Monday, April 26, 2010

The Theology of Fallibility Part IV

Reforming the Church

It should be evident to all that the paternalistic hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church has lost contact with the Spirit of God and is no longer its instrument. The pedophile crisis, the effort of the hierarchy to cover that up and the attitude in the hierarchy that their primary objective is not to convey the message of Christ but to do anything to protect their own power, prestige and wealth has made their very existence idolatrous. The hierarchy as presently constituted is the exact opposite to the movement based on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that Jesus announced at the last supper.

This process whereby the hierarchy lose their commision from God and need to be reformed and replaced has occurred several times in the history of the Jewish-Christian church. Ezekiel (Chapter23) sees God in a vision detaching himself from the Temple in Jerusalem in the form of a chariot becoming flexible and mobile. Ezekiel then has a vision of God upbraiding the shepherds (the hierarchy) of Israel (the Temple Priests) for having failed to feed his sheep and abandoning them, to meet their own self interest. This is an exact parallel with what is happening in the Catholic church at this point in history.

God then revealed a new understanding of shepherding in which God himself would be the shepherd, "Behold I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep!"

Judaism and Christianity are both religions of the collasping Temple. There is always a connection between the collapse of the Temple and the Spirit of God bringing into existence a new form of shepherding. It was the collapse of the Temple in 587 BC which led to the creation of text based Judaism. And, again, the collapse of the Temple in 70 AD which led to the creation of Rabbinic Judaism.

In every case the collapse is part of God's plan to get through to his people and help them to get beyond something that is no longer worthy of them. It took a long time, but only after Ezechiel achieved a certain form of indifference to the fate of the Temple was he able to receive the vision from God of God himself shepherding his people without any intermediary.

In the gospel of John, Jesus identifies the new Temple with his body and the body of all who have received the indwelling Spirit. I am sure that anyone who has experienced God's love and has been freed from self-rejection, and then takes the final step under the guidance of God's Spirit of freeing themselves from external Church authority, will also hear the call to ministry in their hearts. In this very process they have become members of the Church of the Holy Spirit.

There is no doubt in my mind that we are at present in a new stage of the collapsing Temple and the emergence of a new form of shepherding. Joachim of Flores in the 13th century saw three stages in the development of God's church. The first was the Church of obedience to the Father, the Church of Israel; the second was the Church of the Son, Jesus, which he identified with the hierarchical Catholic church. He prophesied that there would come the day when the hierarchical church, becoming superfluous, would in time dissolve and in its place would emerge the Church of the Holy Spirit. I believe that time is now.

Ministry in the Church of the Holy Spirit will come from a direct call of the Holy Spirit to any baptized person from within their spiritual self-awareness. The task of authority will be to listen prayerfully to what the Holy Spirit is saying through the people of God. All authority will proceed from the bottom up and not from the top down. Every community should prayerfully discern spirits to select among their members the one whom God is calling to leadership. That individual could be a man or woman, married or single, gay or straight! The Church of the Holy Spirit must become a totally democratic church with no caste system, no higher or lower, totally equal, women with men, gays with straights; everyone posessing the Holy Spirit within them; eveyone an authority.

For example, who knows what God wants from women? Obviously, only women can discern what God is asking of them. The task of authority in the evolving Church of the Holy Spirit is to enter into dialogue with its women members and discern carefully what God is saying to the Chrurch through its female members.

Another example, who knows what God wants from the lesbian and gay members of the Church? Obviously, only the lesbian and gays! No one can tell us from outside what God wants of us. We are alone in knowing with an experiential knowledge that our love for each other contains the divine spirit and brings with it the kind of peace and joy that indicates the presence of the Holy Spirit.

How, then, can we help the Holy Spirit in her task of transforming the hierarchical Catholic Church into the democratic Church of the Holy Spirit. As I see it the whole Protestant reformation was a premature and aborted attempt to bring about that transformation. Many Protestant communions have developed a much more democratic structure, closer to the Church of the Holy Spirit that Jesus intended. The Roman Church could learn a lot from our Protestant brothers and sisters, if it had the humility necessary to open itself to dialogue with them, seeking their help in its reform from their charism.

The urgent necessity for reform makes the call of a new world-wide Church council imperative! But if the new council is just a repetition of Vatican II with only male hierarchs present, it will necessarily fail to undertake a radical transformation of the Church. The very existence of the hierarchy is the problem and we cannot expect the hierarchy to vote themselves out of existence.

The Second Vaican council took the first step when it redefined the Church as "the People of God." The new council, then, must be a council that truly represents the "People of God". The Second Vatican council also set the agenda for the world council of the People of God when it restated the Christian doctrine of freedom of conscience:

. .Every man has in his heart a law written by God. To obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged. Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of man. There he is alone with God, whose voice echoes in his depths. In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor. In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of men in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the life of individuals and from social relationships [Vatican Council II, 1966, n. 16, pp. 213-214].

The council must seek out what church organization respects the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in every member of the Church. How to so organize the church that every baptized member has a say, or at least a representation, in the governing body of the church. How to guarantee that church leadership makes is primary task to listen carefully to what the Holy Spirit is saying to it through the people of God. These are the primary tasks of the new council.

Let us all pray to the Holy Spirit to come and rescue the Catholic Church from its present bondage to a male clerical hierarchy!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Theology of Fallibility Part III

How LBGT Should React to the Fallibility of the Hierarchy

The day I read in the New York Times that the Vatican under Pope Benedict, the former Cardinal Ratzinger of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had made the decision to bar all gays, even celibate gays, from the priesthood, my immediate reaction as an ordained gay priest was great sadness for the Church I love, then rage at the injustice of it all, and then painful awareness of all those good and holy gay men in the priesthood who will feel betrayed and abandoned by their mother Church. I then entered into prayer and asked the indwelling Holy Spirit to help me discern what this is all about!

First, the Spirit assured me that this decision has nothing to do with God or the teaching of Jesus Christ. Notice the total absence of any sense of love and compassion for all the suffering this will cause gay Catholics in general and, especially, gay priests. The hierarchy is aware that the child abuse crisis and its cover up by hierarchs has seriously undermined their authority and power. This purge is a political move by the sinful human church to try to repair the damage done to their power and prestige by scapegoating the gay members of the clergy. They are ignoring all the expert advice from professional psychologists and psychiatrists that gayness was not the cause of the child abuse crisis. By this move they are trying to avoid their responibility for the crisis and the need to reform the Church. The Holy Spirit is still ultimately in charge of the Church and the Spirit will call the shots on how the Church will evolve and be transformed! Our task is to prayerfully discern what the Holy Spirit is about in this moment of crisis and support the transformation of the Church coming from God's Spirit.

We gay Catholics in Dignity were full of the hope and enthusiasm of Vatican II which had redefined the Church as "the People of God"! Our naive hope that the Church would change semed confirmed a few years later when my book, The Church and the Homosexual, which seriously challenged traditional Church teaching, was given an imprimi potest by the saintly General of the Jesuits, Pedro Arrupé, and I was granted permission to publish. This was an action for which Arrupé paid heavily later by being dishonorably deposed as General by Pope John Paul II. the same man who gave all sorts of honors to the pedophile Fr Marcial Maciel Degollado.

Now, more than 35 years later, although the Holy Spirit has abundantly blessed Dignity's ministry by bringing the message of God's love to my gay brothers and sisters, I am sorry to have to report that in terms of dialogue with the hierarchy, it has been mostly downhill ever since.

The Church has adamantly refused our offer of respectful dialogue and refuses to hear what the Holy Spirit wants to say to the hierarchy through the experience of faithful Catholic gays and lesbians. A series of homophobic documents have been issued from Rome, documents that for the most part ignored all the serious research into homosexuality done by reputable professionals. The recent and most egregious document reads: "The homosexual inclination, though not in itself a sin, must be considered objective disordered". This would only be true if we assumed that all humans are created by God heterosexual. We know that this is factually untrue. We gay and lesbian Catholics, who know that we were created with a homosexual orientation by God, see this statement as a blaphemy against God by claiming that God created humans who are intrinsically ordered to evil. The shriller the Vatican becomes in its homophobia the more it loses the trust and respect of the faithful and it diminishes its authority and hastens the reformation of thr Church.

Jesus gave us a marvelous example of how to deal with scapegoating in the story of the Gerasene Demoniac in Mark 5. The Gerasene community had picked one troubled individual and decided to make him their scapegoat, driving him out of town. The demoniac accepted their judgment on him, interiorizing self-hatred, tearing off his clothing, breaking the chains that bound him, howling and gashing himself with sharp stones.

As soon as Jesus entered his presence, he became aware of God's love and that he himself was not evil but worthy of God's love and compassion. Jesus by his love drove out the demons of self-hatred and self-destruction. They entered into a herd of pigs and their destructive evil was immediately manifest by the fact that the pigs rushed down the hillside and threw themselves off a cliff into the sea. The people of the village came out and found the former demoniac and their scapegoat "sitting peacefully, fully clothed and in his right mind".

The people of the village became frightened because they had lost their scapegoat and begged Jesus to leave. The former demoniac asked Jesus to take him with him, but Jesus refused and instead told him: "Go home to your people and tell them all the good things the Lord has done to you. Give witness to God's love for you!" So the man went off and proceeded to spread throughout the Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him. And the people were amazed!

There is a striking parallel here with us LGBT Catholics. We are being scapegoated by our Church to avoid dealing with its own sins. Many of us in the past interiorized the Church's homophobia, resulting in self-hatred and self-destructiveness. But Jesus' Spirit at some point touched our hearts and freed us from all self-rejection by giving us a clear, undeniable experience that God loves us in our gayness. Our ministry, then, like the former demoniac is to witness to our people all the great things that God in his/her mercy has done for us. Our first task, then, is to prayerfully call in the Holy Spirit to give such an overwhelming experience of God's love that we are healed of all self-hatred and self-rejection and thus rendered immune to the persecution of the institutional church.

We gay and lesbian Catholics must not let our enemies outside ourselves define who we are. We must let the Spirit of love dwelling in our hearts define who we are. And then give witness to the entire people of God to all the great things the Lord has done for us.

The Theology of Fallibility Part IV will deal with the coming transformation of the Church into the Church of the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Theology of Fallibility Part II

Freedom of Conscience

A central Christian teaching, going back to Jesus himself, is without doubt of utmost importance to all Christians and especially to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Christians. That teaching is freedom of conscience. This teaching is based on Jesus' promise to his followers to send them the Holy Spirit who will dwell in their hearts and lead them into all truth. At the last supper Jesus promised: "I shall ask the Father and he will give you another Paraclete (The Greek word means advocate) to be with you for ever, the Spirit of Truth whom the world can never accept since it never sees nor knows him, but you know him" (John 14: 16-17). Jesus declared further: "I have said these things to you while still with you, but the (Advocate) the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you" (John 14:26-26). The title Advocate which Jesus gives the Spirit means a lawyer, one who speaks with us and for us, one who will plead our cause.

Paul, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, sees Jesus' gift of the Spirit as the fulfillment of this prophecy of the prophet Jeremiah:

Look, the days are coming, Yahwey declared, when I shall make a new covenant with the House of Israel when those days have come.... Then I shall plant my Law, writing it in their heart. Then I shall be their God and they will be my people. There will be no further need for everyone to teach neighbor or brother, saying, "Learn to know Yahwey"! No, they will all know me, from the least to the greatest...since I shall forgive their guilt, and never more call their sin to mind (Jer. 31: 31-34).

Notice that Jeremiah forsees the new covenant where every human from the least to the greatest will have direct access to a God who dwells in their hearts. This access to God will not be a privilege of the few who are gifted with extraordinary intelligence, or ritual rank, or even holiness. The Holy Spirit is portrayed in scripture as a thoroughgoing respector of democratic process.. There is no hint here that one must go to authorities in order to inform one's conscience and learn what God wants of me. God directly and immediately informs our conscience.

In the Acts of the Apostles on Pentecost Sunday, Peter recalls these words of the prophet Joel: "I shall pour out my Spirit on all humanity. Your sons and daughters will prohesy, your young people shall see visions, your old people dream dreams. Even on slaves, men and women, shall I pour out my Spirit" (Acts 2: 17-18; Joel 3: 1-2).

At the last supper, Jesus informed his disciples that it was necessary that he should go away in order for the Spirit to come: "Yet you are sad at heart because I have told you this. Still, I am telling you the truth; it is for your own good that I am going , because unless I go, the (Advocate) will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you....However, when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth' (John 16:6-13).

What was the necessary link between Jesus' death and the coming of the Holy Spirit? Why could the Spirit only come after Jesus' death? Because as long as Jesus remained alive and present, his disciples had their center of authority outside themselves and were not, therefore, totally responsible for their actions. They were striving to meet the expectations of someone else. They had not yet become fully creative and responsible adults.

But after Jesus' death his Spirit became what Paul saw as the source of the...glorious freedom of the Children of God: "The proof that you are sons and daughters is that God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts: the Spirit that cries,"Abba, Father"; and it is this that makes you a son or daughter, you are not a slave anymore" (Gal.4;6-7). Paul clearly understood the good news of the evangelium, the gospel message, is exactly the message of our freedom: "Christ set us free, so we should remain free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be fastened again to the yoke of slavery" (Gal.5:1-2).

Paul had the same understanding of freedom as found in the Sanscrit root of the word; The word freedom in Sancrit had two independent meanings. First, it meant to be a free as against a slave member of the household. Second it means to be loved by the master. Anyone in the household that the master loved by that very fact became a free member of the household. Anyone who was not loved was a slave member of the household.

I find the insight that comes from this double meaning of the word freedom very profound. It is love; it is knowing that we are loved; it is by living in an atmospere of love that we humans are genuinely freed. The child that knows it is loved is free to play and to develop in a healthy way. We adults, if we are fully conscious of God's love for us, are psychically free to mature and to play life to its fullness in the presence of a loving God. As Iranaeus put it: "The glory of God are humans fully alive"! Love creates the space in which freedom flourishes.

Paul saw the pagans as not free but slaves in relation to their gods because they related to those gods in a spirit of fear. But Christians should be free because their God is a God of love, who has adopted us into his family:

            All who are guided by the Spirit of God are sons or daughters of God; for what you received is not a spirit of slavery to bring you back into fear; you received the spirit of adoption, enabling us to to cry out "Abba, Father". The Spirit himself joins with our spirit to bear witness that we are children of God. And as we are children, then we are heirs, heirs of God..."(Rom. 8:14-17)!

Paul continually repeats the theme that God''s Spirit dwells within us and, if we ask, will empower us. "..the Spirit too comes within us in our weakness; for, when we do not know how to pray properly, then the Spirit personally makes our petitions for us in groans that cannot be put in words..."(Rom. 8:26).

There is a yearning and longing deep in our psyche which is not just that of our ego, but that of the Spirit of God dwelling in the depths of our Spirit. Maurice Blondel gave a philosophical expression to this same theme in his philosophy of action: "Our God dwells within us, and the only way to become one with that God is to become one with our authentic self!".

In Part III of Theology of Fallibility I will explore how a future Council should reform the Church so it can become an institution that honors the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in every member.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Theology of Fallibility: Part I

A theology of fallibility lies at the heart of Jesus' teaching. That theology was a major part of Jesus' message at the last supper as recounted in the gospel according to John. This theology has enormous implications of the structure of the Church that claims to be based on the teaching of Jesus. In my next three blogs I will deal with this theology and its implications.
The themes of this series of blogs is dealt with in a fuller way in my book , Freedom,Glorious Freeedom: The Spiritual Journey to the Fullness of Life for Gays, Lesbians and Everybody Else.

What is Maturity?
A healthy maturing process is the process by which we separate off from our dependence on parents, family and religious authorities and become autonomous adults, make our own choices and take responsibility for them. Maturity is defined as the ability to live one's life according to one's own insights and feelings and no longer live in a continuous effort to meet the expectation of others. Theologian Sebastian Moore even goes so far as to write that "living your life to meet the expectations of others" is a form of sin. On both the psychological and spiritual levels, maturity means the ability to discern what is the true self and to find the courage to act out that true self.
God blessed us with fallible parents, It was precisely where our parents were wrong that allowed us to separate off from them. Had they been infallible it would have beem close to impossible for us to mature into autonomous and responsibile adults.

In his book on the spiritual journey of the poor in the base communities of Central and South America, Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian liberation theologian, expressed the same understanding of spiritual maturity. The title of his book, We Drink from Our Own Wells derives from famous saying of the medieval monk, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux:"Everyone has to drink from his (or her) own well!" Spirituality,Gustavo writes, is like living water that springs up from the very depths of our own personal spiritual experience.

D.W.Winnicott, an English child psychologist, wrote: "Every child knows in its bones that in its wickedness lies hope; in its conformity and false socialization lies despair". Winnicott meant that most children remain hopeful that they will continue to be loved and respected even when they do not conform to parental expectations.. But if a child believes that the only way it will be loved is by conforming to the expectations of others and hiding the real self in a closet, it has already despaired of life.

Many of my clients in my psychotherapy preactice remembered a secure, joyful childhood, which came to an abrupt end when they discovered their spontaneous feminine self or, if they were lesbian, their spontaneous masculine self, was totally unacceptable to their parents. The rest of their lives they spent an enormous amount of their psychic energy trying to suppress that unacceptable masculine or feminine dimension of the real self.

Maturity for a gay person must include coming out of the closet, just as spiiritual maturity must include coming out of the closet with God. We must risk that we are loved by God just as we are. We must "take a chance on God".

Part II of Theology of Fallibility will explore the underrstanding of spiritual maturity proclaimed by Jesus at the last supper. It was precisely where our parents were wrong that allowed us to separate off from them  that we were able to mature and become responsible adults. We need the same kind if fallibility in our spiritual leaders in order to mature spiritually

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Lindsey's Comments on my Blog

Catholic theologian William Lindsey recently dedicated his blog to a review of the importance of my blog. I am grateful to Bill for his support!

To journal is to be on pilgrimage. This blog is me on pilgrimage, sharing my journey with companions who want to walk along--towards truth that needs to be told but doesn't get spoken, towards whatever and whoever draws us along to the horizon of hope.
Monday, April 5, 2010

John McNeill's "Spiritual Transformation" Blog: Another Absolutely Necessary Voice

In the past several days, I’ve been noting voices that are absolutely necessary for us to hear at this moment in which many members of the people of God are calling for reformation and for a new ecumenical council that will be truly ecumenical, in that it will bring all voices—at last—into the conversation about what it means to be Catholic.

Today, I’d like to remind readers of one of those absolutely necessary voices about which I’ve written in the past on this blog. I’m speaking of Jesuit theologian John McNeill, who, when the church robbed him of his official ministerial position as he insisted on speaking truth about his sexual orientation, has continued to exercise extremely valuable ministry in the church as a theologian, therapist, and spiritual guide.

As I’ve noted before, when I think of John McNeill’s significance to the church at this point in history, I think of someone who made a path for the rest of us when no path was there—even for himself. Through his courage, through his faithful life, through his powerful testimony in theological writings, he has cleared a path along which many of us now walk, as gay Catholics and as Catholics in solidarity with their gay brothers and sisters. We who are gay and Catholic and who have claimed our God-given nature owe a debt of incalculable gratitude to John McNeill.

In this posting, I want to point readers to a blog that John began a month ago called “Spiritual Transformation.” I’ve added a link to John’s blog to my list of blogs I now follow regularly.

“Spiritual Transformation” offers readers rich resources from John’s theological and therapeutic ministry, as well as his work as a spiritual director. Recently, John has been blogging about conscience and discernment.

What I find noteworthy in the series on conscience is John’s masterful explanation of the turn to the subject that Catholic systematic theology took through the great 20th-century German theologian Karl Rahner. Perhaps more than any other Catholic theologian of the 20th century, Rahner thought through—systematically and carefully—the implications of the “turn to the subject” that had occurred with personalist philosphers like Maurice Blondel at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.

Even when personalists such as Blondel weren’t writing directly about faith or theology, their philosophy has an extremely important significance for believers, in that it critiques epistemological extrinsicism. Personalist philosophy demonstrates that, in the act of knowing, we internalize and appropriate for ourselves the object of our knowledge, which no longer remains at a remove from us, outside and extrinsic to our depths as a person.

To know at a level that is authentic is to take what we know inside and make it our own. It is to be moved, shaped, and changed by what we know. It is not merely to gaze at what we know. It is to become what we know.

For the life of faith, these epistemological insights are of crucial consequence. They radically critique the heavily intellectualized notions of faith that developed in Catholic theology and dogma from the Reformation to the modern period—notions of faith in reaction to outside currents of thought considered threatening, to the Reformation, the rise of the modern nation state and democracy, and finally, in Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors, to the whole modern world itself.

The reactionary, intellectualized understanding of what it means to be a believer that grew up in response to currents of thought that the Catholic church considered inimical in the period of early modernity gave an exorbitant amount of attention to the “form” of belief. To a certain extent, they equated believing with saying, with making verbal gestures of intellectual assent to formulas of faith. They equated being a believer with parroting dogmatic formulas rather than with—the biblical notion of faith—giving one’s mind, heart, and soul completely to God and setting forth on a journey into the unknown as a result.

What is in danger of being lost sight of in such defensive, intellectualized understandings of faith is that faith has meaning for persons only insofar as it takes root within a person—within a person in her entirety, and not merely in her head. These understandings of faith in reaction to modernity make the life of faith extrinsic to the person, and therefore threaten to rob faith of its transformative potential in the depths of the human person.

As John McNeill’s current series on conscience and discernment notes,Blondel’s and Rahner’s turn to the subject transforms our understanding of these traditional theological concepts, and points our understanding back to powerful traditional theological insights that disappeared from the dessicated heavily intellectualized theology developed in reaction to the Reformation and modernity. As with fundamentalist Protestantism, one of the grand ironies of fundamentalist Catholicism is that it is not traditional at all, though it seeks to lay exclusive claim to the term “traditional” and to rule out all others as enemies of the tradition.

As the influential 20th-century Protestant theologian Karl Barth noted, fundamentalism is a quintessentially modern response to a quintessentially modern phenomenon—to the historical-critical study of scripture. In reaction to the perceived threats of that method of reading scripture, Protestant fundamentalism creates a doctrine unprecedented in Christian history, with no deep roots in the tradition itself: the doctrine of biblical inerrancy.

Mirroring the Protestant response, Catholic fundamentalism elevates papal pronouncements (and the papacy itself) to a realm of quasi-infallibility. As James Carroll notes in an insightful interview with Ian Masters recently, the real task of Vatican III will be to complete what Vatican II sought unsuccessfully to do—unsuccessfully, because the current pope and his predecessor deliberately tried to reverse the most fundamental ecclesiological insights of that council. The real task of Vatican II, which remains unfinished, is a return to the sources that retrieves vibrant concepts about faith and the church that have been lost sight of in our long period of fundamentalist reaction to modernity, which tries to set into stone (and therefore ossifies) the fundamentals of faith, and which links those fundamentals to a papolatry that has little at all to do with Catholic tradition.

These are some of the issues you’ll find John McNeill discussing at his new blog site—and many more besides. I highly recommend John’s site. When Vatican III finally arrives, his will be one of the voices many participants will be quoting as they talk about what it means to be authentically Catholic in the 21st century.

(For my previous postings about John McNeill and his theology, please click the label “John McNeill” following this piece.)
Posted by William D. Lindsey at 10:00 AM
Labels: Catholic, ecclesiology, gay, John McNeill, theology, Vatican II