Wednesday, December 2, 2009

ENCOUNTERING CHRIST ON THE MARGINS WITH JOY

EMBRACING OURSELVES AS EXILES

We must be prepared to accept our exile state both within society and within the Church. We must grieve and gradually let go of the desire to "belong" to all the institutions of this world. We must deepen our spiritual roots and our realisation that, in direct proportion to our exile state in this world, we belong in a deeper and more cosmic level to a community bound together by God's Love and God's Mercy. 
John J. McNeill

I've quoted this great passage before on this blog, but unfortunately I've lost the reference. However, it well sums up my own spiritual attitude to the exile state of being gay and catholic in these troubled times for the church. I've lived on the periphery of the official Church for over twenty years because that is where I felt Christ was calling me and where I encountered His Spirit, filling me with joy and peace. This is not to say I haven't felt wounded and rejected, but these emotions are secondary to  the joy of identifying with the Crucified Christ and the peace that has come from following this path of exile. If anything, I feel enormous relief at being freed from the oppressive atmosphere of a homophobic religion and given the spiritual space to grow as a self-respecting gay man. Thank you, Lord, for all of your blessings. I am so happy to be right where I am. Would I like to receive acceptance and affirmation from the Mother Church of my birth, do I long for her embrace, her love, her approval? Yes, of course, on some level of being, but it's not a great priority for me personally. It is however, a vital priority for millions of young gay and lesbian persons who can still be profoundly damaged by the negative attitudes and thunderous pronouncements of an uninformed and bigoted religious authority. This priority places a burden of conscience on those of us older gay persons who have come to terms with our exiled state - a call to witness to the joy and affirmation we receive from the Mystical Christ in exile and the great icon of the Divine Feminine, the "Blessed Mother,' an affirmation of our 'gayness' that leads us to the heights of the Spirit, that graces us to grow in holiness, and teaches us that we can only grow in truth and love by accepting our gay sexual nature and loving it as good. This is what a Gay Catholic is called to do, above all, witness to the call to holiness that we receive as sexually potent gay human beings and demonstrate it's infinite possibilities. "By their fruits you shall know them," and that is the test of our own gay vocation. Self acceptance and love of our sexual orientation, affirmation of our right to responsible sexual expression, leads not to a closure of the spirit in darkness and confusion, but to an opening of the spirit in peace and joy and love. That peace and joy above all are the signs of contradiction we have to offer to a disbelieving church. We can, we must, be gay and holy, we can do no other.  


Since I'm beginning a series of reflections here on "What is a Gay Catholic to do," which will have to be continued at a later date, I'll end with this personal disclosure.


Forty years ago (has it really been that long)?, I was preparing to take my vows in the Jesuit Novitiate of Our Lady Queen of Peace in Montecito, California. Kneeling before the Crucifix in the chapel one day in May (before we went north for our one month summer vacation), I underwent a profound "encounter" with the Crucified Lord, in which I felt him tell me that at some point in the future I would be called in the spirit to a "decision of conscience that would bring me into conflict with the highest authorities in the Church." I was profoundly shocked by this experience and very disoriented, but the sense of interior spiritual fulfillment and peace was too real to deny. However, being very young and imaginative, I assumed it would be a Hans Kung sort of affair, in which I would publish a book and be denounced by the Vatican and there would be the flashing of many cameras and I would be famous and in the center of world attention (I exaggerate, of course). Being a pious and obedient novice, I wrote up a description of the experience and gave it to my novice master, Father John McAnulty, S.J. The poor man, he took one look at the material and turned pale (he was a very decent, kindly, deeply spiritual man) and said, "Oh I can see real problems with this. I will have to send it to the provincial for his opinions." I was shaken, but interiorly comforted by the sense that "all was well," as indeed turned out to be the case, but not as I expected.  When we returned from our month long vacation in the Redwood Forests of Los Gatos,  a very saddened Father McAnulty had to inform me that I had been dismissed from the Society of Jesus with these kind words from the Provincial, "Tell him we feel he should search for his vocation elsewhere." In forty years, I have never felt any animosity or bitterness towards him. How could any responsible Provincial approve for vows a novice who was already anticipating breaking the vow of obedience, and in a religious order that values that virtue higher than any. A good priest theologian friend of mine, teaching at Loyola Unversity, Los Angeles said, "Why in god's name did you give it to your novice master? Couldn't you have kept it under wraps until after your vows?" I replied, trying to act more worldly-wise and untroubled than I really was by the affair, "Well, no, this was all a part of my journey, you see," as indeed it was, because two years later I was following my heart and inner call to Thailand. By a circuitous journey (to complicated to explain in this brief reflection) five years later I would be re-admitted into the Society by the very understanding Provincial of the China Province, (with jurisdictional oversight for the Thailand mission) who didn't take youthful dreams of disobedience all that seriously.

The point of this self-disclosure - the decision of conscience which would "bring me into conflict with the highest authorities of the church" would be a quiet, interior affair without fanfare, fuss or cameras flashing. Cardinal Raztinger would release his infamous Halloween letter on Homosexuality in 1986 while I was studying for an M. Div degree at the Jesuit School of Theology and I knew at once that this was the moment I had been waiting for (and which had been anticipated again in 1976 during the installation mass for Pope John Paul I and which I've spoken of earlier on this blog, "Papa Luciani and I"). I was being called into exile, and I've never looked back since. Though there has been heartache and pain and a sense of rejection and loss, the joy has been overwhelming and the fulfillment profound. I wouldn't have had it any other way. 
(to be continued)

8 comments:

Terence Weldon said...

Bravo,Jayden, for posting this - both parts.

My own thoughts on "What is a gay catholic to do?", following on the flurry of commentary on Fr Martin's blog and elsewhere, is to start collecting a series of more specific, more ersonal responses: "What gay catholics HAVE done."

I look forward to the continuation - and to any more stories that others would like to open up.

William D. Lindsey said...

Jayden, thank you for this profoundly moving testimony. Writing from the depths of personal experience is not easy. I want you to know that I'm grateful (and many others will be, I am certain) for your willingness to do so here. Your words will make a difference in many lives.

They give me hope. It's definitely a down time for me, in part, because I have been struggling with physical illness, which tends to pull mind and soul down along with it.

It helps to be reminded, when times appear bleak, that there's a heart beating at the center of it all, and that this heart remains open even when those who claim to own all the sacred symbols continue to exclude and demean.

colkoch said...

This post has really triggered some memories. At about the same age you speak of in this article, I had the privledge of studying theology under a brilliant priest who was subsequently virtually silenced by Bishop Morlino.

This priest somehow got me accepted for a Phd at a Aquinas Institute, but I turned it down because I knew it was the wrong step to take. He was very dissapointed, but wished me luck in what ever I did because it probably wasn't going to be conventional.

He had previously told me I was the most 'marginal' person he had ever met in that there didn't seem to be a class or group of people I didn't get along with, that I seemed incapable of defining myself with any of the usual things people do. At first I was kind of taken aback thinking maybe he thought of me as some kind of not fully formed person or something. But then he said that I looked for the commonalities between myself and others and didn't give much credence to the differences.

I know now why I looked for the commonalities and didn't credence the differences. It was sublimation, but now it's who I am. Gays have a great deal to offer the Church precisely because we have a motivation for seeking the commonalities between ourselves and others. Some of us also seem to have a need to treasure the differences and avoid being subsumed by a particular cultural millieu. It's truly a gift.

One last thing, I couldn't help but note your use of 'peace, love, and joy, because that's how I have been taught to sign off any communication. The Good News is about Peace, love and joy. Other wise it would be called the Bad News--as it actually is presented and enacted for too many people.

Jayden Cameron said...

Thank you so much for these wonderful and supportive comments. I hesitated for a long time before making this disclosure, so your support is much appreciated and much needed, before I go forward with more of the same. I'm sure there are many similar stories out there which need to be told. These are hard times, but the Spirit of Truth and Love is with us.

FDeF said...

Your sharing is greatly appreciated. There is a community of bloggers and readers whose commentaries on personal experiences and on the wider political/theological issues I have found to be inspiring. The Rat'z Letter, was also, for me, a warning sign and a turning point as I wrote about fairly recently. - Frank

johndburke said...

In 30 years of pondering, reading and meditating I still have no clue what "oneness with the crucified Christ" means. Can someone tell me? What does it feel like?

Jayden Cameron said...

Frank, thank you for your kind comment and the interesting connection with the Razt letter. There must be many of us out there. Have perused your blog, Reluctant Rebel, which looks really interesting and have linked it on my Catholic blog list.

Jayden Cameron said...

Thank you, John for this very provocative and pertinent question, which I will respond to more formally in a blog post. Peace