In Venice at the moment, which is glorious and magical in winter with the snow and the paucity of tourists. One can actually walk down the alleyways in peace and freedom, savoring the beauty of this mystical city. It's such a gift to be here.
In celebration of the US military repeal of DADT, I attended the Eucharistic Liturgy at St. Mark's Cathedral this morning. It was my (mis)fortune to have chosen the 10:30 Latin High Mass, celebrated by a band of 'elderly' priests and attendants, not one of whom was under the age of 50. They were accompanied, incongruously, by one very young girl altar server with plaits of beautiful, wavy brown hair descending down her back to her waistline. She was also wearing white sneakers. It made for a charming juxtoposition as well as an ironic commentary on the absurdity of the whole 'treatment of women' in the Catholic Church. The tottering, aging males, hanging on by their curling toenails to the last vestiges of power and privilege, made for a rather poignant, pathetic sight. The presiding priest, no disrespect intended, was so wearied and dispirited that he cast a pall of depression over the entire congregation (small). The choir master, a flamboyant gay monsignor in all his purple regalia, with dangling tassles at the end of his lacey white surplice, was quite testy with us in the congregation as we missed his cues - arms flailing about like Mama Rose directing her line of chorus girls. I thought to myself, "My god, the stranglehold these gay queens exercise over Catholic culture. And there are so many of them!'"Yet somehow it all didn't seem to matter. By the time we laboriously struggled though the communion ritual - with no evident joy whatsoever - one felt interiorly that sense of 'connection' with the divine and received in turn that sense of satisfaction that one had honored the mystery of the Mother/Creator God, as one should every Sabbath. The mystery remains in the midst of the absurdity and contradictions.
And yet... speaking for myself only - it is a matter of conscience that I can't attend these kinds of all male rituals on any regular basis, because to so participate feels like endorsing injustice and hypocrisy. This is a deep interior movement of conscience, and feels like a calling, a gift and a burden, since I so love the grand settings of these great cathedrals for the honor they give to God and the Eucharistic mystery. If only the priestly caste which presently controls these grand churches weren't so dishonorable and corrupt, refusing even to consider the use of condoms to prevent the deaths of thousands of African women and the orphaning of thousands of African children as a result. The present posture of the Catholic Church towards women and gays makes these formal liturgies a violation of the respect we owe to the all embracing divine source of the universe. Without a doubt, this posture is directly linked to the horrific sex scandal in the Church, the one is the mirror image of the other. Far from feeling I am honoring her and renewing my connection with the divine source of the universe, continued participation in these show trials of hypocrisy feels harmful to my spirit and disrespectful to the Divine Source and to the Risen Lord. Yet I also deeply respect those loyal and progressive Catholics who feel called to stay in the pews Sunday after Sunday, year after year after year, longing for some small sign of change. One Spirit, different gifts. However, I do feel quite strongly that we can't simply sit Sunday after Sunday, waiting patiently for some small crack in the wall of defenses, offering our critiques as we may, hoping against hope for change (not that this is a fair depiction of most enlightened church goes). We are being told not to wait, because change is already occurring in heterodox fashion on the margins -in alternative, breakaway communities - in the Roman Catholic Women Priests Movement - in the Old Catholic Church - in the home Eucharistic movement and others - and all of these alternative movements deserve our respect and support, because it is here that the Spirit is showing us the way into the future. And I feel this is really the mysterious, providential point of the present intransigence on the part of Churh leaders - to compel us to look elsewhere for the signs of the Spirit's guidance and direction and not be so dependent on the formal institution. After all, if we are truly persons of faith, then we must believe that the Spirit could effect radical, transforming change in the formal institution if she so wished. That it is not occurring in any meaningful sense is to me one of the "signs of the times," and a clear indicator of the will of the Risen Lord and His Spirit. We are to look elsewhere for signs of inspiration, even those of us who do not feel called to formally join one of these alternative movements.
As for the danger of splintering and fragmentation - let it come, in my opinion, and let us trust in the Spirit of Unity that we will be held together in the end. Several years ago, I attended a small Evangelical Christian service in Thailand in the seaside resort of Pattaya, notorious for the thousands of young women and boys employed in the sex industry. We met in an upstairs room (the Upper Room), and all twenty of us together rocked back and forth in our chairs as we responded to the chants of the preacher. "God has a plan for Pattaya!, yes he does." And we shouted in reply, "Yes, he does, Oh thank the Lord, yes he does." "And he has a plan for all of these poor women of Pattaya, God has a mighty plan." "Yes, he does, he does have a mighty plan," we echoed in our enthusiasm, carried on the wings of the living, breathing Spirit. And on it went in the most intense, Spirit-led revival I have ever experienced in any Church anywhere anytime. These marginalized, bible thumping Evangelicals, how easily we condescend to them - yet the place was filled with a holy peace and fire that made one burn with the Love of God and the love of the poor and the love of one another. And this was not mass hysteria or hypnosis, the interior peace and joy were too deep and pervasive. This was about as far from a formal Catholic liturgy as one could possibly get. And at the end of this great revival, I did indeed feel I had honored the Divine Source of the Universe in her all embracing love for the most marginalized. And for our Eucharist, we went downstairs into the larger hall and shared potluck togtether, with the Risen Lord present within the potato salad and fried chicken. So...if this is fragmentation...well then, let it come, since without the Reformation and all its chaos and pain, we would not have had this simple, sweet, loving community praying together in the Spirit in the seaside resort of Pattaya for the thousands of abused women in the sex trade. Quite honestly, though, I don't think it will come to this, for the Catholic tradition will endure and survive somehow with its identity intact, though radically ransformed in astonishing ways we cannot yet forsee. But we do need to be fearless in imagining and then enacting new ways of being Catholic communities, and new ways of celebrating the sacraments, fearless in our trust in the Lord and His Spirit who ultimately controls the future of the church. The wearied old souls and the flaming gay faggots in purple are not going to step aside and relinquishg their power. So we must simply sidestep them and disempower them, in peace and joy and love. Let us show them, in the love of our hearts, how to be Spirit filled worshippers of joy, gay and straight together, men and women as equals, not dispirited, repressed, broken men of angst and guilt. Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus, Come!