As we continue to rejoice over the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic ruling on marriage equality yesterday, let’s take a few moments today in prayer to reflect on the meaning of this development. The following is by a guest blogger.
By Michael F. Pettinger
The Supreme Court’s decision regarding same-sex marriage is an occasion for Catholics to pray. I’d like to share with you a prayer I learned as a child in the Junior Legion of Mary.
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit has rejoiced in God, my Savior.
Not the prayer you expected? But what better song of praise is there than Mary’s Magnificat? (Luke 1: 46-55) And is it not always right and just to magnify the Lord?
For God has looked upon the loneliness of a servant,
and henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
“Magnificat” by Franz Anton Maulbertsch
I know that the original Magnificat says “lowliness,”not “loneliness.” But isn’t loneliness a form of lowliness? And on that first morning of human creation, didn’t God say, “It is not good for the human to be alone?” So God instituted marital relationships because we were alone. And if in answering that loneliness God made a different gender, it only shows that the one who comes to love us can take surprising forms. When Adam sees the startling figure of Eve, he discovers that he is something startling too – a man. He also discovers that Eve, a woman, as different as she is, is human.
Now that our contemporary culture is beginning to acknowledge the dizzying varieties of gender made in the image of the infinite God, what we need to remember is that we are all human. Many people think this variety will somehow threaten the social order. But that social order exists, in part, to relieve the loneliness of each and every one of those human images of God. As Justice Kennedy wrote of the plaintiffs in the case and their attitudes towards marriage, “Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions.”
We’ve come a little closer to relieving the loneliness we all suffer. We still have a long way to go.
For God Who is Mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is God’s name . . .
You might think God has been resisting this moment of marriage equality all God’s life. I’m pretty sure that’s not true. I aspire to be a historian of Christianity and I have some ideas as to why it’s taken us so long to get here. But one thing is clear: it’s not God who wants me to be alone, and God will no longer let anyone keep me that way.
. . . and God’s mercy is from generation unto generation,
to those who fear God.
Some people say I just want to make God in my image. But I fear God. I fear God enough not to lie about who I am, nor will I let anyone else lie about my extensive queer family. Fearing God also means hearing God. And you haven’t heard God’s voice if you haven’t heard the voices of queer folk as well. A lot of people suppose that doing God’s will on earth means closing their eyes and ears and hearts to the loneliness of their queer siblings. They shouldn’t be surprised that God has listened to us and found someone else to do God’s will.
For God has shown a mighty arm.
God has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
Some will feel insulted by these words. “Are you calling US proud? Aren’t YOU the people who celebrate pride?” The answer to that question is that there different kinds of pride. At our best, the pride we celebrate is the pride of Jesus Christ who never said to the ones who lied about him and betrayed him, “You’re right. I deserve this. Go ahead, nail me to that cross.”
Neither will we.
But then there’s a negative kind of pride, too, as when people say that God instituted marriage for man and woman, and then act as if, God cannot share the gift of marriage with whomever God pleases. God does not need us to direct God’s grace. God acts anywhere, any time, in ways that will astonish us. As the Gospel says: “God can raise up children to Abraham from these very stones.” (Matthew 3:9)
God has cast the mighty down from their thrones,
and God has exalted the lowly.
God has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich God has sent empty away.
No one wants to get knocked from their thrones. No one wants to go hungry. But sometimes we don’t even see our throne until we’ve fallen from it.
In the last year, I’ve had someone say to me, “your lifestyle is a harbinger of disease. It’s biologically abnormal. It’s not a sin to be ‘homosexual,’ but you shouldn’t act on it.” This person has known me almost my whole life and has known I am gay for the last thirty years. I thought we were close, that we loved each other. But I never spoke about my life as a gay man, and was never asked about it. And when the time came to speak, my friend only repeated more or less what they had been taught to say. So I told the hard truth about what that teaching had done to me and, more importantly, what it continues to do others. And what was the response? “You have belittled and dehumanized me. When did you become so hate-filled?”
It’s as if this person could not hear the hate in their own words.
But responding in anger didn’t make me a saint. I have written a lot about healing the divide in our Church, yet when the moment came I could think of nothing to say that wasn’t meant to hurt the person exactly as I had been hurt. I told the truth, and I can tell myself that they needed to feel the same pain I experienced? But there’s no satisfaction in an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Thinking about this incident only filled me with more rage.
After a period of reflection, I began to see it differently.
Now I see it differently. This person kicked me to the ground, and I retaliated by knocking down their throne. In our pride, we have both gone hungry for the love we once had. But in this life at least, the ground is as far as you can fall. And since God is casting us all from our thrones and setting us up again on wobbly feet, maybe we will all finally meet where we were always meant to be – on the good earth, waiting for God’s mercy.
God ever mindful of mercy, has aided Israel, a servant,
and kept the promise to our fathers and mothers,
to Abraham, and to their seed for ever.
There was a time when I gave up on that mercy. For a long time it seemed that God had forgotten me, and if I was going to live, I would have to forget God. Maybe I fell for the myth that the powers of secular Enlightenment were vanquishing Ignorance and Superstition. This thought is the opposite of the one that say that godless gays are braying against the People of Faith. Neither one is true.
Because however good we think we are, God is better. And where none of us are truly good, the only triumph worth singing about is the triumph of God over every one of us. We’re finally getting justice despite the sinful stupidity that sets all of us at each other’s throats. The Supreme Court has declared that those whose relationships had been despised or ignored can now claim their place in the eyes of one and all. But if we’re open to receiving that justice, it also means remembering that neither marriage, nor sex with a hundred different people, nor a life of no sex at all, will make us good and happy. Good and happy is the gift of God’s love.
I heard this prayer from the woman who first sang this song – a pregnant girl who had not been received into her husband’s house. Who knew who the father was? Her answer would strike anyone of right mind as ridiculous, crazy, or a bold-faced lie. But she knew the truth and it was good for her. Visiting a church a few weeks ago, I saw her statue and realized that, because of things that I had heard about her – and about me – I had stopped praying to her. I wasn’t sure if she was on my side.
So I asked her.
This song was her reply.
I’m thankful she taught it to me.
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Michael Pettinger is a professor of literature and religious studies at Eugene Lang College. He is co-editor of Queer Christianities (New York University Press, 2014) and lives in Brooklyn, NY.” He is a contributor to The Huffington Post.