Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Big Gay One

I think I've touched on this subject before, but perhaps I haven't made myself as clear in my writings or even in my own head about this subject. For once, I am quite nervous mainly because I have some good friends who would call themselves gay and I sincerely do not with to lose them. However, most of these friends know my position and I can trust them to read my words with tolerance and intelligent consideration. I am happy for them to discuss with me any issues that I raise, and if they can open my eyes to where I am wrong, I would be most grateful.

I'm often asked, "where do you stand on homosexuality?" I reply that I have no alternative but to obey Church teaching at which point I get called a bigot or worse by some people who become incensed at my "intolerance". I often wonder what these folk perceive "Church teaching" to be. I fear that they read Scripture and Tradition with an view to being upset rather than hear the message behind it.

Let me try and put across what I believe the Church teaches. If I am wrong, I know that I will be corrected by folk who have studied Church teaching better than I have.

I want to start with St Matthew vii

Μὴ κρίνετε, ἵνα μὴ κριθῆτε: ἐν ᾧ γὰρ κρίματι κρίνετε κριθήσεσθε, καὶ ἐν ᾧ μέτρῳ μετρεῖτε μετρηθήσεται ὑμῖν. τί δὲ βλέπεις τὸ κάρφος τὸ ἐν τῷ ὀφθαλμῷ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ σου, τὴν δὲ ἐν τῷ σῷ ὀφθαλμῷ δοκὸν οὐ κατανοεῖς; ἢ πῶς ἐρεῖς τῷ ἀδελφῷ σου, Ἄφες ἐκβάλω τὸ κάρφος ἐκ τοῦ ὀφθαλμοῦ σου, καὶ ἰδοὺ ἡ δοκὸς ἐν τῷ ὀφθαλμῷ σοῦ; ὑποκριτά, ἔκβαλε πρῶτον ἐκ τοῦ ὀφθαλμοῦ σοῦ τὴν δοκόν, καὶ τότε διαβλέψεις ἐκβαλεῖν τὸ κάρφος ἐκ τοῦ ὀφθαλμοῦ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ σου. Μὴ δῶτε τὸ ἅγιον τοῖς κυσίν, μηδὲ βάλητε τοὺς μαργαρίτας ὑμῶν ἔμπροσθεν τῶν χοίρων, μήποτε καταπατήσουσιν αὐτοὺς ἐν τοῖς ποσὶν αὐτῶν καὶ στραφέντες ῥήξωσιν ὑμᾶς.

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged : and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye. Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

This is such an important place to start because it sets my limitations. On what can I legitimately pass judgement? Well, the Lord tells me in this passage that my vision is distorted because of my own sins, and that my judgement is impaired. Clearly though, if my brother is about to walk into a pit, I can still see that and warn him - what I can't do is tell if he sees that pit as dangerously as I perceive it to be. The warning may be enough to save him.

As a matter of fact, I do suffer from very bad eyesight, but I can still make judgements on what I see within a certain tolerance. If I remove my glasses then that tolerance becomes much wider and less precise because my vision becomes much less reliable. Even without my glasses, I can still make out people, though not necessarily who they are. I certainly can't read any opticians charts - even the first letter! I can still make reliable judgements, though.

So, then, on what can I pass judgement? Well, surely I can only pass judgement on actions and NOT pass judgements on the human heart. I do not have the vision to enter into the human soul and pick out all the naughty bits. Only God can do that, it is not my remit. If I see someone killed, I know that the action of killing is wrong - it shouldn't happen - but unless I know the underlying reasons, the only facts on which I can bear witness to in court are the facts that someone has been killed. I must let the judge judge and convict of murder, manslaughter or unlawful killing, or acquit on the grounds of diminished responsibility, insanity, or for honest defence of others' lives .

So what are the facts of homosexuality? The Bible is pretty clear that men should not lie with men as they would with women. This is true in the Old Testament and St Paul confirms it in the New. The Lord Himself certainly does not change this teaching. In short, the practice of homosexuality is wrong. I know that many modern scholars are desperately trying to change the words and meaning of these texts to suit "modern views" but it's clear that Tradition has interpreted these texts in the negative view of homosexuality. A good Catholic listens to Tradition first rather than Joe PhD with his radical ideas which he is only exploring in order to get his name into history. Those ideas will be tested by Time and ultimately God. If there is any truth in them, that truth will become apparent over time, the rubbish will die out.

Now this is where I begin to hear many double standards from those who truly hate homosexuals.

First, there is the obvious: you cannot suspend "Love thy neighbour as thyself" in favour of condemning homosexual practice. This commandment of our Lord trumps any other. All other commandments in the Bible have to be processed through the lens formed by the two Great Commandments given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ. That means that God's wishes must be obeyed, but that hatred of another human being is never an option. Anyone who claims that they are Christian and then proclaims "God hates fags" is no Christian but a liar and a fool. God hates SIN, yes, but look at the lengths He went to to save us from it. Look into the eyes of Christ on the cross and then say "God hates fags"!

Second, it is true that St Paul lumps homosexuality together with sexual immorality. He sees it as the same as fornication, i.e. sexual activity outside marriage. To hate one with a homosexual life-partner and then engage in a one-night stand with a girl you just picked up in a bar is hypocrisy. It's the same wrong thing to do, but whose sin is greater? The men committed in a loving same-sex partnership or the Lothario with a string of women on the go, yet neither committing to nor even in the least respecting any of them? According to the Bible, both are in danger of falling into a ditch, but it seems reasonable to see that for one the ditch is likely to be wider!

Third, Romans viii.28 says:

οἴδαμεν δὲ ὅτι τοῖς ἀγαπῶσιν τὸν θεὸν πάντα συνεργεῖ εἰς ἀγαθόν, τοῖς κατὰ πρόθεσιν κλητοῖς οὖσιν.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

(emphasis mine)

Clearly, we cannot presume that God will not bring some great good out of a homosexual relationship. If we cannot pass judgement on the human heart, then we must accept that God can and will do marvellous things in all situations. We can also believe that God has the capacity to purify the relationship betweem two men as long as they are actively seeking Him by His means.

I hope, then, that I have made my first point clear. I refuse to condemn those who call themselves homosexuals. I regard the practice as being wrong and potentially, if not actually, sinful, but seeing as I certainly don't have the keys to Heaven and that the Church certainly doesn't have the keys to Hell, the matter of sin lies between the individual and God. I can only point out potential pitfalls and would rather, for their safety, that they would seek heterosexual relationships.

My second point is that I do regard homosexuality as a grave disorder. This sounds harsh but I hope you will appreciate my reasoning.

All of my homosexual friends are deeply special. Well, all of my friends, nay every member of the human race is special, but I don't know all of the human race - perhaps that's something I should be ashamed of. But, looking at my homosexual friends, I see people who are clever, witty, creative, in touch with dimensions that I cannot fathom. That's not to say that my straight friends don't possess these qualities, but the "gays" possess a different perspective - theirs is a slant on life peculiar to them. This is good.

So how are they to pass that perspective on?

This to me is the tragedy of labelling oneself as homosexual, "coming out" as it were. While it is by no means impossible, these folk generally do not pass on their genes nor raise children. All that creative energy, that personality, that vision, that insight isn't replicated for the next generation. Children are more than the sum of their nature and nurture, but both are necessary to foster brand new people. While I do not deny that the childless still manage to positively affect society even after they are gone (the prime example being Our Lord Himself), the genetic continuation of a person is sacrificed perhaps unnecessarily for the feelings that they may have for the same sex. That is a dis-order.

With regards to homosexual marriage, it is clear that only such a thing can exist legally and not in the sacramental sense. A Civil wedding of homosexuals in a registry office makes some kind of sense as a public declaration of loving commitment, a Church wedding does not make sense because it is a Divinely instituted sacrament far exceeding human legalities and promises. A homosexual partnership is sterile. Yes, one can say that so was the marriage of Abraham and Sarah until late in their lives. One can point to monks, nuns and Roman priests (more on them later). However, while God can work any miracle He likes, for a homosexual couple to have a baby would result in one of them changing sex and while I do not doubt that this could be done, I do doubt that He would want to do it for this very reason. As I've written earlier, change a person's sex and you change that person at one of the most fundamental levels. Marriage is an open possibility for the family, a homosexual partnership is never open to that possibility. I cannot possibly comment on whether homosexual couples should adopt - that can only be on a case by case basis. My vision is distorted and unreliable here.

I do not doubt that two men can fall in love with each other. I have recently seen a dear friend lose his life partner, and the only way I can interpret the facts of his reaction is that he truly, truly loved his partner. So there was some aspect of the Divine in that relationship and I find it very hard to believe that, beyond this life, the best aspects of that relationship would not be continued. I do not even doubt that out of what the Church describes as a disorder can come order. Mathematically speaking chaotic systems produce fascinating order. Again we return to Romans viii.28.

My third point is a concern that I have about how "homosexuals" perceive themselves.

I have tried very hard in the above not to call these people "homosexuals" or "gays" not for fear of offence but for the simple reason that I don't want to identify the people with the property of homosexuality. I'm not convinced that "homosexuality" even properly exists as a definable concept.

If a friend were to come out and say "I'm gay" what would I say? First, I would recognise the courage that he has taken to admit that. It's clearly something with which he has been wrestling for some time and this struggle needs to be appreciated.

Second, I would wonder what he means. I suspect he would say, "I'm sexually attracted to men." What he means, I suspect, is, "every person to whom I have been sexually attracted so far in my life has been male." However, there is a dangerous and restrictive assumption that every person that this chap will ever be sexually attracted to is male. Whilst homosexuality may be observable in animals and in humans and the tendency to be attracted to the same sex may be written in some way in our biological machinery, human beings are more than biological machines and are capable of considering their drives, passions and attractions carefully.

It's fair to say that everyone has been attracted to someone of the same sex at some point in their lives. Does that mean that everyone is homosexual? Well, there we go! We are back to this identification of the self as homosexual. We run the risk of seeing everything we do as the result of being homosexual. Homosexuality suddenly becomes the entirety of our final cause, "namely we are who we are because we are homosexual."

Does homosexuality exist as a cause be it material, formal, efficient or final? That's the danger. Call no man happy until he is dead? Then call no man homosexual until he is dead and you can examine all the attractions that he has ever had and judge that more than 50% of them have been for the same sex.

It's easy to understand why this is the case. If mainstream society vilifies homosexuality, anyone with attractions to people of the same sex, finds themselves cast out. Outcasts form their own community and their badge of identity becomes the very thing that has caused them to be cast out. Thus, people with same-sex attraction see themselves as being homosexual as being a fundamental part of their being in order to find some social place.

However, people who call themselves homosexuals in a rather aggressive way often are committing the same "sin" of "closed mindedness" when they accuse "heterosexuals" (does that exist as a definable quantity?) of not being able to see the other side's point of view. If neither side is prepared to examine their own hearts and recognise that therein lie both homo- and heterosexual attractions, then there can be no commonality of vision.

What then of monks, nuns and Roman priests for whom celibacy is the requirement? Is this a disorder because it is genetically fruitless to be a monk or a nun or a Roman priest? That's a good point, but one that, I believe, is answered by the idea vocation. Sometimes, good things have to be given up so that a greater good can happen.

God calls in order for us to serve in some way. I find it difficult to believe that a homosexual relationship is a vocation from God in the light of what we are told about such relationships in the Bible and Tradition. The religious life, the priesthood and the married life are ways in which God can call us to serve. The commitment to a married life may have to be transferred to a community. I would suggest for this reason that a celibate priesthood is preferable to a married one, though I see no reason to impose celibacy on priests given some of the sterling work that I've seen vicars' wives do on account of them being vicars' wives.

It does have to be said that it is more important for the clergy and the religious to set the examples for the world in following the teaching of God. If they are to answer their vocation then they must answer it to the full. Bishops like Gene Robinson who leave their wives and family in order to persue a homosexual relationship and then seek to change what they perceive as the Church's rules rather than God's are morally reprehensible on many counts. Again, I cannot condemn, but I am very far from condoning such behaviour especially since many lives were ruined as a consequence of Gene Robinson's desire to be true to himself at the expense of being true to his family and to God.

Lastly, what do I say to the man who is lonely because he is encumbered with the belief that he is a homosexual? There's little that I can say, though I identify very much with how lonely and stark life can be. Again, the argument of motes and beams comes back. I cannot know what is in a brother's head, so I can only advise him to go out and love others appropriately within the parameters of the Love of God, to make good friends and to know that he is loved by God more passionately, more fully and more appropriately than any human being could. Is this enough? What more can I do? Answers in the com box please.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Horror and Holiness

Perhaps it's wrong of me: I do enjoy a good horror film. I'm not quite sure what it is about the Horror genre that sets me off. I guess it's the allusion to the fact that there is more in Heaven and Earth (and indeed under the Earth) than is dreamt of in my Philosophy. Perhaps the Anglo-Catholic mind is especially susceptible to the sense of the Gothic, the cold stone and gargoyle of old church buildings coupled with the Medieval monstrosities of Hell so graphically depicted in old Dooms and inhabiting the eldrich recesses of the mind of Hieronymous Bosch.

For me, it is the stories of Montague Rhodes James that have delighted me most. These are tales of ancient evil, of revenants and guardians of forbidden knowledge and secret treasure. Very few of them have really made it into the realm of the movie. There have been some pretty good adaptations made for television. There have been two versions of Oh Whistle and I'll come to you, My Lad the better version being played with Sir Michael Horden, detailing the tribulations of a pernickety Cantabrigensian Professor with no fear of the "supernatural" whose life comes a-cropper when he happens upon a whistle near a barrow on the Suffolk coast. A later version with John Hurt worked very well until they spoiled the story.

The only film that I know of M. R. James' work is Night of the Demon based on the short story Casting the Runes again with a skeptical protagonist being faced with something beyond his understanding. It may be black and white but it is a very good film.

I like a good horror film. It's a shame that very few are being made at the moment! There has been a big shift in the way that horror is being done now. As Roddy MacDowell's character (Peter Vincent) says in the original version of Fright Night, "All they want to see slashers running around in ski masks, hacking up young virgins." He's right. (Interestingly, I believe that this film is being remade with Doctor Who Actor David Tennant as Peter Vincent).

It seems that most horror films today are obsessed with showing off most of the outside of nubile young ladies and then finding some awful way of showing off their insides thanks to digital special effects. We have reached the era of Torture Porn which seems to be more concerned at killing someone off in the most elaborate and gory fashion and observing their suffering (from behind the sofa) until their life is finally snuffed out by the coup de grace. And that's it. There seems to be very little to point to the beyond, these days. Final Destination may be about Death and Fate, but that's as far as it points: the centre piece is the manner of death and avoidance of it, and the Saw films point to nothing other than man's depraved ingenuity of finding out ways of taking someone to bits. To my mind, this is not horror, this is disgusting, a cheap way of getting a reaction from an audience not from the head or the heart but through the stomach - sometimes literally. Gone are any references to Good and Evil. Only Nasty Things happen and have no moral identity.

That says much for a materialist culture where Death is the enemy to be overcome, despite the fact that it is inevitable for us all. Yet one contrast this with the sublime Pan's Labyrinth which juxtaposes the trials of the fairytale with the brutal realities of the Spanish Civil War. The sight of the zombies wandering through the shopping mall was a definite comment on the culture of today. Bluewater Park is filled with the mindless searching for a life!

Harsh? Maybe a tad. Much of what I've said above is opinion, but there is something which I feel is an important statement about our society.

On Wednesday 24th, the Church celebrates the life of St Bartholomew. Tradition has it that St Bartholomew was skinned alive and then beheaded. Of course, the horror movie makers would deeply relish this idea, and I'm sure that they would want to work this into the next installment of Saw. But how they would miss the point!

If one reads the daily instalments of the Martyrology, one again is faced with some hideous deaths. Admittedly, I think some of them have been dressed up to heighten the drama. Tradition has St Laurence roasted alive, scholarship has him simply beheaded. I know which one Wes Craven would depict in a film! However, one reads the Martyrology not to act as some rubberneck at a car crash searching for the most nasty way of dispatching a saint, but to connect with real, genuine human beings whose faith points beyond the material world. The more tortured the saint, the more we marvel at the tenacity that this person had for the love of Christ, and the more we question the depth of love that we have for the Lord. Saying "yes" to God could see us roasted on a grid iron. it's true.

Should we feel inadequate that we could not undergo torment for Christ? No. That way lies some unhealthy attitudes to suffering. We are bound to suffer for our faith - The Faith - and there is no getting away from that, but we remember God's faithful words to us in that He will not allow us to be tempted beyond our means, and any suffering we undergo has a purpose, a question for us to answer posed by God Himself. One can read that in Job. The fact that some martyrs suffered horribly is a testament to their belief, and it is reasonable for us to venerate them and praise them for their steadfastness.

A good horror film says something about the life beyond the material. It may be just a story but that's what stories are for, making statements about Life above television sets, toasters and turntables. Contrast this with the real lives of the saints, martyrs and all those who have in any way suffered dreadfully at the hands of men. The modern stalk-and-slash, torture porn films really do trivialise the latter at the expense of entertainment.

Opinion again? Perhaps.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Assumpta est Maria in Caelum

1 alleluia laudate pueri Dominum laudate nomen Domini
2 sit nomen Domini benedictum ex hoc nunc et usque in saeculum
3 a solis ortu usque ad occasum laudabile nomen Domini
4 excelsus super omnes gentes Dominus super caelos gloria eius
5 quis sicut Dominus Deus noster qui in altis habitat
6 et humilia respicit in caelo et in terra
7 suscitans a terra inopem et de stercore erigens pauperem
8 ut collocet eum cum principibus cum principibus populi sui
9 qui habitare facit sterilem in domo matrem filiorum laetantem

PRAISE the Lord, ye servants : O praise the Name of the Lord.
2. Blessed be the Name of the Lord : from this time forth for evermore.
3. The Lord's Name is praised : from the rising up of the sun unto the going down of the same.
4. The Lord is high above all heathen and his glory above the heavens.
5. Who is like unto the Lord our God, that hath his dwelling so high : and yet humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven and earth?
6. He taketh up the simple out of the dust : and lifteth the poor out of the mire;
7. That he may set him with the princes : even with the princes of his people.
8. He maketh the barren woman to keep house : and to be a joyful mother of children.

Actually, I listened to Monteverdi's glorious setting of Vespers last night before I recited First Vespers. It was this psalm, psalm cxii(i) that spoke to me most. In the above video, the psalm follows the Antiphon Nigra sum alluding to the Song of Solomon in which the maiden, though dark skinned from being of common stock is still regarded as beautiful in the eyes of the king.

The psalm proper starts at about 03:50 and it's this psalm which, to my mind, sums up what the Assumption of Our Lady is about. Monteverdi does a splendid job of emphasising this musically. Listen to how he sets verse 7 in the Latin. It's dynamic, hurried, alive as Monteverdi sees a God active in His intention to lift the poor man from the dung heap (stercore). And why? Suddenly, the music slows into a stately pace and is filled with sumptuous suspensions which is repeated! The words are ut collocet eum cum principibus - that He may set him (the poor man) among princes - and lays bare the intention of God to bring His Church - rich man and poor man, the mighty and the humble - together to Him.

Our Lady is a synecdoche, a representative of the Church as a whole, and her fate is to be the fate of the faithful. Of course, there are disagreements between Christians about the Role of Our Lady in the Cosmic Drama of Creation, Redemption and Salvation, but at the very least we should be able to make some identification with her as the human being who possesses the most intimate relationship with the Saviour.

If Christians are ever to be united then it is through the deepening of the relationship that we have with Christ - Christ has to be the uniting influence if we stand a chance of being regarded as One Body. For Catholics, this means the development of our interaction with Christ sacramentally and ensuring that they are ever more aware of Christ's reality in that sacrament. For Protestants, this means an ever deepening of that "personal relationship with Jesus" so that the words of Scripture aren't just read, aren't just acted upon, but realised in the life and heart of the believer. If the Catholic and the Protestant are both honest and earnest in their attempts, then they will be united in the same Jesus Christ - there's only one of Him after all.

Wherever Our Lord is, Our Lady is not far behind. How can a mother ever be far from her beloved child? Catholics know that she is not an object of worship but an object of reverence and veneration. To look to her is to be directed to Christ and one can see Him through her. To ask for her prayers is to find a companion kneeling beside us, showing us how she prays and making our prayers her own. Her assumption is the assumption of the Church; her end is our end. This is God's promise to us and He fulfils that in Our Lady to show that He fulfils His promise.

If we Christians are to have any effect in demonstrating that God is faithful and loving, thus shedding the light of Christ within us upon a dark and rapidly declining Earth, then we are going to have to start saying "yes" to God a great deal more and start wanting to become saints rather than being passive in our sacraments and scripture. If one woman from common stock can change the world just by saying "yes" to God, then what can we do in addition? We have to want to become saints; we have to want to get ourselves into the state where we too may be assumed.

While we may be only saints in training now, why don't we start trying to be saints properly now? That may mean a lifetime of repentance (though a Benedictine would call that conversatio mores) but it doesn't matter who we are, rich man or poor. By being saints, we open ourselves to the possibility of being gathered cum principibus populi sui and into the courts of Heaven.

Friday, August 12, 2011

St Benedict's Priory Salisbury 2011

You can't keep a good Monastery down! The little Benedictine community formerly at Elmore has relocated to a converted vicarage near Salisbury Cathedral.

It's not the most monastic looking building, and it's not exactly in the usual remote setting that Benedictines usually favour for the necessity of contemplation and peace. The Oratory is half of a converted sitting room and there is nowhere where the monks can really separate themselves from visitors.

This might be rather negative sounding, but it has to be realised that the monks are much happier now that they've been allowed to settle. Any skepticism from the neighbours appears to have been resolved: these monks are not going to wake you at 05:30 with their chanting the Venite!

What has been rather ingenious is how the Monks have managed to integrate their Officium Divinum into their new environment. They now incorporate Lauds and Vespers with worship at the Cathedral and celebrate Sext (or rather "Midday Prayer" in the modernist vernacular) with Sarum College. Whatever views one can take on this, and I suppose one can be very "What would St Benedict say?" if one wanted to be, the fact of the matter is that the monks are engaging with their Christian community at large. Consequently, they are, after just 11 months, very popular within the cathedral precincts.

The whole set-up reminds me, and perhaps it should remind Anglicans in particular, that there are different facets of the Church and that sometimes these facets need to coexist.

The Catholic Church is essentially divisible into Parochial, Religious, Theological and Hierarchical quarters comprising of the parishes, monasteries, seminaries/universities and the cathedrals. Each adds a distinctive colour, a vital nuance to the life of the Church. Most people will only ever really meet Parish ministry and that's all they think the Church is. However, the body of Christ has organs - not all absolutely defined and definitive - but quite clear in their function.

The Parishes form the coal-face ministry with the secular world; the Religious, like lungs, seek the spiritual health of the Church; the seminaries and universities engage with the intellectual and theological aspects, training people for coal-face ministry, while the Cathedrals espouse the leadership and the figurehead of the Church.

If the Church is to survive, then it must make sure that all four of these organs are functioning at full capacity and fully integrated. The focus of attention should not just be on the whims of the Parishes, or the directives from the Cathedrals.

Let us pray for our Religious folk and our intellectuals that they may flourish in good, orthodox, catholic faith.