Sunday, June 27, 2010

On the Knowledge of God

Yesterday (June26th) I had the privilege of celebrating a gay marriage for my two friends, Todd and Jud. The celebration took place at the annual gathering of A Celebration of Friends in Fort Lauderdale, and this year nearly 700 elderly gay men and their admirers attended. About 50 men attended the wedding. Both Todd and Jud were so filled with joy that they burst into tears as they pronounced their wedding vows and had to wipe each other's eyes to continue reading their vows. There was not a dry eye in the room.

I selected as my text for a very brief homily, that magnificent passage in the first epistle of St. John, chapter 4: "If anyone loves they know God, because God is love." This has led me to the following reflections on the knowledge of God.

We can never capture God intellectually in a concept. God is never an object outside ourselves. God can only be known subjectively within our own self-awareness as subject and not as object. Medieval theologians were fond of saying: "You can grasp God with your mind, never! But you can grasp God with your heart, ever!" To say that "God is love" is to say that the only knowledge we can have of that God is within our self-consciousness when we place an action of love. Love is the ultimate sacramental reality. Whenever we place an action of love, then by God's grace we are experiencing a sharing of divine life. This is the meaning of the ancient Christian hymn: "Ubi caratas est, ibi Deus est!" When and wherever love is, there God is.

Notice that this means that ultimately no intellectual content is required for a knowledge of God. But vital actions of love are absolutely required. St. John even hints at the fact that anyone who has never loved has no knowledge of God.

This implies too that in its essence Christian belief is an orthopraxis and not an orthodoxy! (I was hungry and you fed me! Therefore enter into the kingdom of heaven!) If any human being loves they enter into a living vital relation with the divine no matter what their ideas about God are. Intellectually they can be an atheist, but if they are a lover they have knowledge of God in their heart.

In one of the most beautiful statements in his book Philosophy of Action, Maurice Blondel wrote this about the Christian understanding of God: "Our God dwells within us, and the only way we can become one with that God is to become one with our authentic self." What consoling words for those of us who are LGBT people! Our only path to oneness with God is not through denial of our sexual orientation but through acceptance and celebration of that orientation as a special gift from God and living it out in its fullness to the best of our ability.

At yesterday's wedding ceremony I was able to assure with complete confidence the two men pronouncing their vows that in their sexual expression of their mutual love they would have one of the most profound experiences of God's love. As the lovers put it in the Song of Songs: "The flash of it (their sexual orgasm) was a flash of fire. It was the breath of Yahwey himself!" If sexual expression is within the context of genuine human love, it carries within itself a wonderful experience of God's love.

Friday, June 18, 2010

On My Documentary: Taking A Chance On God

The documentary on my life and ministry finally has a title. During the four years it was being produced, we gave it the tentative title "Uncommon Jesuit." Most critics thought that title was too narrow and failed to catch the essence of the documentary. I titled the second book I wrote on GLBT spirituality "Taking A Chance On God: Liberating Theology for Gays, Lesbians, and Their Lovers, Families, and Friends." On the occasion of our marriage in Canada in September, 2008, after 42 years of partnership,my partner Charlie Chiarelli inscribed my ring with the title of my second book, "Taking A Chance On God". He then inscribed his ring "Taking A Chance On Jack". Everyone involved in producing the documentary are convinced that the title "Taking a Chance On God" was the perfect title for my documentary.

Brendan Fay, one of the producers of "Saint of 9/11", on the life and death at the World TradeTowers of Father Mychal Judge, the gay Franciscan chaplain to the NYC fire department, a movie Father James Martin, S.J. of America magazine called "the best documentary on the life of a priest ever made!" Brendan has worked over four years traveling around the country gathering materials for my documentary. He now has over 100 hours of interviews including among many others Mary Hunt, Kate Clinton, Nancy Wilson, Bishop Gene Robinson, Fr. Dan Berrigan, S.J., Fr Robert Carter, S.J, Rev. Robert Raines of Kirkridge, exerps from the Today show with Tom Brokaw, the Phil Donahue show, Russell Barber show, Larry King show, footage from WWII, talks I gave to Dignity and Metropolitan Community Church conventions around the country.

Despite almost 50 years given over to a ministry to bring a message of God's love to LBGT people and challenging the falsehoods in Church teaching on homosexuality, my message has scarsely scratched the surface. In a recent poll among young Christians in the USA between the ages of 16 and 29, 91 percent said that their first association with Christianity is that it is anti-gay. Fundamentalists from the USA have convinced the people of Eastern Africa to pass laws criminalizing anyone who tries to help gay people and sentences gay couples to death.

Precisely at this moment there is a desparate need to produce a powerful witness to the profound goodness and even sacredness of gay relations as part of God's creation. Young GLBT people all over the world need to hear a consoling message that liberates them from false shame and guilt over who they are, a message that clearly proclaims the message of God's love for them!

I hope my documentary can prove to be a giant step in that direction. With adequate financial help Brendan hopes to complete "Taking A Chance On God" this summer. We will have a trailer for fundraising purposes posted on line in about a week. If any of my readers wishes to make a contribution please make out a check to Dignity, NYC, with "McNeill Documentary" entered on the memo line and mail the check to Brendan Fay at 22-22 28th Street, Astoria, New York 11105-2702. Any check made out to Dignity NYC is tax deductable.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Elimination of Celibate Male priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church

Discussing the great exodus of heterosexuals from the priesthood following Vatican II in his autobiography, A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church, Archbishop Weakland made the following observation about what happened in the priesthood in the Milwaukee diocese:

When the great exodus came, fewer priests with a homosexual orientation left the priesthood. Thus, the proportion of gays in the priesthood became larger than that found in the general male population, creating in some places signs of a visible gay clerical culture. As experience has shown, large numbers of gays exhibit deeply spiritual sensitivities that have made them effective priests. Moreover, I give here a personal opinion, many gay clergy were key players in keeping the Catholic Church in the United States alive and vital in that difficult period of transition. They carried the burden of overwork while they confronted the challenges stemming from the dramatic changes that the Church was undergoing. For all this I am sure they will receive no praise, only the admonition to remain closeted (p.339).

If Archbishop Weakland's observation is true, and it certainly is true, then gay celibate members of the clergy should receive a well deserved thank you from the Vatican. But, paradoxically, they have received just the opposite. Having scapegoated gay priests as responsible for the child abuse crisis contrary to all scientific evidence, the Vatican, giving full vent to its homophobia, decided to deny all gay men, even well qualified celibate gay men called by God, access to the priesthood. To come up with a theological justification for this exclusion, they invented a metaphor about priestly vows representing the marriage of the male priest with a female church and, of course, only heterosexuals can make such a committment. (What happened to all the homoeroticism recorded in the Old Testament between Yayweh and Israel ( cf. Jacob's Wound by Theodore Jennings)? Would that have led to the conclusion that only gay men are fit for the priesthood?)

In a front page article on May 31st in the New York Times, Paul Vitello reported on the techniques seminary will use to detect and eliminate gay candidates. The most likely results of the Vatican strategy to eliminate gay candidates is that only unhealthy and least competent will remain candidates and the problems with psychologically sick and immature priests will multiply.

But there is another reading that can be given to the over-the-top homophobia represented in the Vatican's ruling on elimating gay priests, a reading I shared in an interview with Paul Vitello but he decided not to include in his article. I see in this move by the Vatican the shrewdness of the Holy Spirit! The celibate male priesthood is dying out. The number of candidates entering the seminary are rapidly declining. The average priest is over 60 and a vanishing breed with no adequate replacements in sight. The Vatican has resisted all calls for married priests and the ordination of women. Now by denying ordination to gay men the Vatican has almost certainly achieved the death of the cultic celibate male priesthood! But this is in all probability the outcome that the Holy Spirit intended.

Vatican II opened the door to a structural transformation of the Catholic Church. Basically the Council began a process by which the Church will be transformed from a patriarchal monarchy into a spirit guided democracy. Their primary move was when Vatican II identified the church as the " People of God." We the laity are the Church and our leadership must listen to our voice. The Church envisioned by Vatican II will no longer be a church where power and authority will be from the top down. It will be a church where power and authority will be from the bottom up.

The second major move toward the democratic church of the Holy Spirit was the Vatican council reaffirmation of the fundamental Catholic teaching on 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].”

This decree makes clear that the voice of God which we must obey is the voice that speaks directly to us in our experience of life and not through any exterior intermediary. Discernment of spirits must become the modus operandi in the church. For the leadership to know what God wants them to do they must prayerfully carry out a discernment of spirits in dialogue with the people of god.

The very concept clergy is a medieval concept. Clergy were that tiny proportion of a largely illiterate populous who could read and write. Only those people could be elevated to the superior status of clergy in the hierarchy. And since only men could learn to read or write, only men could be made priests. Thus an exclusively male clerical class replaced the priesthood of the faithful of the earlier church. In the earlier church the congregation would prayerfully discern who the Spirit was calling to be their leader; that person could be male or female, married or single, gay or straight. The congregation would then present their choice to their leader for his or her blessing. I believe the Holy Spirit is leading the church back to this spirit based style of leadership.

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.