The following is a talk written by Joseph Gentilini, given at the retreat on October 13, 2007.
Two Main Points:
- When I speak of gay sexuality, please also hear "straight, bisexual, or transgendered sexuality, however you identify.
- I have taken many of the points discussed from two books below, both in quotes and paraphrasing:
- McNeill, John. Freedom, Glorious Freedom: The Spiritual Journey to the Fullness of Life for Gays, Lesbians, and Everybody Else. Published by Beacon Press. 1995.
- Martin, James. Becoming Who You Are: Insights on the true self from Thomas Merton and other Saints. Published by Hidden Spring, an imprint of Paulist Press, 2006
When we sang a refrain from Psalm 139 and then read it a few minutes ago, did we see how clear it is that God knows us intimately - through and through - because God created us in love. I would like to suggest this morning that God invites us to know ourselves intimately, to accept and love ourselves AS WE ARE, and then to take the risk to share who we are with others and also with God.
Christianity, especially as defined by some of the "religious right," often seems to be nothing more than a religion of "dos and don'ts, rules and regulations." Most of the time, these are usually prohibitions concerning sex. We know exactly how many of the religious right, including many in our own faith tradition, view us. Unless we change our ways, unless we stop being who we are, God will send us to some eternal hell.
Whether we are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or straight, I believe that this view of Christianity borders on idolatry. It is becoming a slave to a set of rules and bondage to some sort of a God who is looking out to "catch us" for any wrongdoing. I do not believe in this form of Christianity.
I believe in a Christianity that is a faith in a God who creates us, who loves us, and who desires our love in return. It is the proclamation of a God who loves us so much that God became human in Christ to share our lives. My experience tells me that God wants to be in relationship with us even more than we might want to be in relationship with God. We are invited to have a relationship with this God as revealed by Christ, a relationship with a living Person of incomprehensible mercy and acceptance, a God who is truly "God with us and for us."
But how do we enter and enjoy this relationship? It is not primarily done by making sure we have obeyed all the "rules." I believe it is by accepting and loving who we are as God made us, including our sexuality; by loving this God who loves us into God's life; and by allowing ourselves to be loved by God and others. Any morality worth its salt only develops out of this loving relationship with God and then extends to ourselves and others. How does one develop this relationship? By Trust! By trusting that God is truly Good News.
Many in our community find trusting in this God and even in ourselves difficult. We have been taught to mistrust our own experience of God's love. We have been taught to mistrust our sexual desires, a core part of our personality. We have been taught that they are not only "not good," but in fact, "objectively disordered," and their expression "intrinsically evil." We've often been taught that we are not "good enough."
As John McNeill, the famous Jesuit priest who was defrocked by the Vatican because he preached a loving God for gays, has said, "To deny the existence and the goodness of our gay affection, our desires, and our affective orientation necessarily undermines all our adult efforts to love, work, and create, and thus diminishes any positive contribution we can make in this world. Our contribution in helping this world to become one with the divine is to love. If the only way we can love is as gay persons and we then deny our gayness, we are denying God the means to enter into this world through us."
In becoming intimate with ourselves, with another person, and even with God, we must become vulnerable, sharing our deepest feelings, thoughts, worries, and fears. To become physically, emotionally, and spiritually vulnerable with another human being can be frightening. To do it with God is frightening also. Why? Because we sometimes are afraid to trust that this other person will love us unconditionally. We are afraid of being rejected or shamed.
Our biggest struggle will be to trust that God is speaking to us through our experiences of life, that we are accepted and loved. We have to fight our own fears, whether these are from homophobia, a poor body image or self-concept, poor interpersonal communication skills, relationship difficulties, or even career problems – lamenting that we want another job but don't have the skills for it or maybe we have the skills but our self-doubts and feelings of inadequacies overwhelm us. All of us have our fears and worries. And this requires that we look beyond what society tells us about ourselves. This requires that we look beyond what proponents of a "false Christianity" tell us about ourselves.
John McNeill has said that "The primary teacher in the Church is not the hierarchy; it is the Holy Spirit and the Spirit dwells in our hearts and speaks to us through our own experience. Our struggle with trust is a struggle to recognize ourselves as gay persons with divine dignity and responsibility..." Our struggle is precisely to see our struggles as blessings and not as curses.
Thomas Merton, the famous author and Trappist monk who died in 1968, was quite heterosexual and yet he hints at the same experience in some of his writings. He said that finding God means allowing ourselves to be found by God. Finding our true selves means allowing God to find and reveal our true selves to us.
As we search for who we really are, we gradually begin to discover and accept our personalities, and the way God calls us to be. I used to think that being holy meant I had to believe and act like one of the saints of the Church. This often meant either being virginal (I lost that one a long time ago), being celibate (I could never quite do that one), or being heterosexually married (I could not do this either). So, I figured I could never become holy and that I would just be lucky even to get into heaven; forget about any sanctity. What I have learned in my life is that everyone is called by God to holiness or sanctity, but in different ways and these will gradually become clearer as we live our lives.
As we allow God to help us know and accept ourselves, we become able to move away from selfishness, pride, fear, guilt, etc., and hopefully become more loving and generous.
The only way that we as GLBT people can become holy is as GLBT persons. The only way we can become intimate with ourselves, others, and God is as GLBT persons. This requires radical honesty and trust.
Honesty requires knowing ourselves with strengths and weaknesses and realizing that God loves us as a totality. No one is perfect. We all have our own baggage, our faults, own defense mechanisms, and personality quirks. It is not a question of trying to rid ourselves of these, but of giving ourselves to God with all of them. God loves us regardless. God loves us AS WE ARE, not as we might like to be or as others, including the church want us to be. Everything revolves around our relationship with God. We become holy by discovering the person God made us to be, and by accepting and loving this person.
None of our journeys are without difficulty and problems but we are called to pray over the ways God calls us to be and live and they will all be different. St. Bernadette wanted to get married but became holy as a nun. Thomas Merton wanted a more austere life of solitary prayer but became holy in the monastery where he lived. Henri Nouwen, another famous author, lived most of his life trying to find some sense of inner peace. He struggled to accept himself as a gay man who was also a priest and whether he should come "out of the closet" publicly. John McNeill had his own struggles to integrate his homosexuality, his love for his partner Charlie, and his priesthood. These men prayed their wounds and grew in holiness. These persons held the tension of wanting to be holy and knowing their human limitations. Some people hold the tension of being a woman in a church that does not recognize her gifts. Some hold the tension of being a priest in a church that does not recognize their vocation to be married at the same time. Some hold the tension of being gay in a church that does not see their goodness. For all of us, our contemplative task in life is to hold in our hearts the desire to be holy and also know our own fears, limitations, and unfulfilled desires. God can and does use us AS WE ARE.
In his book, Becoming Who You Are, Jesuit Father James Martin said that "When admirers of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta would visit her and ask how they can work for God, she said, 'Find your own Calcutta.' This often meant being kind and loving to the persons in our own households, our friends, and our families. In other words, find sanctity in our own life." Sometimes the first person in our households that we are called to love and be kind to is ourselves. Because God loves us with an intense and vibrant love, we can love ourselves. When we love ourselves, we will be better able to love others, especially those we live with, whether spouses, partners, or housemates.
To sum this up I would say this: Holiness consists in discovering the person we are before God, accepting that person, and becoming a saint in the process. This may mean growing into holiness by taking care of our older parents, living in a gay union, living as a single gay person helping others in need, being married, raising children, being a single parent, being a gay parent, and how many other ways to holiness.
How is God calling us to be intimate with ourselves and sharing who we are with God and others? How is God calling us to become holy?