Posted in category "Seasons of the Spirit"
I am really tired of hearing Christmas songs anywhere I walk beginning now BEFORE Thanksgiving! It is ridiculous and completely empty of meaning. The merchantile purpose of this non stop exposure to the o, so superficial rendering of the mystery of Christianism is sickening.
And yet I wonder if the success of Christmas, and so of all the hoopla around it, merchantile and others, is not our deep rooted need for redemption.
But what is redemption?
Is it what the dictionary says:
1. The act of redeeming or the condition of having been redeemed.
2. Recovery of something pawned or mortgaged.
3. The payment of an obligation, as a government’s payment of the value of its bonds.
4. Deliverance upon payment of ransom; rescue.
5. Christianity. Salvation from sin through Jesus’s sacrifice.
Certainly the last one is being the Christian one is the Christmas one, isn’t it? But even that is not clear. What is sin and what sort of sacrifice was Jesus’? How does the whole thing saved us? From what?
The other night, thanks to Netflix, Pat and I watched the Gran Torino, a film by Clint Eastwood. (Read a good synopsis by Jason Buchanan in All Movie Guide: http://www.answers.com/topic/gran-torino-film)
Pat and I concurred with no hesitation that it is story of redemption. In a movie like this one, redemption is easy to understand.
In conclusion, you know redemption when you see it, but in its absence it is hard to define it, even to understand it.
Perhaps what Christmas brings is a longing for redemption, even though we do not know how to express it in thoughts. Yet, we sometime glimpse at how we could live it, actualize it, make it happen.
Christmas’ Good News is a hope that indeed redemption is possible, here and now. And that makes all the difference.
After the Feast of Corpus Christi, the liturgy enters the Ordinary Time, also known as Time after Pentecost. It will last until Christ the King, the Sunday just before Advent. Each Sunday of this period has a theme, but there is not a particular on going thrust from one week to the next as there were in Advent, Lent and Easter Time. We are so to speak, left spiritually to find our own thrust. Which is really what we, Catholic lesbians, are left to do all the time. Because of our ‘life style’, we must negotiate the path of our spiritual life on our own, usually without a community.
How do we do it? Where do we pick our spiritual daily bread? Is it easy? Difficult?
Now would be a good time to share what works for us, and what does not, the successes and the pitfalls. We are as in a desert, but there are oasis out there. There are ways to travel, to keep sustaining ourselves. Please let’s share with each other, in this, our virtual community.
Today is the feast of Pentecost and I just came back from mass at the villages’ RC parish. The homily was classic, celebrating the birth of the Church.
That got me both annoyed and wondering. Of the risen Christ’s breathing his spirit into his disciples, the Church kept only the second part: “The sins you forgive will be forgiven in heaven and those you do not, will not.” Chances are this part of the story was added way after the fact. It does not appear in the same way in all the gospels. Sometimes it is told to Peter alone, and sometimes to all the disciples. In any case, the important fact is the passing along, or “infusion” of Christ’s spirit to his followers, and by extension to us all. It is the continuation of this co mingling of the divine and the human which first happened at the conception of Jesus and continued in the Eucharist. Or to sum it up in one word, it is part of the mystery of the Incarnation and of Creation all together.
But to go back to my problem with the homily -and the RC Church’s traditional teaching- how can the Incarnation be limited to the said RC Church? From day one, the apostles who considered themselves Christ’s heirs, wanted to limit who would be “in”. And from day one the Spirit spoke directly to people outside the apostles’ rules and regulations, starting with Paul on his road to Damas. “No, the Spirit says over and over again, you do not have to be “in” to receive me.”
There is however a prerequisite to receiving the Spirit: Searching.
As we Catholic lesbians have over and over again experienced rejection from the Church, we assume too often that searching is no longer demanded of us.
Just the opposite, the Spirit is for us, as well, and even more, but we must search and ask. Then She will be poured into us and we will speak in tongues (figuratively speaking at least) and move mountains and live.
The domain of the Spirit and those of the institutional churches do not overlap. There is no exclusive to God’s gift.
Today is not as much the anniversary of the birth of the church as it is the acknowledgement and celebration of God’s presence in the most intimate part of our self, a presence so quiet yet so loving that we seldom think at all about it. “If we only knew God’s gift!”
This week saw the publication of the report on the Catholic Irish orphanages. Horrifying! I had seen the movie: The Magdalene Sisters (www.miramax.com/the_magdalene_sisters ) and this was just commonplace. Some very good comments can be found on the New York Times blog on the report. (http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/05/20/abuse-in-ireland-one-victim-responds/). One particularly caught my attention: “To begin to understand the appalling torture and slavery of children by Catholic institutions with the complicity of the Department of Education and the Government and Courts, you must attempt to understand the subservience of the individual in this country to the tribe, to the leaders of the tribe, and to whatever organizational form the tribe assumes through history.”
I am not sure if it is true of the Irish, but if it is, it is not only of the Irish. Is it true of us Catholics? In France where I grew up, anti-clericalism is prevalent. It is the norm. To become a nun or a priest does not give you any special status in society, almost the opposite. The Church is poor having lost all its real-estate holding in 1905.
I am not trying to defend the RC Church; I am only looking at the connection between a particular society and the Church within it. Looking both at history and at actual instances, one could conclude the more persecuted the Church, the more holy it is! In any case, the less collusion between Church and State, the best it is for everybody.
Such collusion begins within each one of us. What do I give to Caesar and what do I give to God? And that brings us to the feast of the Ascension we celebrated this week. Christ had to disappear from our mist, if he had not, his visible presence would have de facto been part of the particular political reality of wherever he is.
Persecution reminds us that our Christian faith needs to be forever challenged by the affairs of the city, the political reality of our day – and vice versa. In the absence of persecution, we need to be vigilant, forever questioning our faith, our own Church and our own City. We need to risk loosing if not “our tribe” at least our peace of mind and comfort level in doing so. We need to do so over and over again as complacency is always one of our worst temptations.
Today I decided to cut the h– out of the forsythias. Those past weeks while all the neighbors’ were gloriously blooming, ours gave only few lousy flowers. To remedy this shameful result, I went on line and find out what to do with lazy forsythias: “Prune them to death, they’ll survive and you’ll get flowers next year” I read, and so I did.
Then I found out what this Sunday’s Gospel reading is.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower who cuts off every branch in me that doesn’t bear fruit, but prunes the fruitful ones to increase their yield. You’ve been pruned already, thanks to the word that I have spoken to you. Live on in me as I do in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit of itself apart from the vine, neither can you bear fruit apart from me.
I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who live in me and I in them will bear abundant fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. Those who don’t live in me are like withered rejected branches, to be picked up and thrown on the fire and burned. If you live on in me, and my words live on in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you. My Father will be glorified if you bear much fruit and thus prove to be my disciples.
Ouch! I just hope and pray that God will not be as energetic pruning me that I was with these poor bushes of ours.
But on a second reading of this Gospel of John, it seems to me that pruning is not really the theme here. Even better, pruning as it may, needs not be painful: “You’ve been pruned already, thanks to the word that I have spoken to you.” What is important is not so much the pruning than the living on in Christ. We cannot bear fruit apart from Christ. OK, but that can be very abstract. Does it mean, as we are often told, to abide by the (Church’s) rules? Or, should I become a mystic,and lead an other worldly life? I am not great with ascetism!
There is a third option, also known as St. Therese de Lisieux'”Little way”: the here and now. Encountering Christ is not a matter of moral. It is not necessarily either a matter of mysticism, rahter, it is the voluntary act of turning toward Christ in the present moment.
The present moment is the only place in space and in time where we, as individual, interact with the world, with each other and with the divine. It is THE place of contact, there is no other. Not in our regrets or remorse, not in our dreams, plans or wishes, but in the here and now do we meet. Every moment is pregant of this possibility. It is up to us. We only need to actively turn toward God.
This week I received two e-mails concerning the legalization of same sex marriage in the state of New York. One from the Empire State Pride Agenda asking me to call/e-mail my Assembly member, which I did. Bad luck, my very own Assembly member had sponsored the bill. At least it proved that I live in a not too homophobic district!
The other e-mail came from the Archdiocese of New York with these words:
“On April 16 Governor David Paterson introduced legislation intended to legalize same-sex “marriage” in the State of New York. Action is needed now to protect marriage as we’ve always known it – the union of a husband and a wife. Click here to send a message to your state lawmakers or visit www.nyscatholic.org, click ‘Take Action Now,’ then click the alert to “Help Protect Marriage.”” I did not click.
Those two mails recapitulate our dilemma, don’t they? While I do believe marriage needs protecting, I am perplexed as to why same sex marriage is such a threat.
One could argue that marriage has not always been “as we know it”. The Patriarchs, David, Solomon and many holy others were blessed by Yawheh with many wives. We also know that the RC Church did not institutionalized the sacrament of marriage until the XIth century. It did so at that time,in part because men had a tendency to throw away old wives along with their children so they would not have to support them, resulting in long lines at the door the Church’s charitable monasteries. And in part to keep a tight control on social institutions, and so limiting the secular power of the King. Until then, in the West at least, marriage had been essentially a civil contract, in the tradition of Roman laws, contract which could be broken only for reason of adultery (from the wife that is). The husband could have a mistress as long as he did not settle her, in his home, along with his wife.
So pleeeeaaase, no “as we’ve always known it.” Give me something else! The natural law argument is much more interesting. Except that the Bonobos taught us through their sexual habits some new and captivating things about natural law. Indeed the more we know about the laws of nature, the more the natural law “as we’ve always known it” does not hold water.
I would rather hear a discussion on the nature of marriage. St. Paul calls it a mystery. What does it mean? What makes a marriage: the social contract between two families? That has been the case, and still is, in many places and for millenniums. Is it the commitment between two spouses? Is it the sexual intercourse? Is it procreation? Is it the protection of a stable family for the purpose of raising children? Is it a place where human love, lived together, receives protection and support?
By restricting marriage to its one man-one woman prerequisite, the Church precludes a broader reflection on the mystery of marriage. We, catholic lesbians, can bring our own experience, our own praxis of same sex love lived within the context of a committed, celebrated Christian marriage. That should help all marriages!
The first page of the New York Times, dated Thursday, April 16th, shows three photos:
At top, in St. Patrick cathedral, the new Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan sitting in front of three rows deep of cardinals and bishops, all white, all old, and all male. Dressed in an array of red, white and gold, they seem genuinely bored but for the jolly new archbishop.
At the bottom of the page, two photos face each other: on the left, a handful of women in black, holding banners, grim looking. On the right, a mob of men with headdress, raise their fist, screaming at the women. This takes place in Kabul. The women are bringing a petition to ‘the Parliament asking that it repeal a new law that introduces a range of Taliban-like restrictions on women, and permits, among other things, marital rape.’
New York, Kabul, two cultures, two religions, two countries world apart, and yet the same fundamental attitude regarding women. Why is it?
I believe it has to do with the power that women have over life. Women give birth; they feed the infant from their own body. At the end, women are those who take care of the dead, preparing them for burial. We saw that again this week in the Resurrection Gospel. Women are nature’s high priests connecting our humanity with the mysteries of life and death.
It is said that class struggle began with the agricultural society, but what of sex struggle? With the dawn of farming, people could finally control the production of food; they did not depend anymore on the whims of their prey and on gathering what they could find. Now they could grow, irrigate, and store for winter. As they built granaries and cities, they also built the tower of Babel. They could distance themselves from nature’s tyranny of hunger. They grew less fearful of the seasons and of drought. After controlling night fears with fire, the control of food source was the next big step. And so along with granaries they built temples and stuck their gods in them.
Yet, life and death still escaped them. To control death men went to war. To control life, they had to take freedom and the power of ownership away from their women. They hid their bodies from other men. They burned witches who could prevent birthing. They forbade women access to their most sacred sanctuaries. They kept priesthood for themselves and they masculinized their gods.
Is Christianity very much different? Apparently not.
Yet, Jesus appeared first to women and he put them in charge of announcing his resurrection to the men. Women were present at Pentecost. Beyond the cultural context of his life, in a most fundamental way, we say with Paul that Jesus is THE High Priest. But that very role he took from his mother; Mary was the one who gave birth to Christ; she is the Theotokos, the Mother of God, the archetypal priest. In fact, only women should be priest.
Perhaps men know that and that bishops and priests all wear robes as liturgical vestments.
The Holy week has always been for me a roller-coaster of emotions, already as a child: Time off from school. Beginning of spring and resumption of outside activities. And time of long liturgies with plenty of physical exercise. Do you remember the seemingly endless Good Friday’s “Flectamus genua”..”levate”? But it was not all boring. The palms of Palm Sunday, the washing of the feet of Holy Thursday, even the kissing of the cross on Good Friday, were welcome changes from the regular humdrum masses.
The small town in France where I was at that time had a Stations of the Cross through its old winding streets and that was a bag of mixed feelings for me. As many houses as there are Stations would prepare a repository with flowers and sheets draped over balconies. We would process from one house to the next with candles and songs following the priest carrying a wooden cross. That was the fun part. Self proclaimed atheists and other miscreants came out of the Cafés, gawking at us, half serious, half laughing. I would feel partly but extemely, self conscious, but also and as extremely, proud, a martyr of sort, walking through Rome on the way to the Coliseum. After a while the repeated homilies at each Station would drown all feelings in a sea of fatigue and boredom.
At present, this Week embodies for me the main contradictions of our existence: love-hate, death-life, and suffering-joy. All of humanity’s fundamental emotions and mysteries are plaid out in this retelling of Christ’s last days. Some feminists (Christians) object to the veneration of the Cross as a central element of the Christian mystery. They refuse -I do too- the necessity for Christ to pay with his blood for our sins and so redeem us from his Father’s wrath. But they also say that to celebrate Christ as victim is to celebrate all victims and so to condone victimization. There I do not follow. Christ as a victim of violence did not condone violence but recapitulated it and so symbolized the victimization of the innocents. Why? Because it is the deepest and most relevant question we can ask God. It was already Job’s question: Why the suffering of the innocent? WHY GOD, WHY?
I do not want to be flippant in front of such a question, but it can be said that in a literal sense, Christ ‘took the question’ upon himself.
The only answer given to us is the one found by Mary Magdalene on the morning of the first day of the following week: Christ is risen. There is no word to explain, only an invite to adhere to the mystery. “I spoke without knowing” said Job.
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say – ‘ Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.”
This morning we cleaned the garden from all the winter’s abuses. Twigs and branches spread everywhere, old yellowed grass, overgrown bushes, dead and dried flowers, everything seemed to need pruning and cutting. It is still March; all is still dead, at least here in Long Island, NY. Yet we can begin to feel the changes, the stirring of spring, around the corner. Robins are back, hoping on the lawn. We marvel at the tiny crocuses and snow drops, small touches of colors in a grey garden. It is so easy to see winter as death and spring as re-birth. Without the death of winter there is no spring, no re-birth. Exactly what today’s reading is telling us.
But is it true? Winter is no more death than spring is re-birth. It is all transformation. The seed does not die, it, as the song goes, becomes the rose. Is it what Jesus was saying? Death is not death as we understand it, and end, a sudden absence, but a becoming of something else, different, new. Spring in a garden is such a wonderful place to grasp this reality. In winter natures seems to abandon and let go of any purposes and meaning. Then, in the spring, all comes alive again full of purpose and driving life. Then summer and fall bring fruit. Death in nature is not an end but rather a letting go, a sort of temporary abandonment, a lapse.
I find this so difficult. Not to understand but to follow. “Now my soul is troubled” said Jesus as he saw his own failure as the Messiah, and his death close at hand. It was difficult for him also. The text seems to indicate that. For us it takes us a lifetime to learn to let go, and yet, at the end do we have any control? No, we must let go of everything we hold dear, because of age, because of death or because of whatever circumstances we have absolutely no control upon.
So wht let go ahead of time?
The clue comes in the next verse. Jesus says: “Now my soul is troubled..and what would I ask, God saves me from this? No, I have to go to the end. God, Thy will be done. Glorify thy name”
As soon as Jesus let go, not only of his own plans, but of owning his own life, the Voice was heard: I glorify it. It all comes quickly. You blink, you miss it. And there are probably all kinds of ways to understand this sentence. For me, the minute Jesus lets go of his own will, and does so into God’s hands, in that very instant there was a communion between him and God. As in doing God’s will is in itself a sacrament, a bringing about of God’s presence in the here and now. I believe that is the death and the bearing of fruit Jesus was speaking about in the readings today.
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”
And so Jesus was angry and acted out! Where is the turning-of-the-other-cheek? Jesus got in touch with his anger.. he kicked the ___ out of those poor slobs who were only trying to make a buck on the back of the pious and God-fearing people. Merchants and changers were sitting there on temple ground with the (paid) authorization of the priests. No money, no doves – No doves, no sacrifice and no prayer, no access to the Temple, no salvation.
This incident is reported about in the same way in the four Gospels. It must have had a mighty impact on the bewildered disciples.
Today I read Jenny’s comments in the sections ‘Shared Stories’ of this web site and I, too, am angry. I am angry seeing myself and all the good women kept away from the church and from God because of today’s priests and popes. As women we are second class citizens, as “active” lesbians we are sinners. We cannot go into the Temple! No salvation for us!
If I am to imitate Jesus how should I act out my anger? First of all I should not try to get read of it. I have been angry for so long it becomes old and tiring. It became so much easier to walk away. Jesus could have turn around and told his disciples: “Come on guys, the Temple is way too crowded. Those merchants and changers make me angry. No good for my inner peace! Let’s find calm and serenity in the olive grove outside the city. It will be a much better place to pray.” But that time, he did not. For the people who could not get in and for his Father whose house did not serve anymore the purpose it was intended for, he stepped out of bounds.
Stepping out of bounds is not what as women we have been raised to do. We do not feel untitled to do so. But as Christ’s disciples not only we have the right, we also the duty to do so.
There are many ways to fight back. I must find my own way and access the Temple.