I attended a very moving confirmation ceremony this Sunday at the beautiful baroque church of St. John of Nepomuk on the Rock which I've described in earlier postings on this blog. Two of my younger students were among the confirmed, Hans Joseph and Alex. Their parents were delighted to see me in attendance at the ceremony, an upstanding Catholic teacher giving Christian witness to his young students. If only they knew! Good people all of them, stolid middle class, bourgeois German Catholics, obviously privileged, secure, confident of their place in the world - or am I making too many judgments.
The ceremony was conducted by a kindly, elderly Bishop from Austria and was very long, well over 90 minutes, with an interminably long sermon from the sweet-natured, benign presider. Since I don't speak German, it was a long sit, so I entertained myself by studying the large number of children in the congregation, many under the age of ten, fidgeting in the pews, squirming a bit on the platforms of the side altars, picking their noses and in some cases, scratching their behinds - but otherwise very quiet, well behaved and polite. The tiny one in front of me amused himself by kissing his father repeatedly on the nose. Most of the under 10's were boys, most of the over 13's were girls, looking very poised and self-possessed. One family had four boys sitting in a row in the pew with a fifth boy in the baby carriage nearby. The Church was packed, with a congregation of about 300. However, the father of young Alex informed me that on most ordinary Sundays, only about 30 members of the expat German Catholic population in Prague bother to show up for services. Nonetheless, I found this show of solidarity impressive and conversations during the champagne brunch that followed only confirmed a judgment recently made by Terry Weldon at his blog Queering the Church in reference to studies that attempt to gauge those central Catholic beliefs that define Catholic identity for many church going, faithful believers:
- The most important, central, factors were the core beliefs of Catholicism: the Trinity, the incarnation, the Real Presence, and Mary as Mother of God.
- The next set were the Church’s social teachings and responsibility to the poor.
- The third circle concerns rituals, such as attending Mass and receiving communion, which are commonly represented as “practicing Catholics”.
Once again, I do not see in there any reference to automatic obedience, still less to compliance with “official” sexual ethics.
Some witty comments were made at the lunch table about one of their own, German 'Cardinal Raztinger,' now sitting on the papal throne as Pope Benedict. "Oh, we know all about him," was one parent's remark. I laughed, but did not feel inclined to pursue the matter. With the champagne flowing, the overall tone was one of slightly giddy irreverence and the subtle, subliminal message I picked up from one and all is that the essence of church consisted in just such family get togethers, so let's not take the big wigs and their pronouncements too seriously. Above all, let us not get ourselves upset on a beautiful Prague Sunday like today with our young children anointed into Christian maturity - since the essence of Christian maturity should be the ability to discern and judge for oneself. Am I reading too much into the genial bonhomie? I don't think so. Reference was made to Cardinal Meisner of Cologne who recently spoke at the meeting of priests in Rome and who made headlines some years ago for comparing abortion to the Holocaust. "Oh, don't pay attention to him," was the advice given by one lady at the table. Interesting. But since most of the conversation was in German, I missed out on the subtext, so to speak! Were there conservative, traditional, obedient Catholics in the crowd? I would assume so, but they were not determining the overall mood of genial independence of thought and spirit.
How did I feel in the midst of all of this? As I usually do, as a gay, marginal, pluralist 'catholic' man - outside of things, on the edge, and not wanting, desiring or needing to be in the center of it all. It's difficult for me to attend any Catholic parish on a regular basis because of the Church's present stance on Gay people, since it violates something in my conscience to do so. That is in no way a judgment on other gay persons who feel called to remain in the pews. We each have our own parts to play. Furthermore, I'm no longer comfortable in any house of worship which only honors one religious tradition. The future does not reside with such singularity of vision. Humility requires us to recognize and honor other signs of the Sacred alongside our own particular tradition, since no religious tradition can stand alone anymore at this point in history. Sitting in a temple of worship which honors only one tradition or religious figure feels idolatrous to me, and ultimately dishonors and diminishes the very tradition such exclusivity is designed to enhance. The Vedantas have it right. Ramakrishna in the center, Buddha and Jesus on the sides...together with appropriate symbols of female divinity - which are still in such short supply. Relegating the Blessed Virgin to a side altar is simply no longer enough.
Jayden Cameron reporting for GayMystic News.