Sunday, January 11, 2009

On Being a "Pillar" of the Church

This title can only be used in a blog...that's how ephemeral "pillarhood" is, for any of us...

Thinking about the Roger Haight issue, I am reminded of a posting by Valerie Schultz, blogger and essayist for America magazine (HERE).  Writing last October, before the general election, she described the pain of sitting through a homily that compared same-sex marriage to the marriage of two monkeys.  With a lesbian daughter, she and her husband had become outspoken in their rejection of Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative limiting marriage to one man and one woman.

I’ve not been able to shake her closing: "People used to think we were really good Catholics. And we liked it that way. We liked being pillars of the community much more than we like being crazy voices in the wilderness. But here we are, protesting, questioning, being accused of blasphemy and of malformed consciences. Here we are, defending the marriages of those considered monkeys. Here we are, timid and miserable, but witnessing in one small way to a God who is love."

This cut deep with me, I understand the depth of feeling, and the self-criticism, in her rueful “… we liked it that way.”

I, too, like being liked. I like being considered "responsible." I like being invited to important meetings.  I have never been one to stand in the rain with a placard, I've never been civilly disobedient, I like to contribute. I like being invited to sit next to the speaker at dinner. I like just being invited to the dinner.

Yet I know that "pillarhood" is provisional in my own case and, perhaps, in yours.  I have seen too many simply swept aside in our church, today a "pillar," tomorrow an "outcast."  We all know people who felt they were valued for their own small role – lector at the 11:00 on the third Sunday of each month for the last twenty years, for example – who suddenly found themselves on the outside.  They got divorced; they spoke up; they got pissed off when asked to agree to a background check.  And now they’re out.  They report this to me with as much bewilderment as anger, until the bewilderment gives way to a creeping sense of shame, and that makes them angrier still.

The contested issues are not simple.  The question of same-sex relations presents profound challenges to Christianity, and particularly to the deeply sacramental anthropology of Roman Catholic Christianity.  I have not worked through a theological response to this but, at the end of the day, surely the steady, faith-filled presence of gay and lesbian Catholics will have to be taken into account in a critical discussion of that anthropology.

As will the testimony of Valerie Schultz, pillar of the Church:  "Here we are, timid and miserable, but witnessing in one small way to a God who is love."

I cannot imagine a more succinct -- or more resonant -- description of the Christian life.