Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Mystery of Goodness

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
May 26, 2013

John 16:12-15

Throughout the centuries, theologians have endeavored to investigate the mystery of God by delving conceptually into His nature and setting out their conclusions in different languages. But often, our words conceal more than reveal His mystery. Jesus doesn't speak much about God. He simply offers us his experience.

Jesus calls God "Father" and experiences Him as a mystery of goodness. He experiences Him as a good Presence that blesses life and attracts His sons and daughters to fight against what harms human beings. For him, this ultimate mystery of reality that we believers call "God" is a close and friendly Presence who is making way in the world to build -- with us and beside us -- a more humane life.

Jesus never separates this Father from his plan to transform the world. He can't think of him as someone locked in his unfathomable mystery, his back turned to the suffering of his sons and daughters. Therefore, he asks his followers to be open to the mystery of this God, to believe in the Good News of his plan, to unite ourselves with him to work for a more just and blessed world for all, and to always seek for his justice, his truth and his peace to prevail more and more among us.

On the other hand, Jesus experiences himself as "Son" of this God, born to boost on earth the humanizing project of the Father and to carry it to its definitive fullness above even death. So, at every moment he seeks what the Father wants. His faithfulness to him leads him to always look for what is good for his sons and daughters. His passion for God is translated into compassion for all who suffer.

So, the entire existence of Jesus, the Son of God, consists of healing life and alleviating suffering, defending victims and demanding justice for them, sowing gestures of kindness, and offering everyone God's mercy and gratuitous forgiveness -- the salvation that comes from the Father.

Finally, Jesus always acts when impelled by the "Spirit" of God. It's the Father's love that sends him to proclaim to the poor the Good News of his saving plan. It's the spirit of God that moves him to heal life. It's his saving force that is manifested in his whole prophetic career.

That Spirit will not be extinguished in the world when Jesus is absent. He himself promised it to his disciples. The force of the Spirit will make them witnesses to Jesus, Son of God, and collaborators in the saving plan of the Father. This is how we Christians live the mystery of the Trinity in practice.

"Hidden" no more

Back in 2011, an anonymous Catholic clergyman published a little book, Hidden Voices: Reflections of a Gay, Catholic Priest. The book's description, taken from its back cover, read simply: "I've written this book to give voice to the thousands of hidden voices in the Catholic Church that feel the way I do and to give hope, albeit just a little, to those who struggle with the Catholic Church's stance on homosexuality. What follows are some of my reflections on what it means to negotiate life as a gay priest in the Catholic Church, to struggle with self and hierarchy, and to move from silence and shame to hope and forgiveness."

The anonymous author deplored how the Church deals with homosexuality and especially its negative effect on gay adolescents:

"...I once witnessed another bishop tell a group of nearly 500 youth leaving for the prolife march in Washington, D.C., that 'gay marriage is one of the most serious prolife issues we face today because it's a threat to the sanctity of marriage.' Do you realize just how damaging that can be to those young people who are struggling with their orientation? It's hard enough to be a 'straight' teenager dealing with the standard ups and downs of hormones and emotions, but to be a teenager with same sex attractions in a community where your spiritual leaders, the people you look to for guidance and affirmation, are telling you that you have a disease like alcoholism and that you're a threat to life -- how can anyone survive it intact? Yet that's precisely the message our Church is sharing..."

And, reflecting on his own personal situation and views, he wrote:

"I know I'm not the only one who believes it's time for a change. But as a member of the clergy, I also know I'm not allowed to publicly oppose these teachings, unless I'm ready to leave active ministry. It's an ongoing struggle of integrity for me -- do I speak the truth in an age when the truth so desperately needs to be spoken, or do I remain hidden, practicing the ministry that God has called me towards as a Catholic priest? It's a choice none of us should have to make, a choice I daily have to make, a choice thousands of priests daily have to make..."

Two years later, with the re-publication of his book, Fr. Gary Meier decided to come out as its author and as a homosexual priest, claim ownership of his words, and resolve the question he asked in the earlier edition. In an official announcement on his website, Fr. Meier declared that "on May 23, 2013, I will be celebrating my 15 year anniversary to the priesthood...I am releasing the 2nd edition of my book Hidden Voices, Reflections of a Gay, Catholic Priest which was originally published in 2011 anonymously. The second edition, now available, has one main difference -- it is no longer anonymous."

And Fr. Meier added this explanation for his decision:

"It has been difficult to remain part of a hierarchy that has been so hostile towards homosexuals in recent years. This is especially true considering nearly 30% of all successful teenage suicides are attributed to sexual identity issues. Our church once stood for and represented the radical nature of God’s love for all people. That is not the true today -- especially towards the LGBT community and therefore I feel compelled to stand in solidarity with those Catholics who have lost their jobs, have been denied the sacraments, have been excommunicated or who have been made to feel ‘less than’ by their church leaders because of who they love."

Fr. Meier served in a number of parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, most recently at Sts. Teresa & Bridget, where he was pastor before requesting a leave of absence in the summer of 2012 for vocational discernment and to pursue graduate studies in counseling at the University of Missouri. The priest has received much recognition for his community service work in the St. Louis area, including a congratulatory resolution from the city's Board of Aldermen which called Meier "a friend and invaluable contributor to the 5th Ward in its continued revitalization and restoration." The archdiocesan St. Charles Lwanga Center gave Fr. Meier its Fr. Ed Feuerbacher Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008 for his work with North Grand Neighborhood Services, which he co-founded in 2005, and Angel Baked Cookies, which empowers area youth with the skills necessary to own and operate a small business. Fr. Meier remains president and acting director of NGNS.

In response to all the publicity surrounding Fr. Meier's "coming out", the Archdiocese of St. Louis issued a terse statement explaining that the priest was already on a leave of absence. It offered a counter argument that "the Church does not condemn individuals for having same-sex attraction. It teaches that all people are called to responsibility regarding sexuality -- whether they are homosexual or heterosexual, priest or lay person." And, while neither encouraging nor discouraging Fr. Meier from choosing to continue in the priesthood, it opined that "as a man who experiences same-sex attraction, Fr. Meier has before him an opportunity to be an example and mentor to Catholics in the archdiocese who struggle with the same feelings. Whether he will seize this opportunity to proclaim the Gospel of Life which offers the truth about the beauty and sanctity of human sexuality, is entirely within his control."

Meanwhile, Fr. Meier has written a column in which he says the response to his decision to come forward has been overwhelmingly supportive. He reveals that the decision stemmed from a question a friend of his asked several years ago. "'What is it you really want?' After a moment I replied, 'I want to be out.' My response caught me by surprise because the moment I said it, I knew it was true. I want to be out. It came with such clarity. I want the world to know the truth about who I am."

"In the weeks that followed that conversation, I began to realize that what I really want is the truth to be out. I want the truth about homosexuality to be out. I want others to know that homosexuality is a gift. That you can live and love as God created you to love. We are created by love for love. Homosexuality is not a cross, it's not a curse, it's not an intrinsic disorder; it is a gift, created by love for love. It is a life-giving gift from God that embodies the infinite ways God's love can be manifested in our world. That's what I want. I want the truth to be out. I want people to know, to love and to respect one another by accepting this truth."

Monday, May 20, 2013

Is the Church an Agent for Change?

By Rev. Olga Lucia Álvarez Benjumea, ARCWP (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Evangelizadoras de los apóstoles
May 15, 2013

To this question, I firmly believe the answer is yes!

Once, a mother said to her son, "Son, watch your step so you won't fall," and her son answered, "Mom, thanks for the warning, but the one going in front is you. Me, I'm following in your footsteps."

A great answer, a very responsible one. The Church Mother and Teacher goes ahead and we follow in her footsteps.

What is the Church? Who forms it? It's the global community integrated in the ONE. All of us who are baptized form it.

It's precisely at Pentecost that the Church was born, to make the Community do and fulfill the covenant to achieve his wish, through the Eucharist: "Do this in memory of me." (1 Cor 11:25)

Being Church and being an agent of change is possible if we have understood the incalculable value of the Eucharist. If there's no Eucharist, there's no Church, there's no change.

It's from there that the elements emerge for social and religious change. This must be emphasized, giving witness, living the Eucharist, in the dimension of the Gospel, making the change visible and palpable after every Eucharist.

The Eucharist isn't an esoteric rite with magical essence. It's discovering the incalculable worth of the Divine Essence made human, and the surrender, and our commitment, as sons and daughters, to serving the neediest.

The Church People of God is the meeting place where we who have been baptized carry out the most important covenant, in front of our community, as witnesses, that gives substance to our lives.

If we would fulfill the pact made at every Eucharist, we would have PEACE, we would have JUSTICE. The kingdom of God would already have come true in our midst. There wouldn't be hunger in the land, there wouldn't be elderly who are neglected, or children who are rejected and abused. There wouldn't be those on top and those at the bottom, competition and revenge. There wouldn't be unemployed people, displaced persons, migrants, racism, or homeless families and children who don't have health care or education.

It's in the Church, from the Church, with the Church, that we can do our bit to tackle the problems of society.

Hence the need to purify the Church, heal it, cure it, so that careerists aren't hidden in it, climbers who have used the people and the family of God as a trampoline to further their own interests and personal ambitions, to echo the words of Francis, the Bishop of Rome, when he addressed the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) on May 7, 2013.

Being all baptized members of the Church People of God -- laypeople, men and women religious, deacons, priests, bishops, including the Pope -- we must take personal responsibility for our Church, making it able to eradicate every type of violence -- in the countryside, in the cities, marginalization, painful discrimination against our brothers and sisters, members of the family of God.

It's not just the job of those who minister and hold positions in the Church, but of all of us who are baptized, to involve ourselves in banishing insecurity, administrative corruption, impunity, lack of leadership, abuse of authority, poverty, and injustice in general.

Through our Baptism, we reaffirm our commitment to the Church; it's the only way that together we can make the Church a true agent of change -- not in words only, but in concrete deeds. Let's begin now!