Monday, July 08, 2013

Catholic Priest Explains Why He Intends Participating in Seattle's Gay Pride Parade

Note: The following by Rev. John D. Whitney, S.J. was published last month in the parish newsletter of St. Joseph Catholic Church, Seattle, where Whitney serves as pastor. Given the U.S. church hierarchy's recent history of hostile and often punitive responses to those who speak out on LGBT issues in ways that show respect for LGBT persons and their experience, Whitney is to be commended for his courageous words and actions. I called St. Joseph's this afternoon and found out that Fr. Whitney and members of the community did indeed participate in Seattle's Gay Parade on Sunday, June 30, the same day, incidentally, that Catholics in Minnesota participated in the Twin Cities Gay Pride Festival and Parade.

Why Am I In the Parade?

You know that it is unlawful for a Jewish man
to associate with, or visit, a Gentile, but God has shown me
that I should not call any person profane or unclean.

- Acts of the Apostles, 10:28

When he enters the home of the Roman centurion, Cornelius, St. Peter has no clear idea what God is asking of him. Certainly, he is aware of the dream he had, in which God seemed to remove the dietary restrictions associated with the Jewish Law; but what does Cornelius and his household have to do with this dream? Only gradually does the Spirit reveal to him – as leader of the Church – that God has already changed the world and that Peter is now being called to give witness to God’s action by welcoming the Gentiles, as they are, into the fullness of communion in the Church. Not called to create this communion (indeed, before he can baptize Cornelius or his household, God sends the Holy Spirit upon them, making the baptism a response to, not a source of, God’s grace), Peter’s role is one of witness to the widening circle of love whose true origin is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and whose sign is the power of the Holy Spirit. The head of the apostles is called to testify that God’s grace is greater than the members of the Church can hope or imagine, and that their understanding of the Church must continue to develop as the mystery of God’s redemptive love continues to be revealed in all of nature and in every culture. What surprises Peter, what will become a starting point for Paul, and what continues to challenge the Church even today is how vast the mercy of God is, a mercy that denies the notion that anything which is human can be profane; a mercy that encompasses every human heart, every aspect of human nature.

The notion that all of nature is redeemed by the Incarnation of God in Christ is the source of the evangelical mission of the Church and the core of the Christian sense of Natural Law. If the Spirit of God has made all things holy – the whole natural order – than all people are called to salvation, by virtue of their nature; and it is the work of the Church to notify all people of the inheritance in which we all share. In other words, as Christians we are both the heirs of God’s grace and the executors of God’s will; i.e., we are chosen in love and called by love to tell others that they, too, are chosen and loved, not because they can become like us but because they already are like God. Even though, through the gospel, we preach repentance, we do not preach the renunciation of nature but the embrace and affirmation of each person’s truest self: our nature is God’s grace in us, and sin is its denial. Or, as St. Ireneus put it, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive, and the life of the human person is the vision of God.”

On June 30, Seattle will host a Pride Parade as an affirmation of the value and rights of homosexual women and men. Like many such parades around the United States and the world, the Seattle Pride Parade arose as a means by which members of the community – both gay and straight – could signal their unwillingness to accept the subjugation and oppression of homosexual persons. After centuries in which homosexuality was viewed as a moral failure and homosexuals faced arrest, imprisonment, and even death (e.g., the offensive term, “faggot,” is rooted in the historical phenomenon where homosexuals were burned like piles of wood, in punishment for their way of being), such parades have become a means by which the dignity of homosexuals can be asserted.

Last year, for the first time, members of the St. Joseph community marched in the Pride Parade to indicate our solidarity with and respect for our homosexual sisters and brothers. Like Peter entering the house of Cornelius, it was a moment that would be considered unlawful and scandalous to those who see members of this community as profane or unclean; yet, for me, and I believe for others who chose to be present in this march, it was a moment of grace, when we could witness the power of the Holy Spirit moving in this community, so often alienated from the Church of Christ.

Was there sin at the Pride Parade, as some who object to marching say? Certainly, there was. I have yet to enter a street where sin is not present – not even when I walk by myself. Yet, if sin abounds, grace overflows all the more (Romans 5:20). People cheered to see the banner of St. Joseph Parish and came forward, sometimes with tears in their eyes, speaking of their longing to feel welcomed again in the Church, in the Catholic faith of their childhood and of their heart. Some, eventually, became part of the St. Joseph community, and have found, at last, the sense of Church they sought – gathering around the altar not only with people who share their nature or character, but with people of all types and persuasions. All of us sinners, all of us saved by the same grace planted in our nature and redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ.

This year, I am going to the Pride Parade again, and I have supported St. Joseph’s presence in it, as well. I have who seek to live faithfully in the way that God has made them and the Spirit has called them. I am going to support the mothers and fathers, the sisters and brothers, the friends and companions of our gay and lesbian parishioners, who have pride in their daughters and sons and who long to have them feel loved and welcomed at the table of Christ and in the body of the Church. I am going to evangelize, to bear witness, by my presence and, if needed, by my words, that the Catholic Church, founded by Christ, is not a place of hatred and rejection; but a communion of loved sinners called in humility to grow and learn through the grace of the Holy Spirit. I am going to the parade because I want to enter the house of Cornelius, where I have already seen the signs of the Spirit; because I want those in whose very nature is God’s blessing, to know that Christ longs for them with mercy and with love, asking them not to hide or reject their natural identity, but to see in that identity a way home to God. done so not out of opposition to anyone; but, rather, in support of the sisters and brothers of our community.

– Rev. John D. Whitney, S.J.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:

A Catholic Presence at Pride
LGBT Catholics Celebrate Being "Wonderfully Made"
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth
Choosing to Stay
Trusting God's Generous Invitation
Knowing What to Do, Knowing Why to Stay
Compassion, Christian Community, and Homosexuality
The Gifts of Homosexuality
Gay People and the Spiritual Life
Be Not Afraid, You Can Be Happy and Gay
A Catholic Statement of Support for Marriage Equality
Catholic Theologian: "Heterosexism, Not Homosexuality, is the Problem"

Related Off-site Links:
Catholic Parish Marches in Portland Pride Parade Despite Archbishop’s Prohibition – Francis DeBernardo (Bondings 2.0, June 16, 2013).
Homosexual Relationships: Another Look – Bill Hunt (The Progressive Catholic Voice, September 8, 2012).
One Courageous Catholic Priest – Mark Silk ( via The Progressive Catholic Voice, October 19, 2012).


Unknown said...

He probably hasn't been a real Catholic for a long time, like many Jesuits. But they don't leave the Church because if they do, they know that nobody at all would be interested in anything they have to say.

So they continue to take money and physical support under false pretenses.

Gerard-Mpls. said...

Ray, Regarding gay issues, I invite you to cast your heavy burden on the Christ within and you will go free, Be liberated from nasty, snarky rhetoric and try to love your neighbor as yourself. —Gerard, Mpls.

Anonymous said...

Good grief, Ray. Does showing Christian compassion to a group of people that are despised by some mean that someone isn't a "real Catholic"? If this priest had said that gay people were evil and "disordered" and should be shunned would that satisfy you? Do you really find gay people so offensive?


McAuley said...

Fr. Whitney's words are a beautiful response to Cardinal Dolan's image of LGBTQ people needing to wash their hands before coming to the table, and to bishops who condemn any gesture of inclusion of LGBTQ people.

Richard G Evans said...

Ray do you feel that same way about our Jesuit Pope Francis? Just asking...