An amazing by-product of the marriage equality movement across the country has been the wealth of Catholics willing to speak publicly about how their faith empowers them to speak out for equal marriage standards for lesbian and gay couples. Both ordinary people in the pew and church and political leaders have come forward to speak about the issue from the depths of their Catholic belief.
The National Catholic Reporter has recently profiled two such Catholics in Washington State. The marriage equality debate can seem harsh at times, and some times it seems like it brings out the worst in people. In reading the stories of these two people, I think it is evident that God has found it possible to use this situation to bring out deep faith and integral spirituality in people.
The first article features Fr. John Whitney, SJ, pastor of St. Joseph’s parish in Seattle, who recently sent a bulk email to his parishioners, asking them to ponder carefully a recent statement from Archbishop Peter Sartain asking them to vote against marriage equality:
“Whitney asked parishioners to review the narrative dispassionately and ask themselves ‘if this referendum refers to the same object as does the Church’s understanding — that is, is the civil marriage to which the referendum is addressed, the same as the sacramental marriage described by the column?’ “
In his email, Whitney reminded parishioners that Catholics are
” ‘morally obliged to form our consciences well, through study and through practice’ and that ‘a person acts morally only when following his or her conscience, despite the sometimes opposite calls of public pressure, self-interest, fashion or authority.’” ‘That being said,’ he continued, ‘it may appear from the outside that Catholics are governed more by authority than by conscience. … The role of authority in Catholic conscience formation is, indeed, complex; but, authority never supplants conscience.’
“The ‘call of conscience’ is ‘the Catholic categorical imperative,’ Whitney wrote.”
Whitney cautions that his stance should not be seen as an opposition to the archbishop, but about ways of understanding the church:
“I very much do not want to make this about a clash of the archbishop and me. To me, this is not about persons but about visions of the Church. I truly believe that the movement of the Holy Spirit among the People of God can only work if people receive the tools to responsibly decide issues of public policy and personal morality.”
State Senator Ed Murray of Seattle, Washington, was the focus of the second article which focuses on this gay, Catholic legislator’s faith experiences. His early formation came from his mother’s faith:
“Murray’s resilient faith and his willingness to speak out on complex issues can be traced to his mother’s love of dialogue, especially when related to Blessed Pope John XXIII (whom she adored), and her affinity for Catholic writers such as Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. At church and at school, Murray’s childhood was also infused with Catholic teachings focused on ministry to the poor. Beloved nuns and priests, representative of ‘a larger family in the best sense of that word,’ offered support and care, encouraging Murray and his six siblings ‘to grow in our prayer lives and our commitment to other people,’ he said.”
Murray’s adult spirituality has been nourished by a relationship with a Trappist monastery in nearby Oregon:
“There, Murray explored the contemplative and mystical traditions of prayer, structured his days according to the horarium, and read of John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila and Francis of Assisi, as well as Buddhist writers. He learned to listen in a new way, from within. ‘Through silence, solitude, prayer and meditation, you learn things about yourself — not always easy things about yourself — that help you become a more authentic person,’ Murray said.”
His mystical side is rooted in very earthly practicalities:
“Murray said three aspects of his faith keep him rooted: fellow Catholics who ‘continue to affirm me as a human being and continue to affirm my 21-year relationship with my partner, Michael’; the belief that followers of Christ are called to live with,
and love all people, regardless of other factors; and the fact that his prayer life and spirituality continue to be fed and challenged. Murray acknowledged, ‘My faith has helped me see people who strongly disagree with me as important and wonderful people, even when I can’t stand them and they can’t stand me.’ ”
Both the article about Whitney and the article about Murray are worth reading in their entirety by clicking the links above. They are rich in insight, spirituality, and wisdom.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
National Catholic Reporter: Same-sex marriage put to voters in Washington