Monday, September 29, 2008

At LGBT Confab, Jaimeshock

Following recent ousters of openly-gay lay ministers at parishes in Madison and Boston, the latest intervention of note on the church's teaching on homosexuality came from Coadjutor-Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, who shocked some attendees with his keynote at last month's annual conference of the nation's diocesan LGBT ministries.

A rising star of the US bench better known for leading its charge on immigration reform, Soto's talk was delivered in the context of Proposition 8 -- the November item on the California ballot which, if passed, would end the state's court-sanctioned rollout of same-sex marriage via a constitutional amendment defining it as the union of a man and a woman.

Folks present at the 18 September talk at the three-day gathering in Long Beach noted that the usually-animated Soto "did not once look" at his audience, focusing instead on reading his prepared text, during which a handful of attendees walked out.

Fulltext; snips:
We can easily give in to the temptation to go along in order to get along. We can easily be duped by the popular ideas and trends that surround us. “Everybody does it” can become reason enough to think it or do it ourselves. Like Peter we can think that what Jesus teaches us is too unrealistic, too unreasonable. Like Peter we can convince ourselves that we know better than the Lord. We may even try to negotiate with Jesus, like Peter does, for easier terms.

We see this especially in the area of sexuality. So much of what we see and hear everyday can lead us to a distorted sense of our sexuality. Sexuality has been reduced to a matter of personal preference and personal pleasure without responsibility and with little respect for others. We can lose sight of the profound dignity of the human person who shares in God’s love and creative work through the chaste expression of one’s sexuality proper to one’s calling in life.

We are surrounded by a “contraceptive culture” that has reduced the procreative act to simple recreation absolved of any responsibility.

The deceptive language of “pro-choice” ignores the consequences of the choice for abortion that does violence to the most innocent and leaves traumatic scars on many young women.

What is a particular concern and alarm for us in California as well as others across the country is the bold judicial challenge to the longstanding cultural and moral understanding of marriage as a sacred covenant between a woman and a man. Our own efforts to restore common sense through the ballot initiative, Proposition 8, are portrayed as bigoted and out-of-touch. The irony is that what we propose is most in touch with the nature of families and what is good for the welfare of all.

That we find ourselves at this time, reasserting the basic moral and reasonable understanding of marriage, means that much has changed in the popular perceptions of sexuality and common notions about marriage. While we work to pass Proposition 8 this coming November, it is important to remember why we do this. Like Jesus, in the sixteenth chapter of Matthew that I cited about, we are saying a strong “no” to the California courts and to many who support the court’s wrong-headed decision. This “no” is not rooted in bigotry or bias. It is firmly rooted in a greater “yes” to a truer, more authentic appreciation of love’s calling and love’s design for the human heart.

The nature of love has been distorted. Many popular notions have deviated from its true destiny. Love for many has come to mean having sex. If you cannot have sex than you cannot love. This is the message. Even more destructive is the prevailing notion that sex is not an expression of love. Sex is love. This reductio ad absurdam deprives sexuality of its true meaning and robs the human person of the possibility of ever knowing real love.

Sexual intercourse is beautiful expression of love but this is so when intercourse is understood as a unique expression intended to share in the creative, faithful love of God. As the Holy Father, Pope Benedict, elaborated in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, “Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love” – between a man and woman – “becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa. God's way of loving becomes the measure of human love.” (DCE, n. 11) Sexual intercourse within the context of the marriage covenant becomes a beautiful icon – a sacrament – of God’s creative, unifying love. When sexual intercourse is taken out of this iconic, sacramental context of the complementary, procreative covenant between a man and a woman it becomes impoverished and it demeans the human person.

Sexual intercourse between a man and a woman in the covenant of Marriage is one expression of love to which the human person can aspire but we are all called to love. It is part of our human nature to love. We all have a desire to love but this love can deviate from its true calling when it exalts only in the pleasure of the body. Pope Benedict said in the same encyclical, “The contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive. Eros, reduced to pure ‘sex’, has become a commodity, a mere ‘thing’ to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man's great ‘yes’ to the body. On the contrary, he now considers his body and his sexuality as the purely material part of himself, to be used and exploited at will.” (DCE, n. 5) This is not our true calling. The human desire to love must lead us to the divine. Looking again to the Holy Father’s encyclical he says, “True, eros – human desire – tends to rise “in ecstasy” towards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves; yet for this very reason it calls for a path of ascent, renunciation, purification and healing.” (DCE, n. 5)

This path is the path of chastity. This is very true in marriage. It is also true in all of human life because it is the nature of all authentic love. We are all called to love. We are all called to be loved. This can only happen when we choose to love in the manner that God has called us to live. Love leads us to ecstasy, not as a moment of intoxication but rather as a journey, “an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God: ‘Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it’ (Lk 17:33).” (DCE n. 6)

Sexuality, then, as part of our human nature only dignifies and liberates us when we begin to love in harmony with God’s love and God’s wisdom for us. Chastity as a virtue is the path that brings us to that harmony with God’s wisdom and love. Chastity moves us beyond one’s desire to what God wills for each one of us. Chastity is love’s journey on the path of “ascent, renunciation, purification and healing.” Chastity is the understanding that it is not all about me or about us. We act always under God’s gaze. Desire tempered and tested by “renunciation, purification, and healing” can lead us to God’s design.

This is true for all of us. It is also true for men and women who are homosexual. We are called to live and love in a manner that brings us into respectful, chaste relationships with one another and an intimate relationship with God. We should be an instrument of God’s love for one another. Let me be clear here. Sexual intercourse, outside of the marriage covenant between a man and a woman, can be alluring and intoxicating but it will not lead to that liberating journey of true self-discovery and an authentic discovery of God. For that reason, it is sinful. Sexual relations between people of the same sex can be alluring for homosexuals but it deviates from the true meaning of the act and distract them from the true nature of love to which God has called us all. For this reason, it is sinful.

Married love is a beautiful, heroic expression of faithful, life-giving, life-creating love. It should not be accommodated and manipulated for those who would believe that they can and have a right to mimic its unique expression.

Marriage is also not the sole domain of love as some of the politics would seem to imply. Love is lived and celebrated in so many ways that can lead to a wholesome, earnest, and religious life: the deep and chaste love of committed friends, the untiring love of committed religious and clergy, the profound and charitable bonds among the members of a Christian community, enduring, forgiving, and supportive love among family members. Should we dismiss or demean the human and spiritual significance of these lives given in love?

This is a hard message today. It is the still the right message. It will unsettle and disturb many of our brothers and sisters just as Peter was unsettled and put off by the stern rebuke of his master and good friend, the Lord Jesus. If the story of Peter’s relationship with Jesus had begun and ended there, it would have been a sad tale indeed but that is not the whole story then nor is it the whole story now. Jesus met Simon Peter on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He said with great love and fondness, “Come, follow me.” Peter would not only continue to follow the Lord Jesus to Jerusalem. Despite his many failings and foibles he would eventually choose to love as Jesus loved him. He would die as martyr’s death in Rome, giving himself completely for the one who loved him so dearly.
As previously noted, the Orange-born, Columbia-trained social worker-cum-policy wonk as conversant on Mother Jones as he is on Mother Church will succeed Bishop William Weigand at the helm of the 900,000-member church in California's capital on 30 November.

PHOTO: Mark Rightmeyer/Orange County Register