Thursday, 8 March 2012

Marriage



This coming weekend Catholics in England and Wales are going to be reminded of the Christian vision of Marriage, and the call for Catholics to resist a re-definition of marriage in legislation by our government. This returns to our culture's exploration over what it means to be a human being and specifically being male and female. Of course as fewer people refer to divine revelation and more people settle with secular values such as 'equality' it becomes an opportunity for us explain clearly that our values are not born from public opinion but from God.

I am sure that as Catholics we will be asked to defend our Church's position on this as news about the Archbishop's letter hits the media. And not least amongst the acusations brought against the Catholic Church will be that of homophobia, ie hatred of homosexuals.

It is important that we remember that according to the teaching of our Church (i.e. we believe this is a divine truth) having same-sex attraction is not a sin. Of their nature those who call themselves homosexual (or 'gay') are not intrinsically more sinful than anyone else. What the church says is that sexual union only finds its rightful place in the marital union of a man and a woman. So any sort of sex outside this is regarded as sinful. I suggest we all ponder what the church teaches about this especially in the Catechism (see CCC 1601 forwards).

It is also helpful to listen to the witness of a Catholic who is gay and who accepts the Church's teaching. Here is an excerpt from such a witness, and you can find the full entry on the link that follows:
... I have heard a lot about how mean the Church is, and how bigoted, because she opposes gay marriage. How badly she misunderstands gay people, and how hostile she is towards us. My gut reaction to such things is: Are you freaking kidding me? Are we even talking about the same church?

When I go to Confession, I sometimes mention the fact that I'm gay, to give the priest some context. (And to spare him some confusion: Did you say 'locker room'? What were you doing in the women's...oh.) I've always gotten one of two responses: either compassion, encouragement, and admiration, because the celibate life is difficult and profoundly counter-cultural; or nothing at all, not even a ripple, as if I had confessed eating too much on Thanksgiving.

Of the two responses, my ego prefers the first -- who doesn't like thinking of themselves as some kind of hero? -- but the second might make more sense. Being gay doesn't mean I'm special or extraordinary. It just means that my life is not always easy. (Surprise!) And as my friend J. said when I told him recently about my homosexuality, "I guess if it wasn't that, it would have been something else." Meaning that nobody lives without a burden of one kind or another. As Rabbi Abraham Heschel said: "The man who has not suffered, what can he possibly know, anyway?"

Where are all these bigoted Catholics I keep hearing about? When I told my family a year ago, not one of them responded with anything but love and understanding. Nobody acted like I had a disease. Nobody started treating me differently or looking at me funny. The same is true of every one of the Catholic friends that I've told. They love me for who I am.

Actually, the only time I get shock or disgust or disbelief, the only time I've noticed people treating me differently after I tell them, is when I tell someone who supports the gay lifestyle. Celibacy?? You must be some kind of freak.

Hooray for tolerance of different viewpoints...



Monday, 5 March 2012

Lent 2 - Transfiguration


The exterior of the Abbey church was gleaming again as we arrived for mass on the second Sunday of Lent. Much of the exterior of the church has been cleaned over recent months and now the tower is being done. Work begins inside the Abbey church as a major refurbishment is about to take place. Among the works is a completely new floor and a new lighting system.

We celebrated mass in the Blessed Sacrament chapel once more and were pleased to welcome quite a number of visitors, which meant one and a half lengths of the communion rail, when normally it is only one. Receiving Holy Communion at an altar rail seems perfectly natural to us former Anglicans and fitting too. Going by various blogs I read it seems to be somewhat contraversial to some Catholics, but kneeling is such a powerful posture of humbling oneself before almighty God who comes in the form of food.

Homily of Lent 2 B The Transfiguration

The gospel reading today brings us to the top of a mountain. Before we consider what happened at the top of the mountain, we will find it helpful to call to mind the symbolism of the “mountain” and of climbing up them. Climbing mountains requires much effort, but it enables us to leave everyday things behind. We breathe in the pure air of creation. And the expanse of creation is before us; filling us with awe and wonder. As we climb the mountain we also climb within ourselves. Jesus climbed mountains to pray, to be with His Father. It is important to remember that on this occasion in the gospel, Jesus was going up the mountain to pray with the Father. This is what the climb was for, and He brought with Him the three disciples, Peter, James and John: in order to pray. The mountain is the place of the closeness of God; the place of inner ascent, as well as outward ascent.

So what happened during this prayer event? We are told that Jesus was transfigured in Light. As we consider this, we might think back to Moses and his experience of talking with God on the mountain. There Moses had ascended in his heart to meet with God, face to face, to receive God's revelation, the Law. And when he returned his face shone, such that the people could not cope with it and he had to be veiled. When Jesus goes up the mountain to pray there is a profound interpenetration of being – as Jesus would say later, “I am in the Father, and the Father is in me. The Father and I are one.” And so in this prayer event the disciples are privileged to witness something of the core of Jesus' being – that of pure, uncreated light. Jesus is Light from Light. Whereas Moses reflects God's light; the transfiguration is Light that emanates from the core of Jesus' being.

And then Moses and Elijah appear in conversation with Jesus. Both Moses and Elijah had had profound encounters with God on a mountain. And now they come to witness that both the Law and the Prophets find their climax in Jesus Christ. In Luke's gospel we are told that they speak with Jesus of His exodus to take place in Jerusalem. And so the event points towards the climax of Jesus' mission – it is in fact pointing towards the cross, though, the disciples do not understand that.

The disciples, we are told, are “terrified”. Although despite his terror, Peter manages to offer a suggestion: to make booths for Moses, Elijah and Jesus! In order for us to understand why Peter might have said such a thing we need to appreciate that in all likelihood the day they were on the mountain was the end of the festival of tabernacles/booths. And this festival both looked back to their time in the desert when then dwelt in tents, but also looked forward to the end of time when the elect would come to dwell in the tent of meeting. So Peter believes the time of the Messiah has come.

Indeed the time of the Messiah has come, but not in the way Peter expects. Jesus Himself is the tent of meeting between God and man. But for there to be salvation, a Passover is needed – the lamb is to be sacrificed, and Jesus willingly makes Himself the Lamb of God to be sacrificed in order that God's people may be delivered from slavery and death. Peter's thinking is like our thinking – we would rather go straight to the mount of transfiguration without going to Calvary, the cross, first. We would rather we could get to Easter without Good Friday. But the truth is that without Calvary there is no salvation. And that is not just true for Jesus, but all His disciples. The path we walk is the way of the cross.

The way of the cross begins at baptism – in a way the transfiguration is a reminder of Jesus' baptism. The Voice of God is heard again, “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him.” In our baptism we died with Christ and we thus took up the cross. We were clothed in white at baptism as a sign of the Light that transfigures. But what we must not forget is that the Light of Christ comes through His wounds. So on this second Sunday of Lent, we are bidden to “Listen to Him.” And “listen” is not just sitting down with our ears open, it is taking seriously what this Man says – it is obedience. Obedience is costly – are we willing to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him? Obedience to Christ is costly; it is not comfortable, it does not make us popular, but it is the way of eternal life. St Peter wanted to avoid it on more than one occasion; in the end, he found the courage to embrace the cross, when he went to his own martyrdom on Vatican hill.

So let us listen to Him, who is our salvation; and in obedience to Him, may God give us the grace not to avoid the way of the cross. Amen.

DAY NINE (Eve of Pentecost)