At church today, Father Tony Gittins, from Chicago, was a guest homilist. I thought I had heard the name before, and when I google it, I see that he’s renowned for his teachings on discipleship and social justice. Cool.
His homily is excellent, of course. The reading today is about the man with two sons who he asks to go work in his vineyard. One son says “no,” but goes out and works anyway. The other son says “yes,” but doesn’t go work. Jesus asks, “Which son does his father’s will?”
Father Gittins preaches on it admirably, and actually in a way that might change my life. But let me give this some context first.
I go to a Catholic church.
Yes, I’m Catholic.
Staying Catholic is increasingly a struggle for me.
I was raised Catholic, but not in the tradition of American Catholic grade schools, nuns with rulers, and families with 10 children. My Mama’s Catholicism was more Italian style and, at least in her world, the pope gave his opinion and people agreed – or didn’t. No hard feelings either way.
I remember her explaining to me that while it was important to listen to the Pope, he was only infallible when he spoke “ex cathedra.” I remember her saying that a pope had only done that three times in the history of the church.
I understood that if you didn’t agree with him when he spoke ex cathedra, you couldn’t call yourself Catholic. But the rest of the time, you didn’t necessarily have to agree.
As I write that now, in today’s climate, I find myself wondering – was that really what she said? And then I remember John Kennedy, our only Catholic president. I remember how proud we were when someone asked him what he’d do if the pope tried to tell how to decide something based on religion.
I remember him saying that he would have to do what was right for the country, that we wouldn’t “be ruled from Rome,” which was a big fear at the time. I remember feeling proud, and other Catholics did too.
I had this sense of being Catholic back then as something that I intrinsically was, in almost the same way that Jewish people are Jewish. I suspect that was very Italian of me.
Ok, so fast forward a bunch of years, and a bunch of experiences. I know now that being accepted by the Catholic church in America in our time is very conditional. And I guess that’s ok.
So, I go to this Catholic Church that is pretty liberal. We always have been. We’re a church I can love, with our inclusive language, ecumenical leanings, commitment to peace and the pursuit of social justice. Sounds good, right?
Of course, some of our stuff is getting a little shaky these days. New pope, new Archbishop, and we’re working on keeping a low profile. Inclusive language is not acceptable and let’s not talk about women being called to serve as pries~~~ shhhh – don’t say it. Hush.
But we’ve hung in there so far, and keep looking for ways to adapt and survive.
I won’t name the church, it doesn’t really matter and I want to give them plausible deniability, cause by the time I finish writing this, they may need to not claim me.
So here we are, this little radical Christian Catholic Church, full of peace and love and inclusion. This is what it looked like to me today:
We start off with the sign of the cross. We used to say an inclusive version ~ “In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Holy Sanctifier.” There are other versions too that have been considered acceptable, but~~
~~ but it’s inclusive, it doesn’t make it clear that God’s our Father, not our Mother. Can’t have that.
So now we don’t say it. We don’t say anything. We make the sign of the cross silently, and say what we want to say to ourselves.
How sad is that?
But we have permission to do that. Thanks.
So we go on, and I notice again that it’s been ages, really ages since we used one of my favorite songs before the readings. Maybe a year. Maybe more. It’s one I love, and we used to do it often, but it seems to be gone. I wonder if it’s on the not-acceptable-music list.
I let that go, and I’m fine til it’s time for the gospel. Then our esteemed visitor rises to read the Gospel, and I think ~
“He’s a priest, so he’s allowed to read the Gospel. The other people we have, our local prophets and preachers, aren’t allowed to do that, and they aren’t allowed to preach. They’re allowed to stand there while a priest reads the gospel and does some little homily just to remind us all that he has the power and the authority. Then they can expound on what he says. But some priest can walk in off the street, and read the gospel himself.”
And i feel a little sick.
No offense to the visiting priest intended. It’s the message we send our lay people that bothers me.
So Father Gittins reads the story about the two sons and the conversation Jesus has about the discrepancy between their words and their behavior. Father says that he read the non-inclusive language version on purpose because it’s important that the story is about sons, not daughters. He says he’ll expound on that later, but I must have missed that part.
Anyhow, it doesn’t really matter, because I’m taken with the rest of his homily. Here’s what sticks with me.
The story is about integrity. Doing what you say. Actions that match your words. And the importance of saying “yes” when you mean “yes,” and “no,” when you mean “no.”
The story, he says, is about the importance of rethinking things so we are transformed to God’s way of thinking.
And I begin to ask myself – Can I call myself Catholic with any sense of integrity?
I run down the list of things that Catholics publicly proclaim these days – not just for Catholics, things that they – we? – try to force on everyone.
1. Marriage is one man + one woman.
We believe that so strongly that we’re not willing to provide adoption services if we might have to place a child in desperate need of a home with a gay or lesbian couple. In fact, we’d rather withdraw our funding and not participate at all.
But I have gay and lesbian friends who’ve adopted and I believe they’re wonderful parents, and I believe they should be able to get married in all states.
2. Getting divorced and remarrying is wrong.
We Catholics believe this so strongly that in many churches you can’t go to Communion if you’re remarried, or serve on the parish council, or participate fully in the spiritual community.
By those standards, I am already “beyond the pale.” Of course, I’m not remarried anymore, but I’m pretty sure that getting divorced a second time doesn’t let me off the hook.
3. Artificial contraception is wrong.
We Catholics believe this so strongly that we won’t support any sex education that includes any kind of real birth control, not even condoms. Not even in countries where young women are getting married and pregnant so young that they end up with fistulas. Not even in countries where children are starving because there are too many mouths to feed. Not even in countries where HIV is rampant.
Ludicrous, I think this stance is ludicrous. And possibly evil.
4. Abortion is wrong under any circumstances.
We Catholics believe this so strongly that we excommunicated the mother of the nine year old in South America who was raped by her step-father and pregnant with twins, and we excommunicated the doctor who aborted them because she couldn’t have carried them to term and survived.
We are ok with some women and the occasional child dying, that’s just the way it goes.
Since we don’t believe in artificial contraception, our chances of dying in childbirth go up, but that’s ok. And it’s ok if we get raped and get pregnant – unfortunate, maybe, but just the way it is. Because once we’re born, women don’t really matter. So of course –
5. Women can’t be priests.
Never, never, never. So much never that if we even say we think it’s wrong, we’re just-about-kind-of excommunicated. So much never that even thinking some women are called to the priesthood is some kind of sin.
If you think I’m kidding – they’re on the verge of excommunicating Father Roy Bourgeois. Maybe they already have and I missed it. As I recall, he preached the homily at a mass for some renegade group of folk who were ordaining a woman. They don’t want to kick him out – he’s a priest, after all, and they didn’t excommunicate any of the sexually predatory priests.
But thinking that women should be priests is at least as bad as priests abusing children.
So let me say it publicly, proclaim it from the rafters – I think some women are called to be priests. I think the Catholic Church is wrong not to recognize this and use the talent of these gifted and compassionate women.
AND – I escort at the abortion clinic, accompanying the patients and their companions down the gauntlet of pray-ers, preachers, and chasers, many of whom are Catholic. I used to cringe a little when the Catholics marched down from the Cathedral once a month to fill the sidewalk across the street, certain that one day I’d look up and see someone I know. But I no longer care.
There are lots of other places that I have issues with the Catholic church. The ways we’ve treated our African-American brothers and sisters is one, but that’s a more subtle discussion. So is the “God is male” position I think they – we? – take.
But the five things I’ve listed – Marriage, Divorce, Contraception, Abortion, and Priesthood – are substantive and crystal clear. I do not believe what the Catholic church teaches.
How can I say I’m Catholic???
Why would I want to??
(to be continued)