Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Sunday Sermon: Holiness, Wholeness, and the Anti-Gay Stance of Catholic "Pastoral" Leaders

Back in the era when the ferment that produced Vatican II began to bubble in the Catholic church, especially in vowed religious communities around the world, Austrian priest-therapist Josef Goldbrunner wrote a ground-breaking book entitled Holiness Is Wholeness. When I began taking theology courses as an undergraduate in the late 1960s, and then continued studying theology as a graduate student, that phrase was everywhere. It was, as people sometimes say, "in the air" during the Vatican II period of promise in which I began reading theology seriously.

Goldbrunner's book builds on a fundamental and very traditional insight of Christian spirituality and theology. This is that what is holy has, by its very nature, to be whole. The etymology of the two words is linked. We attain holiness by aiming at becoming whole human beings. 

The Pauline vision of salvation, Paul's soteriology as set forth in one Pauline writing after another in the Christian scriptures, is of a fragmented world brought back together through the at-one-ment of Christ, the new Adam who knits together what fell apart through the old Adam, so that even the cosmos is made whole again through the redemption that begins with the paschal mystery and ends with the final eschatological fulfillment of things.

In John's gospel, Jesus announces to his disciples that he has come so that they might have life, and live it to the fullest (John 10:10). St. Irenaeus famously observed that the glory of God is a human being fully alive--another of the sayings that was everywhere in the air during the period of Vatican II promise, a period now eclipsed by unattractive, angry, militant, anti-worldly Catholicism that prefers to talk instead about blood and martyrdom and how there is no light anywhere in the world except where the church brings light to the darkness.

Why am I bringing up these theological points today? I'm doing so because they have direct bearing on what Bishop Thomas Tobin has just told Catholics of Rhode Island. As I noted yesterday, in a "pastoral" statement following the adoption of marriage equality in Rhode Island, Tobin told Catholics to shun their fellow Catholics (including family members, since Catholics do church as families) who participate in or support civil marriages between two people of the same sex.

Holiness is wholeness. But shun your family members who are gay. The two ideas jar, don't they, when we try to bring them together? They don't fit. They can't fit.

If holiness is wholeness, we impair ourselves as people seeking holiness by excluding those other than ourselves, those with different ways of being in the world, who are nonetheless part of our lives and our community. By shunning entire groups of human beings and treating them as less than human beings, we not only harm those we subject to such draconian, anti-human treatment.

We impair ourselves. We diminish our own wholeness. We make it harder to find holiness in our own life.

What the "pastoral" leaders of the Catholic church seem unable to recognize at this critical point in history when the full, equal humanity of gay and lesbian persons is becoming undeniably apparent to one person after another around the world is that they are harming not merely LGBT human beings by their calls to single out and exclude these human beings from the human community and the body of Christ. They're making themselves less human.

And to the extent that they continue with this behavior, they'll ineluctably forfeit moral credibility and the Catholic church will continue to bleed members. Because many Catholics remain grounded in those ancient affirmations about the call to become fully alive in Christ, and, like Tom and Linda Karle-Nelson of Detroit, they don't intend for a single moment to diminish themselves and impede their own progress towards holiness by cutting off fellow human beings and members of their family who happen to be gay, and who bring precious gifts to the human community precisely because they are gay.

No matter what nonsense about these matters falls from the lips of prelates ontologically lifted on high by the sacrament of ordination . . . . 

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