Over at Gospel for Gays, Jeremiah has written of his own return to the Catholic Church. After being driven away originally in anger a the Canadian Bishops over their opposition to gay marriage he returned eventually after a discussion with a local pastor. Much of his experience resonates with mine: the emphasis on the local parish (I and many others have never encountered any hostility in local parishes); and his belief in dealing with the official church by living in constant conversation with the Holy Spirit. Extracted from “My Return”:
“But do you ever really quit the church? In my case, probably not. I maintained a life rooted in prayer and scripture; I kept visiting a formal spiritual director, in his last terrible illness; in 2006 I made the first leg of the Camino de Compostela, beginning in the old medieval town of Vezaley in central France.
And little by little, I missed belonging to a deeper community, a community based on shared faith, a community centred on radical love – whatever its failings. I fail too.
I tried alternatives, especially gay alternatives, but they seemed poor substitutes to me: well meaning but, frankly, shallow.
So I decided to return.
Was there a place for an openly gay man in this community whose teachings on sexuality were focused on procreation to the exclusion of other possibilities? That see gayness as an inclination toward an objective evil; that believes gay unions to be wrong, and societally dangerous?
Anglicanism offered a possible alternative for some – but not for me. I watch with sympathetic sorrow as that kindred communion tears itself apart over the acceptance of gays.
I checked out my former parish, a famously liberal one, a wonderful place where gays and lesbians are “accepted”. As in “Don’t worry about the mean old Vatican or the bishops: we accept you, we love you, you’re welcome here.”
That’s very nice – but who is “we”? I don’t want to be part of a splinter group. I don’t want to belong to a ghetto.
I felt drawn to the serene and contemplative liturgies of a local monastic parish – but I was determined to establish some form of reciprocal relationship from the outset. So I made an appointment with the pastor to introduce myself.
“I feel drawn to this parish,” I told him. “I am a gay man. I respect the teachings of the church, and I understand that Rome must be Rome. But I also seek respect as a gay man. Am I welcome here?”
Without hesitation, he said: “Of course. You’re right. Rome must be Rome. But there is also the doctrine of individual conscience, which is inviolable.”
A light came on for me when he said that.
I understood that there will always be conflict between formal church positions and the daily struggles of individual Catholics – and it’s a healthy tension. The individual conscience is a crucible, where the demands of faith meet the issues of experience, and where each of us work out our salvation. In fear and trembling – yes; but also with courage and joy.
I understood that living the Faith is not a matter of meekly following a bunch of rules written by somebody else, for fear of making a mistake – but rather, a matter of daring to live in a kind of constant conversation with the Spirit. Informed by church teachings of course – since they represent the wisdom of the centuries; but informed also by the challenges and needs and gifts that God gives to me each moment. Informed by who I am, by the unique individual he has created in me.
So I returned – not as a furtive and shamefaced creature, and not as a man gripped by anger at an uncomprehending institution. I returned merely as myself, feeling very much a member of a pilgrim community.”
A “pilgrim community”. So should we all strive to be.