill:

The Church and the HomosexualTaking a Chance on God;

Freedom, Glorious Freedom;

and My Spiritual Journey: Both Feet Planted In Midair

Sex as God Intended