Saturday, March 17, 2007

Trusting God's Generous Invitation

A Reflection on Archbishop Flynn’s denial of Eucharist to attendees of New Ways Ministry’s Sixth National Symposium on Catholicism and Homosexuality, Minneapolis, March 16-18, 2007.

One of the hymns I grew up with in Australia was Come As You Are by Fr. Paul Gurr. It’s just a simple little hymn, but its message packs quite a wallop:

Come as you are, that’s how I want you.
Come as you are, feel quite at home.
Close to my heart, loved and forgiven.
Come as you are, why stand alone?

Of course, for the majority of my high school friends, the idea of not being accepted for who you are never crossed their minds. It was different for me, however, as at age fourteen I realized (or, more accurately, feared) that I was gay.

Later, when I was in college, there was a popular billboard campaign that featured a presumably naked man luxuriating in the sinuous white folds of Sheridan bed sheets. I can recall casting furtive glances at this image and being aware that it stirred within me powerful forces of both desire and bitterness.

Yes, bitterness. For you see, I was a Catholic and the Vatican had just released a new document that made it clear that my desire to experience love and physical intimacy with another man was “intrinsically disordered.” And if I were to dare act on this deep longing, which then, as now, I truly did experience as “intrinsic” (the Church at least got that part right) I would be committing a “mortal sin.” I’d be damned. My future life seemed so bleak and hopeless.

Yet still the words of that hymn from my childhood stayed with me – like a warm, indestructible light flickering deep within. It restored my hope, and perhaps even saved my life.

No need to fear, love sets no limits.
No need to fear, love never ends.
Don’t run away shamed and disheartened.
Rest in my love. Trust me again.

I’ve come a long way – geographically and spiritually – since those days as a young, closeted gay man. But I’m still a Catholic – a Catholic gay man. Yet, like the vast majority of gay men, I don’t fit either of the dehumanizing stereotypes promoted by some within my Church; I am neither a martyr to celibacy nor an irreligious hedonist consumed by promiscuity.

I also know that the words of that simple hymn have nurtured me on my long journey of self-discovery and acceptance, and that they continue to speak more truth about what it means to be Catholic – gay or straight – than any document put forth by the Vatican.

Indeed, years of prayer, study, and just plain living have told me that, on the matter of homosexuality, the Vatican is wrong. It’s that simple. Despite this, my faith in the spirit of compassion, the spirit of generous welcome and inclusion at the heart of Catholicism, has never wavered. Through long years of struggle I’ve come to trust this spirit, this transforming love of God within each one of us. To me, this love should be what we’re all about as Catholics.

That’s why it’s been so painful to hear of Archbishop Harry Flynn’s recent directive informing New Ways Ministry that it does not have his “permission” to celebrate Eucharist at its Sixth National Symposium on Catholicism and Homosexuality, and to hear of the symposium organizers’ decision to comply with this directive and deny communion to the 500 people in attendance.

Jesus is very clear about Eucharist: He says, “Take and eat.” I’m troubled when we start putting conditions on this generous invitation. Denying communion fails to emulate the generosity of Jesus, fails to resound the “come as you are” invitation of our loving God. It’s never an act of pastoral care, and if our bishops are to be anything, they should be pastoral – especially towards those already marginalized by society.

For despite Will and Grace, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and all those other rather superficial acknowledgments of homosexuality offered by our culture, gay people continue to be denied many basic rights. It’s a great shame when our Church leaders decide to deny them their basic rights as baptized Catholics as well. The Catholic Church should be bigger than that.

Come as you are, that’s how I love you.
Come as you are, trust me again.
Nothing can change the love that I bear you.
All will be well.
Just come as you are.

With all respect to Archbishop Flynn and the organizers of the symposium, I have to say that it was a serious misstep in our shared journey as Catholics to deny communion to symposium participants. These are Catholics who have struggled mightily to come to a place where, in good conscience and with their integrity intact, they can proclaim their truth as Catholics guided by God’s spirit of compassion discerned in their lives.

I invite the archbishop to take steps to heal the wounds brought about by the unfortunate decision to deny communion. Perhaps a special Mass of healing and reconciliation could be held to which all Catholics – gay and straight – would be welcomed and accepted; an invitation free of questions, judgments, conditions.

Instead, there would simply be an abundance of trust in God’s ability to inspire any necessary change in people’s lives through such a warm and generous welcome.

And if there’s any uncertainty about what music to use at communion time, I know the perfect hymn.


Although the Minneapolis Star Tribune declined to publish my reflection on Archbishop Flynn’s denial of Eucharist, the following letter from my friend Brian McNeill was published by the paper yesterday.

Inconsistent Flynn

Who's confusing Catholics? In the Sept. 9, 2004, edition of the Catholic Spirit, Archbishop Harry Flynn, in the article "Eucharist: a Source of Healing and Unity," stated with respect to Catholic politicians receiving communion: "It is my strong belief that the Eucharist is a source of healing and unity and that it should not be an occasion for political scrutinizing and judgments. As a bishop, I am committed to engaging the laity in transforming the world. It is my hope that the teachings of the church will assist Catholics to examine the positions of candidates and make choices based on Catholic moral and social teaching. But I do not believe that it is my responsibility or anyone else's responsibility to pass judgment on Catholics as they proceed to the Communion table."

Since its founding, New Ways Ministry, which is sponsoring a symposium today in Bloomington on gay Catholics, has been utterly consistent in its position that it is trying to build bridges between GBLT Catholics and the hierarchy.

Flynn has decided he will not allow any priest or bishop to preside at a Eucharistic liturgy during this conference (Star Tribune, March 14). "I am concerned that this symposium may well cause significant confusion to members of the faithful in this archdiocese, as well as others who have knowledge of it," he said.

It is confusing to Catholics when their archbishop first says he will not pass judgment on Catholics coming to the altar to receive communion in 2004, and then in 2007 refuses communion to 500 Catholics attending a conference in Bloomington who have done nothing more than listen to some speakers with whom he has some differences.

Brian McNeill, Minneapolis;
president, Dignity Twin Cities

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
News Ways Ministry Symposium in the News, Again
In the News
“Receive What You Are, the Body of Christ”
Who Gets to be Called “Catholic” - and Why?
My Rainbow Sash Experience
Reflections on the Primacy of Conscience
The Question of an “Informed” Catholic Conscience
A Catholic’s Prayer for His Fellow Pilgrim, Benedict XVI
Casanova-Inspired Reflections on Papal Power - at 30,000 Ft.
Beyond a PC Pope
Authentic Catholicism: An Antidote to Clericalism


Dan said...

Thank you for your thoughtful reflection. I am also a Catholic, but do not share your views on homosexuality.

And if I were to dare act on this deep longing, which then, as now, I truly did experience as “intrinsic” (the Church at least got it half right) I would be committing a “mortal sin.” I’d be damned. My future life seemed so bleak and hopeless.

You state that you disagree that this "deep longing" is disordered and that the Vatican is wrong for condemning homosexual intimacy. I'm sure that you, as do I, have many other interior desires that you do not act upon because you believe them to be wrong. Why is this desire singled out as good, contra the traditional Christian teaching? How do you tell the good from the bad?

I’m troubled when we start putting conditions on this generous invitation. Denying communion fails to emulate the generosity of Jesus, fails to resound the “come as you are” invitation of our loving God.

But Jesus himself set conditions. It is true that he invites each and every sinner to experience loving communion with him no matter what we've done. But we must first repent of our sins.

Luke 15:1-7
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them." So he told them this parable: "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

The call to repentance implies the existence of certain habits that must be rejected as incompatible with following Jesus. Again I ask, how do you tell the good habits from the bad ones?

Elsewhere Jesus says, Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. ... For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. (Mt 9:13) Do you you really think Jesus taught "just come as you are" and don't worry about changing how you live? Where is that in the gospels? Are there NO ways of living that Jesus would disapprove of?

A physician shows true love for his patient by making them well, not by uttering nice words and giving him a hug.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Dan,

Thanks for stopping by The Wild Reed and sharing your perspective.

You asked: “How do you tell the good [teachings] from the bad?

First, I wouldn’t use the term “bad,” but rather “inadequate.” These inadequate (or poorly thought through) teachings don’t lead to either individual or communal flourishing. In other words, for the vast majority of LGBT people, these teachings don’t lead to that “fullness of life” talked about by our brother Jesus.

Gay people who accept who they are, view their sexuality as a sacred gift, and share this gift with another through a loving relationship, flourish as people. And healthy, happy, and flourishing people contribute to a healthy, happy, and flourishing church and society. The Church’s teaching fails to reflect this truth.

Thus these teachings are inadequate as they fail to draw on people’s lived experience of God in their lives and relationships. They also fail to draw from the findings of science – including the social sciences. Because of this failure these teachings do not inspire or give hope. How could they when they’re so inadequately formulated and expressed? LGBT folks (and others) instinctively sense this about these particular teachings and, as a result, dissent from them, trusting instead their experiences of God’s love discerned in their lives and relationships. Such dissent is an act of integrity. Such trust is an act of faith.

You ask: “How do you tell the good habits from the bad ones?”

Again, it’s all about what they lead to. And to ascertain the truth about this, you have to be prepared to talk and listen to those who are actually engaging in what you’re terming “habits.” In formulating and developing its teachings on homosexuality, the Vatican has closed itself off from the Spirit by its refusal to listen to the experiences and wisdom of science and of LGBT people themselves.

You ask: “Are there NO ways of living that Jesus would disapprove of?”

Of course there are, and they’re to do with acting in ways that dehumanize and objectify one self and others. In the realm of human sexuality, anyone – gay or straight – is capable of such “ways of living” (not that I’d call them really “living”!) Yet at the same time both gay and straight people can choose to live and love through their sexualities in life-giving, caring, and respectful ways. Such ways led to lives and relationships of awareness, compassion, integrity, and wholeness. They also lead to that individual and communal flourishing, that fullness of life, I spoke of earlier.



P.S. Don't underestimate the healing power of affirming words and a hug!