Today’s Gospel presents a perfect analogy of our situation – yours and mine — as Catholics in Australia today. Our Lord has sent us ahead, on a boat, to cross the Sea of Galilee. He will meet us on the other side. But now we are battling in a heavy sea, and we’re sailing into a headwind.
This is the destiny of Christians in every age. As Christians, we have to navigate against the current. There’s no other way. Jesus himself had to go against the current. So did the Apostles, and every disciple since. Every single person, in every age, who wished to be a faithful disciple of Christ, had to go against the current. It’s good to remind ourselves of this. It is not the teaching of Christ which should adapt itself to our time. It is the times, that must open themselves to the light of Christ.
So here we are, clutching to the sides of a dubious-looking boat: decades of clergy abuse; diabolical cover-ups; hypocrisy and clericalism; immorality and worldliness. The boat is collecting water, fast. Here we are, battling a heavy sea, nearly overcome by the headwind: abortion on demand; state-sponsored euthanasia; religion banished from our schools, replaced with gender ideology. And now there’s another wave closing in, as we prepare for a national vote on same-sex marriage. The Apostles struggle against the wind, but their efforts seem useless. The boat lurches around, tossed by the waves. So what do we do? We can clutch to the sides of this sinking boat, or we can do something. Be responsive! Show some initiative!
We could leap overboard, and hasten back to shore. To that place of happy memories and a secure future, where we left Jesus not so long ago. In other words, we can withdraw from modern society. Disengage, completely, from this pernicious culture. Concoct and inhabit a Catholic bubble, where we look after our own and leave the rest to their own devices. Back to shore: there we will find our feet, and bask in the warmth of the sun.
Or, alternatively, we could embrace the storm, negotiate the wind, and conform to the current. In other words, we could integrate the ‘medieval’ teachings of Christ with a modern, more tolerant outlook. Abolish the old hierarchy – inaugurate a new priesthood. Embrace abortion rights; mercy killing; trans-theory; gay marriage. As long as we “judge not,” and “tolerate all,” as long as we follow the Lord’s general moral principles, adapted and modernised, we can save the boat, save ourselves, ride out the storm and, eventually, get to the other side.
But Jesus Christ is not merely a moral teacher, confined by his times and culture. Jesus Christ is Lord of history, Son of God, God Himself. He is our Creator and our Redeemer. He is the Alpha and the Omega. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Heb 13:8.) He went against the current, and anyone who follows him will go against the current. So we don’t abandon ship and swim back to shore. We don’t change course, and sail with the wind. We persevere, like the Apostles, faithful to our Lord’s request. He placed us in this boat; he set our course.
To persevere, to be faithful, we must be able to love. As the public campaign heats up, many proponents of gay marriage — activists and politicians on TV, and maybe even friends and family in our own lives — will call us bigoted and homophobic. But we’re not. Many of us have close friends and relatives who are gay. Colleagues too. As a priest, I serve many gays and lesbians. Some of them embrace the gay lifestyle; some of them embrace Catholic teaching and Christian chastity. Some of them support gay marriage; some of them oppose gay marriage. So let’s be clear — at least in our own hearts and minds: gay marriage isn’t about “accepting gays or opposing gays;” it isn’t about “tolerance versus bigotry.” Gay marriage is about marriage. At least in our own hearts and minds.
If the “no” vote wins, if marriage is not redefined, many hearts will be broken. The Church is not in the business of breaking hearts. You and I, as disciples of Christ, aren’t in the business of breaking hearts. But nor is the Church in the business of being nice; sparing feelings. The Church’s business is saving souls. You and I, as disciples of Christ, are in the business of saving souls.
A “yes” vote, which redefines marriage, won’t save a single soul. But voting “no” won’t save souls either. We don’t fulfil our Christian obligations by opposing gay marriage. That’s simply dodging another wave, battling against the wind, navigating the heavy sea. Discipleship demands much more. Discipleship demands heroic love. It means seeking men and women — our brothers and sisters: friends, relatives, colleagues, acquaintances — who are out in the water, at the mercy of the storm. Praying for them; befriending them; loving them.
As a young man, Joseph Sciambra became immersed in San Francisco’s hedonistic gay sub-culture of anonymous sex and multiple partners. After a near-death experience in 1999, he found Christ. Or rather, Christ found him. Now he dedicates himself in full-time Catholic ministry to gay men. In his blog last week, he laid down the gauntlet to Christian husbands and fathers: “If you know a gay man, call him. Hang out with him. Offer him sincere friendship. Offer him authentic masculine camaraderie. Give him a reason to withdraw from toxic gay culture.”
I’m nervous just repeating that. It sounds intolerant, doesn’t it? Many will call it homophobic. But this is what love looks like. This is what Christian discipleship looks like. It demands we go against the current. It demands courage. Reaching out to people in the sea, loosing our grasp of the boat, leaves us vulnerable. But we have to be vulnerable, if we want to love.
So we persevere. The Apostles struggle against the wind. Their efforts seem futile. Jesus wants them to grow strong through adversity, but he doesn’t leave them on their own. In the fourth watch of the night, he came to them. He will come for us too. And with him at the helm, we will get to the other side of the sea.
Don’t jump overboard and head back to shore. Resist the urge to construct a Catholic fortress with raised drawbridge. And don’t change course to conform with the current and wind. Resist the urge to modernise and “improve” the perennial wisdom of God. Stay the course; persevere with the Apostles; sail against the wind. And reach out to others, with sincere love and friendship. Love is action, not sweet words.
Jesus Christ doesn’t need any of us. And yet he needs all of us! And we need him. Let’s be souls of prayer. Let’s open our hearts to him, every day. When we open our hearts to him, he will open his heart to us. And then we will be filled with the courage of Peter. We, too, will make headway.
I (a gay man) will be the first to criticise some elements of contemporary “gay culture”. But calling this culture “toxic” is not heroic, it is invidious.
This “culture” is a reaction and a refuge to so many (including at times myself) in an often times hostile world. This culture, or community I would rather call it, also exhibits some of the best examples of masculine camaraderie (notwithstanding Mr Sciambra’s scurrilous remarks).
As a former Catholic (and one who seriously discerned the priestly vocation), I understand your sentiments, but I fear (as I have discovered for myself) that such sentiments do not come from a place of love.
I’m not trying to be condescending to you when I equate my “then” faith with yours (it is entirely possible – more likely than not even – that your faith is more ardent and/or steadfast than mine ever was).
I came to the realisation in my own life that my adherence to the Church’s dictates on this and other ‘social issues’ and my transmission of these teachings to others was not an act of love, but of supreme self-indulgence.
I made a choice (the best I have ever made) that I would accept who I am, that I would put an end to the source of my growing isolation (my faith) and that I would give myself the chance of one day devoting myself to someone body and soul as my nature (since a small child) and not as the Church dictates.
I hope that when that day comes, I, along with my community, will be accorded what Justice Kennedy in his opinion in the SCOTUS Obergefeld ruling perspicuously termed “equal dignity in the eyes of the law”.
Pax et bonum!
Thanks Brandon. In fairness to Joseph Sciambra, I believe “toxic culture” refers to the extraordinary hedonism of San Francisco’s promiscuous gay sub-culture, which claimed the life of many of Sciambra’s friends through the AIDS epidemic. His ongoing committment to men who continue to inhabit that culture — his willingness not only to speak with them, but also to befriend them — is testament to love I think, Sciambra’s strong language nothwithstanding.
(My guess is that Sciambra would not refer to the gay community as toxic. He’d make a distinction between culture and community.)
As an onlooker, I would hasten to add that I consider the mainstream culture we all inhabit as equally toxic. Anything that takes us away from the love of God, from the freedom and peace that only He can give, is toxic to soul and body. But I’m conscious that expressing myself in such terms isn’t, generally, the most effective way to attract people to Christ. So while I agree with Sciambra’s critique, I can recognise in your own argument a lot that is good and true. As St Francis de Sales often said, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”
I watched Q and A on the ABC last night on Same Sex Marriage I request that you watch it. I was appalled at Father Frank Brennan’s publicly stated heresy His personal views are anti Catholic yet he is a respected senior priest ( not anymore by a lot of Catholics if they saw that show I hope)There is something rotten in the state of Denmark and it has to be fixed. What is that new term for ‘defrocking’ ? Laicising methinks. A person holding Brennan’s personal views which are in conflict with the Church teaching beggars belief that he calls himself Catholic. Dogma cannot be changed to suit the prevailing populist views by twisting the scriptures.especially by rogue priests. They did that 500 years ago and we are still dealing with the mess.
If you can think of any way of stopping this heretical infection in the Church apart from prayer and a blog please do so.We need strong authentic integral (Catholic) priests. The ‘good’ shepherds need to fight for their flock.God bless you and may the Holy Spirit guide you on the path of truth.