Without An Experience of Extravagant Love, We Have No Hope to Become Better

For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections on the day’s Scripture readings by two New Ways Ministry staff members:  Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder.  The liturgical readings for the First Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 63: 16-17, 19; 64:2-7; Psalm 80: 2-3, 15-16, 18-19; 1 Corinthians 1: 3-9; Mark 13: 33-37.  You can read the texts by clicking here.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Advent originally was a 40 day fast that helped Christians to prepare for Christmas.  While most Catholics have dropped the penitential fasting, we have retained a mood of sober reflection.  In the excitement of shopping and planning holiday parties, the readings for the first Sunday of Advent – in particular, the first reading by Isaiah — give us a space to reflect briefly on our need for God’s extravagant love.

Isaiah mourns the sinfulness of his people.  He claims they have strayed so far from God that they are like “withered leaves” without life and that their “good deeds are like polluted rags.”  But “no ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen” such greatness as God.  Isaiah praises God’s true greatness by starting and ending his lament with the bold proclamation that God remains the people’s loving parent despite their hardened hearts.  Though the people stray from righteousness, God waits with outstretched arms to embrace them like a father or mother would embrace a beloved child.

In a similar vein, Pseudo-Dionysius, a 6th century Christian author, creates a humbling picture of God’s extravagant love and desire for relationship with us as revealed through Jesus:

“Jesus clings lovingly to those who even depart from him… [He] makes excuses for them, and further promises to serve them, and runs towards and meets even those who hold themselves aloof… when his entire self has embraced their entire selves, he kisses them, and does not reproach them for former things, but rejoices over the present, and holds a feast, and calls together friends…”

I cannot help but to think of God’s extravagant love made manifest between human beings in the scene from Les Miserables where Valjean is given a meal and place to sleep by an elderly bishop.  In the middle of the night, Valjean steals the bishop’s silver, strikes the old man when confronted, and flees into the darkness.  When Valjean is apprehended the next morning and returned to the bishop’s residence, the bishop dismisses the police and helps Valjean to pack up the rest of the silver.  The bishop realizes that, without an experience of extravagant mercy and love, Valjean has no hope to transform into someone better.

I think it is the same for us – without an experience of extravagant love, we have no hope to become better than we are.  In the midst of making Christmas present lists and writing cards, perhaps each of us might reflect on how we have experienced God’s extravagant love in our own lives, give thanks for that experience, and, like the elderly bishop from Les Miserables, find ways to share that same love with others.

–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

CAMPUS CHRONICLES: There is Much to Be Grateful For in Catholic Higher Ed This November

It is becoming a mantra for me: Catholic higher education in the US is a bright light for the church and the world when it comes to LGBT justice. Bondings 2.0‘s “Campus Chronicles” series often reports on the positive developments taking place on these campuses, or at a minimum, the way students and faculty are challenging anti-gay elements.

Though a few days after Thanksgiving, there is still much to be grateful for at America’s more than 200 Catholic colleges and universities. Below is a brief sampling of what has happened this November.

Controversy at Marquette U.

A class discussion at Marquette University in Milwaukee has attracted national attention after a student’s challenge to a teaching assistant’s handling of an ethics debate.

The teacher, Cheryl Abbate, passed over the topic of same-sex marriage to focus on other examples related to the philosophy of John Rawls which was being discussed. After class, a student recorded a conversation with Abbate, without her permission, in which he challenged her decision not to discuss same-sex marriage. Inside Higher Ed reports on the details of the conversation, but in can be summarize by saying that Abbate decided the student’s desired debate over same-sex marriage and LGBT parenting was irrelevant to the topic and grounded in questionable data.

Conservative outlets claim the incident reveals just how heavily academia inhibits free thought on LGBT issues, though Abbate denies a key quote they attribute to her and there is no recording of the class itself. University of South Carolina professor Justin Weinberg offers a different and more helpful perspective on the incident:

“There are certainly interesting pedagogical questions about how to discuss potentially offensive topics without violating harassment policies…However, the event at the center of this controversy does not appear to be one of speech being shut down because it is offensive. Rather, the [student’s] comment was off-topic and based on false claims, and the instructor needed to make a decision about how to use limited class time, especially given the topic of the lesson and the subject of the course (which is ethical theory, not applied ethics).”

For her part, Abbate hopes the incident will lead Marquette administrators to reconsider their policy on cyberbullying and harassment, given that the secret recording of her conversation was posted by a faculty member posted on his personal blog. Saying such practices lead to a “toxic environment,” she added:

” ‘I would hope that Marquette would do everything in its power to cultivate a climate where Marquette employees, especially students, are not publicly demeaned by tenured faculty.’ “

A spokesperson for Marquette University said administrators are reviewing the incident, which has prompted complaints from both students and faculty.

Holy Cross to Build Digital Transgender Archive

A faculty member at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, has won a fellowship to develop a Digital Transgender Archive (DTA) which would document “information on the works, studies and experiences of transgender individuals and the social movement to advance their rights.”

The archive, an idea of English professor K.J. Rawson, is the first of its kind, according to Holy Cross Magazine and involves ten collaborating analog archives. Rawson describes it as: “a collaborative project with a robust search engine that virtually merges disparate collections of materials.” The purpose is to quickly and easily connect researchers to appropriate materials, in part as a way to correct a harmful historical narrative on trans identities.

Though the article notes many challenges ahead for the archive, it appears Holy Cross’ Catholic identity is proving to be an asset. Rawson explains he “could not imagine a more welcoming environment for the DTA,” including laudatory administrators and thankful alumni who reached out to the professor. He added:

” ‘The core Jesuit qualities that distinguish Holy Cross also inspire this project; as the mission statement successfully captures, Holy Cross encourages every member of our community to be passionate about truth, promote social justice and foster dialog in order to more deeply understand and respect diverse experiences. The DTA will further these qualities by counteracting negative and hurtful stereotypes of transgender people with more truthful and historically informed representations.’ “

Loyola Communities Press for Change

The faculty Senate at Loyola University New Orleans voted to expand fringe benefits to same-sex partners of employees, whether legally married or in domestic partnerships. The Maroon, the campus newspaper, reports that a faculty committee proposed the change before it was overwhelmingly approved in a vote, despite opposition from the Catholic Studies department head.

Meanwhile, Loyola University Chicago’s student government is exploring how the campus could implement gender-neutral restrooms. A coalition of student groups and administrative departments is researching the change and has already received an anonymous financial contribution to help fund replacement signs, according to campus newspaper Loyola Phoenix.

Villanova U. Moves Beyond Gender Binary

Villanova University hosted its second annual LGBT Awareness Week in late October, during which a faculty member gave a lecture entitled “Moving Beyond the Gender Binary: What We Need to Know About Gender Expression.” Professor Katina Sawyer spoke about how different people associate with and express a particular gender identity, according to campus newspaper The Villanovan.

Speaking about the week generally, Kathy Byrnes, associate vice president for student life, said:

” ‘It’s really important to acknowledge, but more important celebrate our LGBTQ students because we love them, they’re valuable…

” ‘Villanova can maybe be a beacon of light in modeling of how people can stay faithful, be faithful and still celebrate whether they’re LGBT themselves, or celebrate their LGBT brothers and sisters.’ “

To read about more positive changes and developments related to Catholic higher education, check out the “Campus Chronicles” category in the right hand column on this page or click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Politician Gives Pope Francis a Gift of “Gay Apparel”

Today is known as “Black Friday” in the U.S., the biggest shopping day of the year, as folks begin their Christmas gift purchases.  It’s known as “black” because it is the day of the year when retailers’ accounts finally go into “the black,” meaning that they start to realize an annual profit.

As shoppers scurry about and try to come up with gifts for everyone on their list, they may want to take a lesson from this European politician who recently met with Pope Francis.  Gay Star News reported:

European Parliament Vice President Ulrike Lunacek presents a gift of a rainbow scarf to Pope Francis.

“The rainbow could be seen as a representing two main concepts: the gay rights movement and a ‘blessing’ from God.

“So one lesbian politician thought of the perfect gift to give to Pope Francis: a rainbow scarf.

“Austrian Green MP Ulrike Lunacek, the gay Vice President of the European “Parliament, gave the leader of the Catholic Church his early Christmas present yesterday (25 November).

” ‘Today I handed Pope Francis a rainbow scarf for gays, lesbians, and for peace,’ Lunacek proudly said.”

That’s an idea for all those on your “nice” list, and, perhaps, even for some of the “naughty” folks who still don’t accept equality!  After all, as the Christmas carol says, this is the season to “don we now our gay apparel” !  🙂

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

The Independent, “Austrian lesbian politician tells Pope Francis: ‘It would be great if you spoke up in favour of same-sex marriage‘”

Christianity Today, “Lesbian MEP gives Pope rainbow scarf

Three Years and Counting!

Today marks the third anniversary of Bondings 2.0!  Wow!  Does time fly by when you’re having fun!

When I wrote the first blog post on November 28, 2011, I truly had no idea what I was getting myself into.  I hoped that I would be able to do blog posts about three times a week.  Well, since that late November Monday, not one single day has gone by where we haven’t been able to find something worth blogging about.  That says less about our determination and more about the fact that there is so much news about Catholic LGBT issues around our country and around our world.

This past year has been particularly plentiful with news, mainly because of Pope Francis and the synod, which kept Bob Shine and me very busy for most of the month of October. We tried to provide our readers with the best of what we were reading about the synod, not just to keep you informed, but so that you could share your own ideas about the event.  Though the synod kept us busy, it was a “good” busy, and it is much more enjoyable to work late to get out good news than to get out bad news.

Unfortunately, there has been bad news this year, too.  At the top of the negative list have to be the firing of so many LGBT people and supporters from Catholic institutions, and also the increase in repressive anti-gay laws around the globe.   While we like to let our readers know about positive developments, it’s also our job to keep you informed about these troublesome events, too.

When we report bad news, we try to offer our readers some actions they can take to respond positively to such events.  This year, we have encouraged Catholics to promote the idea of employment non-discrimination policies in their schools and parishes to help end the firings of LGBT people.  We also instituted the #PopeSpeakOut campaign to encourage Pope Francis to raise his voice against repressive anti-LGBT laws.

This blog truly is social media.  It is not just a one-way flow of communication from us to you, but involves you as commenters and as action-takers, too!  And we greatly appreciate the many “tips” and “leads” that people send us about news and happenings.

We will have one more post next week about other ways that you can help to support the blog.  Hint:  the post will appear on what has become known as “Giving Tuesday.”   But donations are not the only way you will be asked to help.

So, happy birthday to us all!  And watch out for us in the coming year! Just remember how inquisitive and precocious three-year olds can be!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

So Much to Be Thankful For!

“If “thank you” is the only prayer you say, that will be enough.”

                                                                                  –Meister Eckhart

Happy Thanksgiving to all Bondings 2.0 readers!   We hope that you have much to be thankful for this year.

At New Ways Ministry, we are very thankful for many things this year.  We are particularly grateful for all our blog readers and commenters who make this site a great place for discussion!

New Ways Ministry’s staff members have each offered their top three gratitude items below. What are you thankful for this year, especially items that may pertain to Catholic LGBT issues?  We invite you to share your items in the “Comments” section of this post.

Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director:

  1. The many people who support New Ways Ministry by donations, prayers, support, information, hospitality and encouragement.
  2. Catholic LGBT people and their families who continue to help to build a church of justice and equality, even when the odds seem impossible.
  3. The open discussion on LGBT issues that was started at the synod in October.  How wonderful to know that we have so many supportive Catholic leaders around the globe!

Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder:

  1. Three positive paragraphs about LGBT people were announced after the first week of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family in Rome, but they did not receive the necessary 2/3 majority vote. I am grateful that Pope Francis added the three paragraphs to the official version to be discussed before the Bishops take up the issue again in October 2015.
  2. Kathleen Purcell was let go from her teaching job in an Oakland, California, Catholic high school for crossing out sections of the new teachers’ contract, which demanded that employees’ personal and professional lives conform to Catholic teaching. I am thankful for the courage and witness of Kathleen Purcell and others like her who put their beliefs about justice into action.
  3. So many LGBT people, their families and friends, congregations of women religious, and other justice-seeking people have supported the work of New Ways Ministry during the past year with their prayers, their time, and their financial support. I am so very grateful for all of them.

Matt Myers, Associate Director:

  1. Pope Francis and his deep concern for the poor and marginalized.
  2. LGBT employees of Catholic institutions.
  3. The innumerable Catholics who are working, in big and small ways, to create a welcoming and inclusive Church for LGBT people.

Bob Shine,  Social Media Coordinator:

  1. For real conversations among Catholics and open disagreements between bishops during the global church’s ongoing discernment about marriage and family life, especially those courageous voices calling for change.
  2. For a growing awareness of and commitment to trans justice among Catholics, especially students who are reforming more of Catholic educational institutions and the Filipino church’s response to Jennifer Laude’s murder.
  3. For the emerging generation of ministers I’m blessed to study alongside for whom LGBT justice is a given pursuit and constitutive aspect of being a disciple of Jesus.

World Meeting of Families Document Discusses LGBT Topics in Negative Language

A printed copy of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s new catechesis

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has released a preparatory teaching aid for the 2015 World Meeting of Families which relies on negative language about LGBT people and their relationships. The catechesis is accompanied by extensive curricula intended for Catholic schools and religious education classrooms in the coming year.

The document’s negative LGBT message was made public by Good As Youa pro-LGBT website.

The teaching aid, entitled Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive, is a book-length primer on marriage and family. Two of the guiding principles give a sense of how LGBT issues are treated in the text:

“[7]However, many temptations arise which try to coax us into forgetting that male and female are created for covenant and communion. For example, poverty, affluence, pornography, contraception, philosophical and other intellectual mistakes can all create contexts that challenge or threaten healthy family life. The Church resists these things for the sake of protecting the family. [Note: ‘Philosophical mistakes’ is where the movement for LGBT equality, including same-gender marriage recognition, is placed.]

“[8] Many people, especially today, face painful situations resulting from poverty, disability, illness and addictions, unemployment, and the loneliness of advanced age. But divorce and same-sex attraction impact the intimate life of the family in especially powerful ways. Christian families and networks of families should be sources of mercy, safety, friendship and support for those struggling with these issues.”

In the accompanying curricula for high school and elementary school students, the archdiocese explains homosexuality and same-gender relationships in very negative ways.

Marriage equality is dealt with in a lesson titled “Light in a Dark World,” which asks students to imagine what they would do to protect gold at Fort Knox if attacked. This image is analogized to ways in which they can defend the faith in a hostile world. It includes the following language on legalizing same-gender marriage:

“Separating sex and procreation results in the perception of marriage as simply sexual or emotional satisfaction, and this logically leads to the acceptance of same-sex unions…

“While the Catholic Church will not approve same sex ‘marriages,’ the Church does appreciate and acknowledge the importance of chaste same sex friendships.”

The lesson also identifies marriage equality as a “threat to healthy family life” by which “the state (conceding to pressure from various groups) is trying to create a new definition of marriage and family.” That section concludes with a bolded statement:

“In order to protect families, marriages, and children, it is necessary to resist this movement to give the state the power to redefine and reconstruct marriage and the family.”

A handout for students includes almost identical language, asking them to think about light in a “dark world.”

Elsewhere in the curriculum, lesbian and gay people are identified as “those who struggle with same-sex attraction.” A middle school lesson plan asks students the following question with some suggested answers provided in italics:

“What are some of the reasons that Jesus’ and the Church’s teaching on same-sex attraction is hard? (We feel like we are judging people; we know and love people who are attracted to the same sex; it seems mean to tell them they are wrong if God ‘made them that way’; they can be in loving and committed relationships too, it’s mean to deny them the ‘right’ to get married, etc.)

Students are also asked to brainstorm “specific difficulties” like loneliness, financial difficulties, and feeling excluded that LGBT people supposedly experience.  The text juxtaposes these descriptions with the idea that the Church “is already doing a good job making sure no one in the Church…feels lonely.”

Finally, throughout the several hundred pages on marriage and family, the curricula offer anti-gay resources like Courage, a national ministry which promotes chastity as the only pastoral option for lesbian and gay people, and The Third Way, a very negative film released this year to defend positions about lesbian and gay people which are actually pastorally harmful .

Few comments are necessary as the documents from the Philadelphia archdiocese speak for themselves. They are out of touch with Pope Francis’ more open approach, many of the discussions at October’s synod of bishops, and the general trend among most Catholics towards LGBT inclusion and affirmation. I offer three brief thoughts.

First, it appears Archbishop Charles Chaput and those on his staff desire that Catholics be “prophets of doom” so readily condemned by Pope John XXIII as he opened Vatican II. Pope Francis is speaking of a culture of encounter, while these documents instead reiterate a defensive withdrawal into a church under attack.

Second, the discussion of homosexuality is not pastoral in the least. Advising chaste friendships and ignoring the church’s deep complicity in creating difficulties experienced by LGBT people are forms of oppression. And why is it that only gay people are the ones who seem to struggle? These documents are clearly working against bishops who seek to recognize goodness, as well as the gifts and qualities, possessed by LGBT people.

Third, I cannot imagine any effective religious educator or youth minister actually using this document. In the United States, the general trend is that the younger a Catholic is, the more affirming they will be of LGBT people. That’s 85% of Millennials, those 18-29, and probably even higher, I imagine, for younger aged teens. A few weeks ago, I asked what young Catholics want from the church, and while the answer to that is still undetermined, it is assuredly not what these documents present.

In the year to come, LGBT advocates must strive to correct these false narratives and intentional distortions in the minds of fellow Catholics, most especially those of the bishops.

Take a moment this Thanksgiving weekend to write Archbishop Chaput and let him know LGBT issues, in their fullness, must be addressed at the next synod.

You can write to Archbishop Chaput at the following postal address:

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
Archdiocesan Pastoral Center
222 North 17th Street,
Philadelphia, PA 19103-1299

Or you can send him an email at:

shepherd@chs-adphila.org

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Should Civil Marriage Be Separated from Sacramental Marriage?

Conservative religious leaders, including some Catholics, have imitated an action that many pro-marriage equality advocates have used successfully:  they have pledged not to perform civil marriage ceremonies until their view of marriage is accepted by the state.

According to an article in Crux, the conservative Catholic opinion journal First Things has posted “The Marriage Pledge” on their website, which is a statement by Christian ministers who agree not to perform the civil aspect of wedding ceremonies (i.e., not signing the marriage licesnse) until same-gender marriage is revoked.  The pledge states, in part:

“. . . [I]n our roles as Christian ministers, we, the undersigned, commit ourselves to disengaging civil and Christian marriage in the performance of our pastoral duties. We will no longer serve as agents of the state in marriage. We will no longer sign government-provided marriage certificates. We will ask couples to seek civil marriage separately from their church-related vows and blessings. We will preside only at those weddings that seek to establish a Christian marriage in accord with the principles ­articulated and lived out from the beginning of the Church’s life.”

What I find most interesting about this stand is that in many states across our nation, pro-marriage equality ministers took a similar pledge as they were advocating for the state to adopt marriage for lesbian and gay couples.  The pro-marriage equality pastors pledged to not sign any marriage licenses for any couple until marriage was extended equally to all couples.

When opponents adopt the same strategy to achieve opposite ends, something must be happening.

I think that “something” is a growing consensus on the idea that marriage in the U.S. should be separated from religious institutions.  In other words,  civil marriages would only be performed by government officials, and not religious leaders, who currently are authorized to do so.  If a couple chooses to have a religious ceremony in addition to the civil ceremony, they are free to do so, though the religious ceremony by itself would not be legally recognized.  As many people are aware, this is how marriage is conducted in many European countries.

Some pro-marriage equality advocates, including Catholics, have been advocating for this distinction for a long time.  In addition to being intuitively fairer, this situation also helps to clear up  the muddy interaction that religious and government institutions have about the definition of marriage.  In that sense, such a distinction supports marriage equality.

One major problem that marriage equality advocates have had is that some people see marriage as a mixture of civil and religious ideas, and so the thought of changing even just the civil part of marriage makes them fear that the religious part of marriage will change, too.  Separating the two institutions thus paves the way for the state to democratically decide who should be allowed to marry, and for religious institutions to decide who they want to marry according to their own definitions.

There has already been a discussion of this separation from Catholic advocates on both sides of the marriage equality question.  Back in July 2013,  Bondings 2.0 carried two connected posts exploring the debate.  The first was by Jesuit law professor, Fr. Frank Brennan, who advocated for such a separation as a way to allow lesbian and gay couples to marry:

“It is high time to draw a distinction between a marriage recognised by civil law and a sacramental marriage. In deciding whether to expand civil marriage to the union of two persons of the same gender, legislators should have regard not just for the well-being of same sex couples and the children already part of their family units, but also for the well-being of all future children who may be affected, as well as the common good of society in setting appropriate contours for legally recognised relationships. . . .

“It would be just and a service to the common good for the State to give some recognition and support to committed, faithful, long-term relationships between gay couples deserving dignity, being able to love and support each other in sickness and in health, until death they do part.”

Arguing for the same distinction, but for an opposite purpose, was the Archdiocese of Washington’s Msgr. Charles Pope, a pastor, who said:

“It is a simple fact that word ‘marriage’ as we have traditionally known it is being redefined in our times. To many in the secular world the word no longer means what it once did and when the Church uses the word marriage we clearly do not mean what the increasing number of states mean.”

After giving an interpretation of why he thought such a redefinition took place, he stated:

“So the bottom line is that what the secular world means by the word ‘marriage’ is not even close to what the Church means. The secular world excluded every aspect of what the Church means by marriage. Is it time for us to accept this and start using a different word? Perhaps it is, and I would like to propose what I did back in March of 2010, that we return to an older term and hear what you think.

I propose that we should exclusively refer to marriage in the Church as ‘Holy Matrimony.’ ” [emphasis, his]

Interestingly, Msgr. Pope called for exactly the type of protest that First Things is now encouraging:

“A secondary but related proposal is that we begin to consider getting out of the business of having our clergy act as civil magistrates in weddings. Right now we clergy in most of America sign the civil license and act, as such, as partners with the State. But with increasing States interpreting marriage so differently, can we really say we are partners? Should we even give the impression of credibility to the State’s increasingly meaningless piece of paper? It may remain the case that the Catholic faithful, for legal and tax reasons may need to get a civil license, but why should clergy have anything to do with it?

The Crux article cited other examples of this type of proposal in the last few years, from both liberals and conservatives, Catholic and Protestant:

The concept that civil and religious marriage should be separate is not entirely novel. At US Catholic, columnist Bryan Cones has asked, “Is it time to separate church and state marriages?” And writer Len Woolley raised similar questions at the Mormon-run Deseret News. . . But the idea isn’t just limited to conservatives.

Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, proposed the idea as early as 2009. By 2011, three North Carolina church pastors and at least one in Virginia quit signing marriage licenses as a way of opposing state bans on same-sex marriages they felt violated their conscience.

And in July of this year, Paul Waldman argued at The American Prospect, a liberal publication, that religious couples should fill out state-mandated marriage forms and then have the religious ceremony of their choosing. “The wedding, in other words, should be a ritual with no content prescribed by the state, no ‘By the power vested in me by the state of Indiana’ at all.”

Waldman added: “The state doesn’t tell you how to celebrate Christmas or Ramadan, and it shouldn’t tell you how to get married.”

Such an interesting development!  What do you think?  Should marriage be separated into civil and religious institutions?  Leave your ideas in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

Ethika Politika:  The Marriage Pledge: Black, White, and Red All Over”