Friday, October 10, 2008

The Marriage of Monkeys

This morning we attended the 9:30 Mass at a parish in another part of the state. The music was heartfelt, and the community warm and welcoming. It was a lovely morning, but the weather would soon become irrelevant. During the homily, the priest interpreted the reading from Ezekiel 33(". . . if you warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself") as a call to vote for Proposition 8 on California's November ballot. (For those unfamiliar with California politics, Prop 8 would establish a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.)

Aside from the intrusion of state legislative issues in the Mass, the introduction of voting instructions made us uneasy. As the Catholic parents of a daughter who is a lesbian, my husband and I are quite sensitized to this issue. We have struggled, and still struggle, to reconcile the teachings of our faith with the reality of our daughter's sexual orientation. So imagine our dismay when the homilist jokingly compared a union into which our daughter might one day enter to a "marriage of monkeys". He'd apparently seen a funny photo of monkeys dressed up in wedding finery, and felt that the prospect of gays marrying was just as ludicrous. The congregation was encouraged to have a laugh at the "monkeys'" expense.

What if there were certain teenagers in that congregation, wrestling with the difficult internal realization of a homosexual orientation, hearing those words? For these young people, the journey of self-discovery can turn to self-doubt and then to self-loathing. Our daughter believed throughout her high school years, mainly as a result of a Catholic youth group in which we insisted she participate, that she was broken, that God had made a mistake when forming her, and that she was actually unloved and unforgiven by her Creator and her Church. We were unaware of her lesbianism until she went away to college and came home for the first time. Over the years, as she has revealed the pain she lived through as she privately came to terms with who she was, we have felt that we let her down: first, by not recognizing her suffering, and second, by what we had inadvertently put her through at the well-meaning hands of church volunteers.

This was all brought home to us again by the bitter irony of today's Mass: the juxtaposition of the priest's dismissive and insensitive words, followed closely by the prayer of intercession that asked for something along the lines of those seeking a spiritual home to find one in this community. I wanted to ask, You mean, unless they are gay? Because if I were gay, I sure wouldn't be feeling very welcome in this community right about now.

Then we sang an offertory song about us being the eyes and hands of God. Can we really be that, and continue to denigrate our gay brothers and sisters? Do we participate in Christ's promise of the kingdom of heaven here and now when we bury our gay children in a secret hell? My husband and I were reminded of the time we went to Mass, shortly after our daughter had come out, and were asked to join in the seemingly untruthful song, "All are Welcome in this Place". It was a song I could not sing, because I was crying instead. Our daughter certainly feels no welcome in this place. We try to reassure her that she is always welcome in the Catholic Church, and that she stands always in the presence of a loving God, but homilies like this one discourage us.

We understand that the priest meant no personal hurt to us, that he was but following the party line of the Catholic bishops, but we still felt the more flippant of his words deserved a response. My husband wisely steered me away from confronting the priest on his own front steps in the heat of my incense. Instead, we wrote a letter to the priest. We also wrote to the pastor, so that he might be aware of what homilies were being preached in his parish. The marriage of monkeys is hardly a loving way to classify the sons and daughters of some fellow worshippers, and indeed, some of those worshippers themselves.

My husband and I have come to believe that, in the context of the state of California, Proposition 8 is a civil rights issue, rather than a sacramental issue, and thus is unjustly supported by the bishops. Which is our own attempt to live out Ezekiel's call to right an institutional wrong. As uncomfortable as we are in this position - alienating old friends and voting against pastoral guidelines - we believe that the Church needs its dissenters, as unlikely as they may be. We are not by nature confrontational people: we rarely even argue with each other. It is another divine irony that we are dissenters at all: we who have long been a couple who practiced Natural Family Planning because it was Church teaching, who supported every Church ministry and encyclical and fundraiser, who went to Mass faithfully every Sunday and brought up our daughters in the arms of Mother Church. People used to think we were really good Catholics. And we liked it that way. We liked being pillars of the community much more than we like being crazy voices in the wilderness.

But here we are, protesting, questioning, being accused of blasphemy and of malformed consciences. Here we are, defending the marriages of those considered monkeys. Here we are, timid and miserable, but witnessing in one small way to a God who is love.

Valerie Schultz


Halle said...

Not to sound too much like the Beatles, but when it comes to your children or anyone's children: love is (almost) all we need. The sheer humanity in your post is touching, and the whole scenario is a very good reason why the Church needs to stay away from individual issues in politics or politicians. The moral teachings are enough, but to start naming bills or names is beyond the pale, and it's one of the reasons that both of my sisters (neither of whom are gay) are currently NOT part of the Catholic Church. One is now Episcopalian and the other simply doesn't believe. How very sad. I pray for peace and send you love.

greattr said...

In John 8:1-11, Jesus preserved the dignity of the woman caught in adultery. He did not condemn her, but nor did he condone her action. No, he said, ". . . Go your way; from now on practice sin no more." [Joh 8:11] All should be accepted so long as they make efforts to repent, turn around, and sin no more to the extent an imperfect child of God can do so. God does have standards you know.