Sunday, May 25, 2008

Celebrating and Embodying Divine Hospitality

Reflections on Corpus Christi Sunday

Because Eucharist is first and foremost the celebration of the divine hospitality made present to us in the person of Jesus, it is an action which addresses every form of inhospitality in our world, confronting it with the image of what might be and ought to be.

. . . At its simplest level of sharing of food, the Eucharist signals that in God’s world there is room for all. We are therefore challenged to solve the problems of the world by sharing, not by eliminating . . . We are called upon to ask ourselves what it is we are celebrating in the Eucharist if we are willing to exclude others from God’s hospitality to the extent of considering [them] expendable.

[Jesus] chose quite explicitly and deliberately to right the wrongs of society not by killing others but by a non-violent challenge which made him vulnerable to the point of his own death. It is this that we celebrate, and it is this that we are invited to share: the conviction that there is a better way than war and force, and that is a way of truth, community, dedication, compassion, and self-gift.

Monika Hellwig


Today we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, and one of the reading at the liturgy I attended this morning with the St. Stephen’s Park House Community was the above excerpt from theologian Monika Hellwig’s book, The Eucharist and the Hunger of the World.

I was quite moved by Hellwig’s articulation of the meaning of Eucharist and the profound implications of this meaning. Eucharist, says Hellwig, is “first and foremost the celebration of the divine hospitality.” Accordingly, “in God’s world there is room for all.”

A different message

Two weeks ago, however, I and over fifty other people received a very different message at the Cathedral of St. Paul.

Why? Because we were wearing a rainbow sash, a symbol that proclaims we recognize and celebrate our lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) sexuality as a gift from God. Wearing such a symbol ensured that we were scoldingly informed (twice!) by the presiding priest that there was no room for us. We were denied participation in the Eucharist. We were excluded; effectively eliminated as people of conscience and as believers capable of helping the Church develop and grow toward the fullness of divine truth.

And don’t think for a moment, my friends, that such development and growth isn’t possible, or that we as LGBT Catholics cannot and do not have a role to play in such development and growth. For as the Vatican II document Dei Verbum reminds us: “Growth in the understanding of the realities” [of our developing tradition] . . . happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, . . . through the intimate understanding of spiritual things they experience.” And like our heterosexual brothers and sisters, we LGBT people can and do experience our sexuality and its expression in profoundly spiritual ways.

The preaching of the clergy has its role in the development of our Catholic tradition as well, of course. Yet notice how Dei Verbum, this foundational document of Vatican II, places the understanding of believers before the preaching of the hierarchy. This ordering has been interpreted by many as signifying a momentous development in the Church’s self-understanding and in its understanding of divine revelation. (It’s a development that, to my mind, recognizes and accommodates in a much more intentional manner that “better way” of Jesus identified by Hellwig and marked by “truth, community, dedication, compassion, and self-gift.”)

Yet sadly, there are many, especially within the hierarchy, who have chosen to resist or even deny this change, this development. As a result, we are experiencing great tensions and problems within the Church.


Monika Hellwig reminds us that Jesus challenges us to solve the problems of the world not by eliminating, excluding, and killing others, but by sharing. If, for instance, we could but share more equitably the resources of the world, just think of how problems such as hunger, war, and terrorism would be lessened, perhaps even resolved.

In a similar way, I strongly believe that Jesus challenges us to solve the problems of our Church, not by eliminating and excluding others (thankfully, killing others is no longer an option!), but by sharing with one another. For example, I believe that if we could all be allowed to openly share our experiences of God in our lives and relationships then the teachings on sexuality that exclude and hurt so many would change and expand so as to embody the life-giving wisdom and compassion of the entire Body of Christ.

Our teachings would become ones informed by and reflective of inclusion rather than exclusion; they would reflect, in their formulation and articulation, the “divine hospitality” we celebrate today, Corpus Christi Sunday.


For this to happen, of course, the members of the hierarchy would need to be open to listening to the stories and experiences of God’s presence in the lives of all – including the lives and experiences of LGBT people.

At the national and international levels of the Church, such listening on the part of the hierarchy is yet to take place. For instance, in preparing and writing its 2006 document, “Pastoral Care Guidelines for Those Ministering to Persons with a Homosexual Orientation,” the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops failed to consult a single LGBT person. (See the previous Wild Reed posts, When Guidelines Lack Guidance and Be Not Afraid: You Can Be Happy and Gay).

Here in the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis, my experience at the cathedral two weeks ago leaves me feeling that listening to LGBT persons is beyond the capability of many within the hierarchy of the local Church. Also disheartening is the message being sent in recent months by the chancery that dialogue about LGBT issues will not be tolerated either on Catholic property or in the pages of the archdiocese newspaper.

Yet I remain ever hopeful, valiantly hopeful, in fact. After all, Jesus promised us the Spirit, and I believe and trust that this Spirit of transformation is working throughout the entire Church. I believe that it is ceaselessly working to transform the members and the structures of our Church so that they become living embodiments of divine grace, guidance, and hospitality; living manifestations of God’s world where, as Monika Hellwig reminds us, there is “room for all.”

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Trusting God’s Generous Invitation
Better Late Than Never
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth
Listen Up, Papa!
A Catholic’s Prayer for His Fellow Pilgrim, Benedict XVI
“Receive What You Are, the Body of Christ” – Reflections on the Eucharist
“Take, All of You, and Eat” – Communion and the Rainbow Sash (Part I)
“Take, All of You, and Eat” – Communion and the Rainbow Sash (Part II)
“Take, All of You, and Eat” – Communion and the Rainbow Sash (Part III)
Donning the Rainbow Sash
My Rainbow Sash Experience
What the Vatican Can Learn from the X-Men
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
Corpus Christi
Truth About “Spirit of Vatican II” Finally Revealed!
Reading the Documents of Vatican II (Part 1)
Reading the Documents of Vatican II (Part 2)
Reading the Documents of Vatican II (Part 3)

Recommended Off-site Links:
In Memorium: Monika Hellwig -
Woodstock Report (November 2005, No. 83).
Goergetown University Theologiam Catholic Activist Monika Hellwig Dies - Patricia Sullivan (
Washington Post, October 6, 2005).


Tc said...

I wish that I could be so hopeful. As it is, sadly, I'm shopping.

Pax et bonum.

Unknown said...


What is there about the obsessive narcissism of homosexuals that compels them to wear rainbow sashes and boast about their mortal sins and their refusal to change?

I was there. Let's say that there were 500 people at that noon Mass at the Cathedral. You can be certain that there were far more people present who were using contraceptives, far more who were engaging in extra-marital sex, and far more drunks and drug takers/abusers.

These activities are every bit mortal sins as engaging in homosexual activities. And when asked, they could give many reasons for why they can not stop engaging in those behaviors.

But they are not driven to wearing sashes and demanding that the Church remove their sins from the list of forbidden practices.

You know as well as anybody that if those 50 homosexuals had removed their sashes and walked up to receive Holy Communion, not one word would have been said. If they had kept their sashes on and remained in their pews, not one word would have been said.

The word hypocrites comes to mind.

The Church has clearly stated that wearing a sash while receiving a sacrament is forbidden. "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven."

Anonymous said...


I'm a heterosexual woman, one of many heterosexual men and women, who wore a rainbow sash on Pentecost at the Cathedral.

I was there because I think it is a crippling failure of love to call homosexual sex per se "intrinsically disordered." I think it is the same kind of blindness to human value that the scribes and the Pharisees had in Jesus' time. It makes me ashamed and grieved that the Catholic Church does not reassess its moral teaching on homosexuality as well as its attitudes toward women. Both cause a lot of spiritual suffering.

Perhaps you do not experience the pain of being discounted. I'm thankful that you don't. But could you try to imagine yourself in the shoes of those who do feel that pain and try to empathize with us a little?

It is perhaps understandable that hierarchy, the people who have power to change policy, do not feel the spiritual pain of being denied sexual expression. They have freely chosen celibacy as a way of life that has given them all the satisfactions of success in the institution and in their ministries

It is quite different to have normal loving sexual expression interdicted under pain of mortal sin. It doesn't fit with Gospel values, does it? We want the hierarchy to think about this. That is why we are present and visible. Do you still think it is boasting about mortal sin?


John said...

"What is "intrinsically disordered" for Catholics is sex outside of marriage, whether by heterosexuals or by homosexuals."

So it's not a mortal sin, then.

As long as one has permission of the civil authorities?

Marriage is legal for gays in quite a few jurisdictions.

Anonymous said...

Have the California Bishops' Conference made their recommendation on the November initiative to reverse inclusive marriage in California? Will they join the other Hebraist institutions requiring marriage be between opposite sex only? Will they excommunicate the Gov and Maria for supporting inclusive marriage?

The days when California's bishops could repudiate Proposition 6 are very different days today. Then, justice, equality, benevolence were the Church's core teaching. Todays it is SEX, SEX, SEX and reproduction given over to the Keys to the Kingdom. I bet half the bishops don't recall Gaudium et spes any longer, assuming they ever did. They did away of Hunthausen, Weakland, Quinn, and anyone who did not lockstep with the Pope. So much for "collegiality."