Sunday 28 February 2016

Some questions

At Brentwood Cathedral they are celebrating a series of Masses for the Year of Mercy, each with a particular emphasis on welcoming particular groups who feel excluded. It is an odd grouping...

I was particularly struck by the mass Welcoming LGBT men and women and their families, and feel it begs several questions. However, it is always hard to question such initiatives. For the first thing those who wish to defend them will tend to say is: 'What about Our Lord? (though they are more likely to use His name than that title), He ate with publicans and sinners!'  That is seen as the unanswerable answer. But the cases are not necessarily alike. 

For, in the first instance, Our Lord was not afraid to call sin by its name, and to call sinners to repentance: indeed that is one of the ways in which He described His mission. So one question is, will those organising this Mass do either of those things?

Moreover, the idea that Our Lord was 'inclusive' is somewhat simplistic. For the Transfiguration he not only excluded the crowds, but even nine of the apostles. What is more relevant here, is that for His first Mass, at the Last Supper, only the initiates, the apostles, were invited.  For centuries, the Church reflected that exclusivity by making a distinction between the first half of the Mass, to which those wishing to join the Church were admitted, and the second half, to which only the baptised were admitted. 

So of course we should be prepared to offer friendship and fellowship to everyone; but that is not the same as saying that unrepentant public sinners are welcome at Mass; and particularly not to invite them (implicitly or explicitly) to receive the Blessed Sacrament.

On the Chartres pilgrimage, before communion at every Mass, there is an announcement to remind people that in order to receive communion, one must be a baptised Catholic, one must have observed the Eucharistic fast, and one must be free from Mortal Sin. So another question is whether any such clarity will be offered on this occasion.

Call me cynical, but I suspect not. Yesterday's Gospel was the parable of the Prodigal Son. People are often keen to point out that the father rushes out to greet the son, before he has even got home, showing how God comes to meet us. True enough. But that is only after the son has repented of his sins and set out on the way back to his father. The modern version of this parable would have the father joining the son in the pigsty and assuring him that eating husks was a perfectly valid lifestyle, and quite as good for him as coming home would be.

In the Year of Mercy, it would seem like a good idea to consider what the Church has traditionally taught about mercy. For example:

322. Which are the Seven Spiritual Works of Mercy?

The seven Spiritual Works of Mercy are:
1. To convert the sinner.
2. To instruct the ignorant.
3. To counsel the doubtful.
4. To comfort the sorrowful.
5. To bear wrongs patiently. 
6. To forgive injustice,  
7. To pray for the living and the dead. 

So another question that arises, is this: are numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4 of this list likely to be the focus of this welcoming Mass? Or will it be, in fact, an affirmation of the LGBT identity and lifestyle?

That matters. For the affirmation of what is an objective disorder is a grave injustice, particularly to those afflicted with the disorder, not least given the reality of the personal and social construction of the LGBT identity about which I blogged, in passing, recently.

I am always struck by the phrase Gay Pride. Back when I was a boy, pride was generally discouraged in the Church, and indeed in wider society. But no more, it seems.  Which reminds me of this line in the Magnificat: He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart. I think it very significant that this line refers to imagination (eg the constructed gay identity) and heart (this is not an intellectual confusion, but a mis-direction of the will).

Ministry to those afflicted with this disorder is essential. But it is essential that it be done well: that is with an orientation to the truth, as taught by the Church. For it is the Truth that will set all of us free. Anything less is, at least, a grave failure of charity, and something posing as mercy that is really something quite different.

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