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Breaking the bread? ‘Gay? Fine by Me’ shirts at mass

Observer Viewpoint | Monday, December 5, 2005

In the Dec. 1 Observer, Andy Buechel commented on the Instruction released in Rome Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with Regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in View of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders. Andy correctly pointed out that, “this document is, and I say this with no small amount of shame as a Catholic and a theologian-in-training, a complete ban on homosexual men to the priesthood of the Catholic Church, regardless of their commitment to celibacy.” As a fellow theologian, I share Andy’s conviction that this document is profoundly damaging to the integrity of the Church.

For this reason, I attended mass Sunday with an informal group of a dozen students to pray for the priests who will be forced into silence and shame, for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered Catholics who will receive yet another assault on their dignity as children of God and for the conversion and repentance of the Vatican authorities who again are asserting their raw power over us with very little religious coherence or moral integrity to back it up. Praying and receiving the sacrament together, we wore those orange t-shirts that say “Gay? Fine by Me.”

This was not a media stunt or a “protest.” I have no desire to petition the Vatican and ask that they dialogue more with the laity, that they let us “express ourselves” as individuals. This is not about gaining the liberal, middle-class right to “participate” in decision-making. Those of us who live under the reign of the liberal State know well enough that protest politics don’t work; they amount to little more than begging the authorities for a handout, a modicum of respect, a reform that only solidifies their authoritarian power over us. No, I am not a protestant reformer.

On the contrary, my decision to wear that t-shirt to mass was an outgrowth of my faith in the Incarnation of God in the holy sacraments. It was an extension of the practice of the Eucharistic meal. Some may say that we were being overly divisive, that our “politicization” of the mass created dangerous divisions within the body of Christ. But the message we carried on our bodies was one of communion. We are the ones who are calling for an end to the oppressions that divide the people of God and make a mockery of Christian fellowship. The ones who sew division are the church authorities who seem to be saying that God’s gratuitous gift of grace is in fact limited to those who the Magisterium chooses based on their own political and pseudo-scientific selection criteria for who can be deemed “affectively mature”. As if the Incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ and the sacraments transforms only some aspects of humanity, leaving our deepest desires suspect. As if the persistence of what the Vatican calls “homosexual tendencies” marks some people essentially and biologically with an “intrinsic disorder.” As if the Vatican still really believes below all their sophisticated Thomistic rhetoric that these gay folks are miscreants, bearing in their bodies flaws in created human nature that cannot exist in a world ordered by a Logical God.

Abominations. Like the lepers, the demoniacs, and the hemorrhaging women they must be shoved aside, out of the temple and into the closet, lest the neat tidy categories of our theological science be thrown into question. To me, this sounds more like the rigid biologism of 19th century proto-eugenic scientists than the transgressive, boundary-crossing, dappled and irreducible gospel of Jesus Christ who broke all of his culture’s taboos to form a communion table with those deemed sick, sinful, and disorderly by the self-righteous religious authorities of his time.

Some may accuse us of degrading and profaning the Eucharist by making it a political event. But this presupposes that politics is inherently vulgar and that the sacraments have nothing to do with the real world. It presupposes the worst kind of dualism, an iron curtain defending the Altar from the messy crowds of the streets. This common liberal dualistic mindset teaches that in the realm of politics, humans are just like barnyard animals that need to be fed, watered, and given their shots by a benevolent state. Then they can go to Church to fill that “other side” of themselves, – they can go to mass to “fill up” on grace. In this divided world, political life is shorn of its mystery; it is no longer a site of encounter with the Incarnate Word. Politics is nothing but bread and violence, so the Eucharistic host must be forced to transcend this profane sphere of power and basic needs. In short, it must become a magic ritual to a God who, despite his Life, death and Resurrection on this Earth, is still supposed to hide his face in shame from our everyday existence.

No, we reject this ruthless division between bread and Bread, wine and Wine, politics and Communion. For Jesus, the task of announcing good news to the poor, freedom to the captives, and the justice of the Kingdom was inseparable from the sacrifice of his Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins. His institution of the Eucharist was not a separate act from his washing of the disciples’ feet, where he warned his apostles against their temptation to become an elite class above society and reminded them that the theologian’s world of preaching the gospel cannot be separate from the servant’s world of labor and feet-washing. Yet this is exactly what the Magisterium has done. It has separated what God wanted mixed, and has defined itself as the pure philosophical and theological Guardians who hover above this world of bodies supposedly degraded by work and politics, judging from on high who is “affectively immature” and who is “intrinsically disordered.”

The response we took this Sunday was simple: we celebrated the Eucharist in all of its scandal and all of its queer communion. For the Eucharist itself is the most radical of signs; it crosses the sacred and the political, the salvific and the everyday, the holy and the physical, the Many and the One. And in preparation, at the height of the mass, I, a young man who may or may not have “homosexual tendencies” hugged another young man who may or may not have “homosexual tendencies” in the explicitly Christian, boundary-crossing sign of peace.

In this season of Advent, we are called to remember and prepare for history’s ultimate act of crossing: the clothing of God in human flesh, in the womb of a yet-unmarried peasant woman. The Holy Family of the Bethlehem manger is hardly the model for modern heterosexual family values. If anything, it resembles the most subversive side of the monastic tradition – a woman who “knew no man” serves as priest as the sacramental incarnation occurs in her womb. Far from maintaining the rigidities of Platonic order in family life and sacramental practice, the Advent season should be full of valleys getting raised and mountains lowered, the world transgressed and turned upside down by the scandal of the coming Incarnation. What better way to practice Advent than to go to mass and pray for the liberation of queer folks?

Matthew Hamiltongraduate studentOff-campusDec. 4