I actually first met Robert when he was presiding at a Dignity Twin Cities liturgy in July 2007. Finding myself intrigued by Old Catholicism, I asked Robert if I could interview him for The Wild Reed. He happily obliged, granting me an extensive and insightful interview which can be found here.
More recently, Robert and his partner John hosted a wonderful “Passover seder meal for Christians” for member and friends of Cornerstone Old Catholic Community – to which I, my housemate Brian, and my friend Kay were invited.
Robert’s currently completing his Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Religion and Theology at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, and has just had his first book published, The Old Catholic Church: Understanding the Origin, Essence, and Theology of a Church that is Unknown and Misunderstood by Many in North America (Apocryphile Press, 2009), described as “one of the most well researched and perceptive expositions of Old Catholic ecclesiology in the English language.”
Despite his busy schedule, I’m happy to say that Robert manages to keep tabs on the goings-on at The Wild Reed, and he was so taken by what Brian McNeill shared in his article “Who Really ‘Disrupted’ the Pentecost Sunday Mass at the Cathedral?” (posted here on June 3), that he asked me if he could write a reflection in response to it. I told him I’d be both honored and thrilled to share his scholarly insights on my blog – something that I do so today.
Who Disrupted the Pentecost Mass
at the Cathedral of St. Paul?
A Brief Reflection
By Rev. Robert Caruso
at the Cathedral of St. Paul?
A Brief Reflection
By Rev. Robert Caruso
Pentecost is a major feast day in the church’s yearly liturgical calendar because it celebrates the full manifestation and revelation of God as Father-Son-Holy Spirit. Some say Pentecost is the “birthday” of the Church; however, I am more inclined to believe the Church was constituted (birthed) at the Annunciation when Mary accepted God’s invitation to bear Jesus the Christ and allowed the Holy Spirit to overshadow her with grace and love. So, Pentecost is indeed a divine revelation, a realization of Christian unity in diversity constituted in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is by the energy of the Spirit that the apostolic community is capable to proclaim Jesus as Lord (1 Cor. 12:3) through the ages unto the end of time (eschatos). The significance of the Pentecost event as described in Acts 2 is the realization in this world of the anticipated fullness of the Kingdom of Heaven. (1) That is to say, Pentecost is the great feast which constitutes the transformation of humanity as being persons united in Christ by the energy of the Spirit amidst their diverse languages, personalities, gender, and (dare I say) sexuality, etc. Pentecost is the beginning of the apostolic age in the proclamation of Christ’s good news to and for the entire world!
This reflection paper concerns itself with an article by Brian McNeill, published June 3, 2009 on Michael Bayly’s blogsite, The Wild Reed. McNeill’s article was about the Rainbow Sash Alliance USA and its local members’ recent attendance at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Paul’s Pentecost Mass celebration. Specifically, this paper intends to reflect on some of McNeill’s thoughts concerning Paul’s letter to the Galatian community (specifically Gal. 5:16-25), the Rainbow Sash Alliance, and his overall questions and observations of what occurred at the St. Paul Cathedral Pentecost liturgy.
Let me begin by stating that I am a gay man who has been in a committed same-sex relationship for twelve-plus years. I am also an ordained Old Catholic priest who serves a small Old Catholic community (Cornerstone Old Catholic Community). (2) Having stated this, I do not, in any manner, officially represent in this essay the community I serve or the Episcopal diocese of MN nor its bishop. I write this paper as a concerned Catholic Christian and gay man.
Galatians 5:16-25 as a Pentecost text
I always find it interesting when the Apostle Paul’s epistles, specifically Galatians 5:16-25 (typically known as “the works of the flesh” passage), is used in a manner that supports bigotry (either directly or indirectly) towards homosexual persons. Indeed, I am compelled to ponder the question of what was Paul trying to communicate in this specific passage, keeping in mind (of course) the whole body of his theological work found in the New Testament canon as we have it today. Why was Galatians 5:16-25 read (instead of 1 Corinthians 12:3-7;12-13) at the recent Pentecost Mass at the St. Paul Cathedral, and why is Galatians 5:16-25 even listed in the Catholic lectionary as an “alternative text” for Pentecost Mass? At first glance, a reading from Galatians 5:16-25 does seem “unusual” or out of place for the Pentecost liturgy; however a closer historical and theological analysis of the text leads one to a better understanding as to why it is indeed relevant to the Pentecost event as described in Acts 2.
First, a brief historical clarification is necessary here if one endeavors to accurately interpret Paul’s letters in the New Testament canon; especially those sections of his letters that have been typically translated and exegeted by some as moral judgments against homosexuality. That is to say, one must always have in mind the historical context Paul’s letters were originally written in, e.g. Paul’s letters come to us already edited – they are not purely from Paul and therefore must be carefully elucidated. Further, Paul himself comes to us already interpreted in that we know he was an educated “Torah-observant Pharisee” (3) (who wrote in Greek, and believed he was called by Christ to be a missionary to the Gentiles or non-Jews). Nothing within the letters of Paul, historically speaking, was addressed to the modern reader; we are, in a sense, reading somebody else’s mail. (4) Exegetically speaking, we must also take into account all of Paul’s letters in New Testament canon when reading and interpreting specific sections of them. That is, one cannot dissect Paul’s letters from each other – they are a corporate body of his thoughts and ideas concerning the relationship of Christ and the Spirit in relation to God the Father and the Church. Lastly, when one reads Paul’s list of “the works of the flesh” in Gal. 5:19-21 its intent is not immediately evident and further contextual elucidation is necessary so to avoid tainting the text by interpolating one’s modern context and moralistic ideology into its meaning.
Most biblical scholars today would agree that the character of Paul’s letter to the Galatian community is apologetic (defensive) in trying to persuade this mostly Gentile community that his apostleship, as well as his gospel message, was authentic and faithful to the teachings of Peter and the other “acknowledged pillars” of the Jewish Jesus-believing communities (Gal. 2:7-9). It is more than evident in the Galatian epistle (as we have it today) that there was much confusion among the members of this community concerning the gospel Paul preached to them about Jesus, the Messiah of Israel. That is, Paul preached a gospel of salvation through the justification of faith in Christ alone; For Paul, Christ is the fulfillment of Israel’s Covenant and its prescribed Law, i.e. male circumcision (Gal. 2:15). Paul taught that faith in Christ is the new justification for salvation from sin and death for all people, Jew and Gentile alike. Some of the original apostles of Jesus (i.e. Peter and James, the Lord’s brother) and their mostly Jewish followers did not necessarily agree with Paul’s justification by faith alone gospel, which caused major problems for Paul and his Gentile communities like the one in Galatia. It is likely that after Paul preached the gospel message at Galatia, other followers from James’ communities may have come over and preached a different gospel message – a message that demanded both Jews and Gentiles still observe the original Covenant of Israel.
To be sure, a letter which no longer exists was probably sent to Paul by the Galatian community informing him that after hearing a different gospel message – one that seemed more authentic than his – they were prepared to disregard his gospel message and probably went so far to even question the authenticity of his ministry as an apostle of Christ. In other words, Paul’s message to the Gentiles of his day – who were aware of the sectarian and faith traditions of the Jewish people of their day – seemed too good to be true! It is only logical that the Gentiles would have to follow the Law of the Covenant made between God and Israel, especially knowing that Jesus was a faithful Jew who knew and followed the prescriptions of the Mosaic Law, and embraced the Temple and its priesthood as the apex of Jewish worship to God (YHWH).
The letter from the Galatian community may have been a scathing message to Paul questioning his apostleship and accusing him of trying to trick them. (5) It is clear in the Galatian epistle that Paul is angry and very defensive; he begins the letter by informing them of his astonishment of how quickly they turned on him (Gal. 1:6), and that those who teach a different gospel than his are doing nothing but confusing them (1:7). Further, Paul curses these persons who preached a gospel contrary to his, and even repeats this curse in the very next sentence stating, “As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed (Gal. 1:9)!” He then moves to defending the authenticity of his apostleship asking the community to whom should he seek approval, human beings or God (1:10)? And even informs them that if his mission was indeed to please people, he would not be a servant of Christ (1:10). Paul even goes so far as to defend his Jewish (Pharisaic) heritage against these others who preach a different gospel by asserting that he was “…far more zealous for the traditions of [his] ancestors (1:13).” He even rebukes Peter openly labeling him and his followers hypocrites for drawing back from eating and drinking with the Gentiles “…for fear of the circumcision faction. (2:12);”and furthermore asks the question of how can the Jesus-believing Jews compel the Jesus believing Gentiles to live like Jews – it makes no sense to Paul (2:14)! Moreover, Paul calls the Galatian community “foolish” and turns the tables in asking who “bewitched” them into believing the Law takes precedent over the crucified and risen Lord (3:1-5).
Something radical, new, and transformative
The point to be made here is that for Paul something radical, new, and transformative had occurred in the world through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Those who have faith and are baptized into Christ Jesus are now intimately related with him in his death and resurrection, so that we no longer live for our selves alone (a/k/a the false-self) but for Christ who is our salvation and justification before God the Father and Creator of all (2 Cor. 5:14-17). Furthermore, Paul informs us that it is the Spirit who actualizes this relationship between Christ, the baptized, and all of creation in a manner that binds them together in a diverse, yet unified organic body where Christ is the head. Salvation in Christ is a corporate reality that ontologically transforms a baptized individual into a relational person through freedom and love (1 Cor. 13:4-7). That is to say, Paul believed that “Christ’s truth is not located in his individuality, but in his ontological personhood. Meaning, Christ is the embodied truth for humanity and all creation…[Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit] is our reality for what it means to be wholly and freely relational with each other and with the Divine. (6)
Paul asserts many times in his letters that Christ is the fulfillment of God’s covenantal relationship with Israel established through Abraham and Sarah (Gen. 17:1-3, 15-21). So, the “work of the flesh” (i.e. male circumcision) that Paul alludes to in Galatians 5:18 was Israel’s instrument, rule, or law that sealed the covenantal promises assured to Abraham and Sarah’s offspring by God (Gen. 17:12-14). Paul’s radical claim in Galatians is that circumcision is no longer needed because in Christ human flesh (sarx) is ontologically transformed in the energy of the Spirit into a relational body (soma) of persons united in their diversity to the glory of God the Father. Faith in Christ voids the necessity of circumcision; “…the only thing that counts is faith working through love (Gal. 5:6).” The fulfillment of God’s promise to remain with Israel for all time is now extended to all in creation through faith in Christ Jesus (3:26-29). Thus the covenant with the God of Israel is no longer an individual’s “work of the flesh” – for the flesh of the false-self is indeed opposed to the relational energy of the Spirit – but is rather a corporate reality of related persons baptized and sealed in Christ manifested in this world as unified and diverse organic body constituted in the Holy Spirit to the glory of the God the Father (a/k/a the local Church catholic).
Now that we have a better, albeit concise, historical and theological background of Paul’s epistle to the Galatians we can begin to understand why Galatians 5:16-25 is actually a very relevant passage to read at the Pentecost liturgy. Recall that Pentecost is the great feast which constitutes the transformation of humanity as related persons united in Christ by the energy of the Spirit amidst their diversity. Paul’s “works of the flesh” litany in Galatians 5:19-21 has nothing to do with homosexuality and/or same-sex acts, but rather alludes to the sole focus of the self and not on the other. That is, the “works of the flesh” is what inevitably occurs when one ceases to be a relational person and digresses into the illusion of depending on one’s self for all things (i.e. the false-self). This occurs because the false-self has no care for others, and views them as individual commodities for one’s usage and/or pleasure. The idealized “I” replaces God and is naturally opposed to anything genuinely relational or “of the Spirit.” Living by the Spirit is living for oneself as well as for others in Christ Jesus – it is living in the relational essence of what Martin Buber philosophically coined as the “I & Thou” of what constitutes authentic personhood.
Living by the Spirit
What is interesting about the usage of Galatians 5:16-25 at the Pentecost Mass is not so much the litany of “the works of the flesh”, but of Paul’s assertion to “live by the Spirit (Gal.1:1).” How does one “live by the Spirit?” I do not believe Paul’s assertion here lies in some superfluous moralistic way of living, but is rather a claim based on one’s being (ontology) as a baptized person and member of Christ’s body constituted in the Spirit in all its diversity. To live in the Spirit means one must exude agapē or service oriented love toward others in Christ’s name; to live by the Spirit means we are united because of our differences in freedom and mutual service toward each other and all creation. Our differences are gifts of the Spirit when they are used to honor and support the body as a whole (1Cor. 12:4-13)! Paul’s insight of “living by the Spirit” is much more than a pseudo-Gnostic duality of good (spirit) versus evil (flesh, matter). The “mortification” of the flesh is not some grotesque medieval self-infliction of pain. Mortification of the flesh, in its more profound sense, occurs when we humans begin to understand our “selves” as relational beings, as the very image of God’s being as communion. Paul speaks to this post-Pentecost reality of the baptized as being in communion with God and all of creation through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let us now turn to the final question that generated this reflection to begin with. Who disrupted the Pentecost Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul on May 31, 2009? Brian McNeill asks his readers the following questions:
Now that Pentecost is over, I think it is fair to ask the question who disrupted the noon liturgy? Was it the thirty people who quietly and prayerfully were present as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Catholics? Or was it Archbishop Nienstedt and Fr. Adams who perhaps chose the Galatians text for the specific purpose of bearing false witness against us? Who perhaps intentionally opted for the alternative reading from Galatians because it served their sectarian and political purposes, to make their point, and discredit the wearers of the Rainbow Sash as disruptive protesters? (7)
Keeping in mind all that has been stated thus far about Paul’s understanding of humanity, Christ and the Spirit, God and the Church, I would like to try and briefly answer Brian’s questions quoted above.
Sexuality: gift of the Spirit
The wearers of the rainbow sash make the claim that the sash is a symbol of celebration, presumably of one’s homosexual identity. I commend the wearers of the rainbow sash in trying to honor gays and lesbians in this way because the Roman Church, as well as society at large, has done much to discredit and abuse gays and lesbians in various ways. I celebrate the fact that gay men and lesbian women are no longer tolerating the Roman Church’s bigoted and abusive attitude toward them, and refuse to believe that their sexual identity is “objectively disordered.” (8)
I believe in my heart of hearts that human sexuality is a complex part of one’s ontological nature, and is yet another gift of the Spirit who values and honors the beauty of diversity in forming unity within the body of Christ. The Roman Church condemns same-sex relationships generally speaking, and in doing so casts such persons out of the body of Christ by refusing them Eucharist at Mass. In essence, the Roman Church claims it does not exile gays and lesbians, who are indeed children of God, based upon their ontological make-up as human beings because (again generally speaking) Roman doctrine is clear in stating that the Church does not condemn homosexual persons, only their active (sexual) relationships with one another. (9) How is this language not abusive and contradicting?
That is to say, if a homosexual person wants to remain Roman Catholic and be able to fully participate in the celebration of Holy Eucharist, he or she must masochistically deny their very nature (their very being) as secondary, unimportant, objectively morbid and naturally unable to experience God’s Shalom (wholeness, peace and joy) in life. This is not only antithetical to the eucharistic life of Catholics, but also a diminution of the Holy Spirit – the third Person of the Holy Triune. The Roman Church’s official teaching concerning gays and lesbians fails to instill hope (resurrection) to these persons who are members of Christ’s body and children of God, and it devalues the Holy Spirit, who is the Giver of Life, into a Gnostic and mechanistic instrument of moral mortification towards the very flesh Christ came to redeem in all its beautiful diversity!
The celebration of Eucharist (a/k/a the Mass) is the source and summit of the Christian faith because within the act of leitourgia the body of Christ is manifested corporally in the assembly of the laos (the baptized: lay and ordained) as well as substantially and truly in the Sacrament of the Altar-Table. The Spirit is what unifies us in our baptism, and the celebration of Eucharist is the manifestation of this baptismal unity in diversity, where the gifts of the Spirit are shared in Christ to the glory of God the Father. Our baptismal identity is what unites us amidst our diversity, and our unity is manifested in a most profound way through the shared celebration of Eucharist on the local level. In baptism, one enters into a transformative relationship with Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, and from that point on all other titles of honor, race, class, gender, sexuality, etc. become secondary. That is, all our other identities (i.e. gender, sexuality, ethnicity, class, wealth, etc.) culminate in our one baptismal and eucharistic identity through, with, and in Christ; in the unity of the Holy Spirit; to the praise, laud and thanksgiving of the Creator of all! Thus God’s very being as communion is what unites us in all our diversity through the grace-filled waters of baptism, and “…at the celebration of Eucharist we become known to each other primarily through our ecclesial [eucharistic] identity – the mark of our baptism in Christ’s paschal mystery.” (10)
The honoring of others at Eucharist lies in the assembly’s hospitable attitude towards all in attendance. When the baptized gather to celebrate Eucharist with each other it is Christ who unites them in the Spirit for the meal of love. Therefore, our baptismal and eucharistic identity is Christian; not gay or lesbian, male or female, rich or poor Christians, but just Christian. The problem is when the church begins distinguishing and selecting those who are and those who are not worthy to be part of the eucharistic assembly. Catholics who are of homosexual orientation mourn the fact that the Roman Church views them as second-class members of Christ’s body, and have tried in various ways for the church to respect and honor their full personhood (sexuality and all) in the life of the organic church. Unfortunately, they have been met with animosity, judgment, and are labeled as “outsiders” and “disrupters” of the church’s celebration of the Holy Eucharist.
A two-fold disruption
The disruption that occurred at the St. Paul Cathedral’s Pentecost liturgy, in my opinion, was two-fold in that Fr. Adams, as the presider of the Pentecost Eucharist, did not exude a Christ-like character of hospitality, care and compassion towards certain members of Christ’s body; whereas the rainbow sash wearers seemed more attuned to celebrating their sexuality rather than the unity of the local Church at Eucharist. The disruption by Fr. Adams is obvious in that he failed to show genuine care towards those considered inferior within the local body of Christ. His focus seemed more intent on implementing the law rather than the faith of the church.
The rainbow sash worn by Catholic homosexuals and their supporters really has no place within the celebration of Holy Eucharist because the focus should not be about celebrating one’s sexuality, but rather about uniting one’s personhood (sexual orientation included) with the gathered assembly in holy communion with the Triune God and creation. The Christian homosexual identity is much more than just the individual! The baptized are all children of God and members of the diverse body of Christ, and some of these members happen to be gay and lesbian, not by their choosing but by their very God-given nature. That is, we are gay with or without our sash, and we can honor our sexuality with or without a sash. Paul tells the community at Corinth, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it (1 Cor.12:27).” He further states that “…God has so arranged the body, giving greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body…(12:24),” which tells me that it is because of the church’s failure to understand Paul’s assertion here that Christian gay and lesbian persons are compelled to wear sashes, so to maintain a sense of self-worth in their ecclesial identity (e.g. wearing rainbow sashes at Mass); a quality that has been severally damaged by the doctrines of the Roman Church.
This paper has reflected on some of Brian McNeill’s thoughts in his article concerning Paul’s letter to the Galatian community (specifically Gal. 5:16-25), the Rainbow Sash Alliance, and his overall description/opinion of what occurred at the recent St. Paul Cathedral Mass on Pentecost. Specifically, it has elucidated that the above Galatians passage is indeed a profound text to read and preach on for the Pentecost liturgy, and supported this assertion through a concise historical and theological exgesis of the Apostle Paul and his letter to the Galatians. Lastly, I briefly focus on answering this essay’s question by theologically reflecting on what it means to live as the body of Christ in connection with the celebration of Eucharist on the local level. I will end here in quoting Old Catholic theologian, ecumenist, and professor at the University of Bern, Switzerland, Urs von Arx, he states:
Communion is not only an encounter between Christ and the individual believer (this aspect has shaped much of our eucharistic piety), but more importantly a community building event integrating each believer in the communal fellowship of brothers and sisters in Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 11:29) (11)
1. John D. Zizioulas, Being As Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985), 112.
2. Cornerstone Old Catholic Community is the presiding chapter of the Christian Community of Old Catholics and Episcopalians, and is affiliated with the Episcopal Church, USA as an observing member of the National Association of Episcopal Christian Communities (NAECC). It should be made clear that Cornerstone, including myself, is not affiliated in any way with the independent Old Catholic groups that currently exist in North America. Our Christian Community’s vision is to foster the 1931 Bonn Agreement (full) communion standards between the Old Catholics of the Union of Utrecht and the Anglican Communion, i.e. the Episcopal Church, USA. Meaning, our community views the Episcopal Church as the local Church universal in the USA and affiliates its school of eucharistic spirituality and apostolic ministries within the order of this church polity in North America.
3. See Marilyn J. Salmon, Preaching Without Contempt: Overcoming Unintended Anti-Judaism (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006), esp. p. 91; and Acts 23:6-9 (NRSV).
4. John H. Hayes and Carl R. Holladay, Biblical Exegesis: A Beginner’s Handbook, rev. ed. (Louisville; London: Westminister John Knox Press, 1973), 14-15.
5. Professor of Religious Studies at Macalester College, Calvin J. Roetzel, informs us that in contrast to Peter and James, “…Paul’s claim to be an apostle was weak and his gospel suspect. He was no disciple. He had not known Jesus “according to the flesh.” His gospel, therefore, came not directly from Jesus but from other sources (human?). He had once been the persecutor of the church, seeking to eradicate it. His gospel had previously been challenged in Philippi. And, in view of some his commission and gospel appeared to be totally dependent on human, not divine, sources. Calvin J. Roetzel, Paul: The Man and the Myth (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1999), 48.
6. Robert W. Caruso, The Old Catholic Church: Understanding the Origin, Essence, and Theology of a Church that is Unknown and Misunderstood by Many in North America (Berkeley, CA: Apocryphile Press, 2009), 53.
7. Brian McNeill, “Who Really ‘Disrupted’ the Pentecost Sunday Mass at the Cathedral?” The Wild Reed, 3 June 2009; Internet; accessed 7 June 2009.
8. Daniel A. Helminiak, Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth (New York, NY: Harrington Park Press, 2006), 147.
10. Caruso, 85.
11. Urs von Arx, Unity and Communion, Mystical and Visible in Towards Further Convergence: Anglican and Old Catholic Ecclesiologies ed. Urs von Arx, et al., Internationale Kirchliche Zeitschrift 96 (2006), 168.
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Old Catholic Church: Catholicism Beyond Rome
The Declaration of Utrecht
Recommended Off-site Link:
One Archdiocesan Community, Two Mindsets - Paula Ruddy (Progressive Catholic Voice, June 1, 2009).