By Guest Editorialist Sixto J. García. *
It would seem, if we allow pope Francis to point the way (“Gaudete et Exsultate,” 135) that the peripheries are a good place to be. They beckon to committed, passionate spirits who yearn to work for the Kingdom of God.
The peripheries are populated by a rather remarkable diversity of identities and situations: the hungry, the poor, the dispossessed, the victims of racism and xenophobia, the humiliated and “discarded” (pope Francis’ term of choice), the persecuted by the right and the left and, yes, the members of the ¨LGBTQ¨ community.
I casually remarked to a friend, whose confidentiality and sense of discretion are trustworthy, that I was planning to write on the subject. He immediately recoiled, as if I had just blasphemed the name of the Triune God, looked at me with conflicting feelings of pity and suspicion, and said: “You are walking into a wasp’s nest.”
My friend did not realize it at the time, but his horrified face and warning words about stinging insects did nothing but spur me to dive head-first into this issue, for, indeed, there are different levels of prejudice aimed at the dwellers of the peripheries, and it is fair to say that the worst form of suspicion, rejection, ostracism, when not outright hatred, is usually aimed at members of the ¨LGBTQ¨ community well, if not the worst, certainly one of the worst.
There are many reasons for this, and I most certainly do not intend to address all of them but, there is an element in this discussion that cannot be recused, avoided, mitigated or excused, and that is the role that so many people in the Church, bishops, priests, lay leaders, common laity, have played in perpetuating this odious, hypocritical and utterly un-Christian attitude.
Most of it is rooted in bad, faulty, obsolete catechesis, and bad, faulty, obsolete catechesis is always rooted in bad, faulty, obsolete theology. The opprobrium and vicious vituperation that Father James Martin, S.J., has received from some quarters is probably the best, or most immediate example that comes to mind. Fr. Martin’s prophetic and very well-balanced book, “Building Bridges,” has met with rejections, objections and accusations, from some bishops, priests, and laity, driven mostly by ignorance and faulty moral reasoning and judgment.
Conciliar and post-conciliar moral theology, always predicated on a sound Trinitarian theology and Christology has recast the discernment of human moral actions in its proper biblical, person-centered, historically conscious context.
Josef Fuchs, Bernhard Häring, Marciano Vidal, Franz Böckle, James Keenan, and others, have recovered the true meaning of person, relation and historicity for the assessment of moral actions. “Natural law” is not a perennial, unmovable, unchangeable set of propositions based on the “givenness” of human nature (the latter, also deficiently understood), but it is subject to the historical conditioning that the human moral agent lives within.
The human person, embedded in history, changing and unfolding towards his/her flourishing, requires a changeable, unfolding notion of “natural law” that can drive such search for personal flourishing.
Ultimately, at the end of it all, we have “agapic” love – the true, self-surrendering, joyful, dangerous and subversive love that defines and sustains everything – including moral truth. This is, as Max Scheler has beautifully stated, the true definition of who we are – Our whole relationality is driven by what he called (borrowing from St. Augustine) the “ordo amoris.”
Truth and love are not two separate, disjoint realities that can seek their respective “telos” independently of each other. From the very beginning of Christian theology and spirituality, agapic love has been regarded as that deepest bubbling of the human heart and spirit. Love is the true access to truth, as St. Augustine said. It is not so much “doing the truth” but “doing love as a pre-condition of living in the truth.”
Our encounter and dialogue with the LGBTQ community requires the unconditional love that allows us to see and discern their truth. We take, obviously, as our starting point the text of Genesis 1: 26-27: God has created all of us unto his image and likeness but, obviously, this is not enough. We need the “joy of the Gospel,” and its openness to embrace in full respect, humbly recognizing our own ignorance about how much we still need to learn (moral theologians would be the first to admit this) about the spiritual and moral treasures that they afford us, about the complexity and vicissitudes of their situation, in society and in the Church.
Only a love that dares burst and transgress the stolid, pharisaic, perennially sclerotized prescriptions of an ill-conceived form of “natural law,” of an un-historical concept of the human “esse” that ignores “personhood,” that is oblivious to the changes imposed by historicity, can open the path to a joyful, fruitful embrace and communion with our LGBTQ sisters and brothers – They need our agape, not our judgment, and we need their company, not their suspicions, for, ultimately, we all are fellow pilgrims along the byways of Salvation History.
This issue of El Ignaciano seeks to encourage and sustain such a joint pilgrimage.
- Sixto J. García, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, Systematic Theology (Christology and Scriptures.)
St. Vincent de Paul Regional Theological Seminary.