Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Luke 2:8-11

Each year in December it is customary for the Pope to share his personal opinions on what he considers to be pressing issues facing the world. This year Pope Benedict XVI considers same gender couples and their civil rights to be the most pressing threat to humanity. For the Reuters article:

Not global warming and the damage to the world's Eco-system, which many scientist have warned us about. Not the proliferation of nuclear arms and the threat this presents of a "limited" nuclear war against Israel, which could draw the whole of the Middle East and the world into war. Not international terrorism by religious zealots which threatens global security. Not the international financial crisis which could itself contribute to most of the aforementioned items and to widespread human misery. No, what causes Benedict XVI greatest concern is same sex marriage and civil rights. Evidently, it is not only grace which is "Amazing!"

What does a Catholic do with such a statement from a sitting pope? First, we need to consider the context and weight of the statement. This statement simply represents the personal insights of the man who happens to be the current pope. This is not an encyclical or a "de fide" statement. Read the encyclical Rerum Novarum issued by Pope Leo XIII on 15 May 1891 which stated:

"Let it be taken for granted that workman and employer should, as a rule, make free agreements, and in particular should agree freely as to wages; nevertheless, there is a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, that remuneration should be sufficient to maintain the wage-earner in reasonable and frugal comfort. If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accept harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice."

Then read the Syllabus of Errors issued by Pope Pius IX on 8 December 1864. Statements the encyclical condemned as FALSE include the following:

• "human reason , without any reference whatsoever to God, is the sole arbiter of truth and falsehood, and of good and evil" (No. 3) "All the truths of religion proceed from the innate strength of human reason;hence reason is the ultimate standard by which man can and ought to arrive at the knowledge of all truths of every kind." (No. 4)
• "in the present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship." (No. 77)
• "Protestantism is nothing more than another form of the same true Christian religion, in which form it is given to please God equally as in the Catholic Church" (No. 18).
• "the Church ought to be separated from the State, and the State from the Church." (No. 55)
• "every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true." (No. 15) and that "it has been wisely decided by law, in some Catholic countries, that persons coming to reside therein shall enjoy the public exercise of their own peculiar worship." (No. 78)
• "the Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with, progress, liberalism and modern civilization." (No. 80)

We could look at both of these documents and wonder if they had been issued by the same institution, by two men who held the same office. Today, Rerum Novarum is considered a jewel in Catholic social teaching and the Syllabus of Errors is embarrassingly swept under the carpet and universally ignored. Even Cardinal Ratzinger himself (now Pope Benedict XVI) approvingly called Vatican II a "counter-syllabus", in a gesture of frankness.

Sadly, many Catholics have a very limited understanding of their faith and believe that anything which a pope utters was written on the tablets carried down from Mount Sinai by Moses. Statements such as this by Benedict XVI fuel the bigotry which leads to hate crimes against LGBT persons. Statements like this will one day be buried in the dust bin of history along with the Syllabus of Errors and the various papal errors for which the late Pope John Paul II apologized to Jews, Muslims and the scientific community. Today, however, Benedict's words increase the suffering of LGBT persons, divide families and inspire hatred. That this should be done in the name of God is appalling. That it should be done on the Eve of Christmas is lamentable.

The first Christmas conjures up all sorts of romantic images. The Gospel informs us that Mary in an advanced state of pregnancy and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem to comply with civil law. Mary gave birth to Jesus in a manager surrounded by animals because there was no other place for them. Think about that scene. St. Ignatius Loyola tells us to employ the gift of our imagination when reading the Sacred Scriptures. Imagine what it was like in that stable, what it smelled like, the cold of the night. Imagine it through the eyes of St. Joseph, of the Blessed Mother giving birth under those circumstances.

God revealed the incarnation of his only begotten son to shepherds. The testimony of shepherds would be inadmissible in a court at that time. God reveals the incarnation not to the Emperor in Rome nor to the High Priest in Jerusalem, but to people who were considered to be unholy and who's word was considered worthless by society. God seems to favor those despised by "polite society." The baby in the manger would grow up to eat with sinners and prostitutes. He would himself be seen as an undesirable and condemned by those in positions of high religious authority. Things that make you go, "HMMM." Keep the spirit of that first Christmas in your hearts. Like the shepherds, we too are called to announce the news of liberation to the world.


The Honourable Husband said...

Hear, hear. So many Catholics hold a vague understanding of theological dictates, as you say, and it is an ignorance which many popes (and some clergy) exploit.

Seldom has there been a worse offender in these matters, though, than the current incumbent, in my opinion.

May this Christmas bring you joy, Father Geoff.

Michael Dodd said...

I guess one of my favorite things about the manger story is that we all got to be there -- lamb, dumb ox and jackass, too. May this year find us all making more room for the rest.

Merry, merry and a happy New One.

Birdie said...

Like many employed by the church, I have spent my recent weeks getting ready for others to worship on Christmas Eve. Your words have given me my moment of reflection, quite fitting in the quiet of this Christmas morning. Thank you.

Dusty in the San Joaquin said...

An absolutely great Christmas message! “Like the shepherds, we too are called to announce the news of liberation to the world”. As a Shepherd in the Episcopal Church I feel I am called to the same inclusive message and “Human Reason”.

Kay & Sarah said...

Father Geoff, you are truly a Christmas gift to the LGBT community.

KJ said...

Wonderful thoughts, Fr. Geoff.

While much of the church would wish to curse us, the Incarnation provides blessing. I look back and wonder how pale my faith walk would be without the opportunity of being rejected by those who thought they knew best for me. While their intentions were likely good, their plans for me were more about them and their fears.

My coming out in '99 caused me to understand the Incarnation more fully (I don't think I can understand it fully.). I had been made who I was to be the face of Christ where I was. Very, very simple and complex -- peace-filled, but not safe in the least.

Merry Christmas, Fr. Geoff. May the peace of Christ be with you.

barbarab said...

You are a gift to all people of faith, including those of us who left the Roman church (my issue was similar, opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment for women) but your presence gives me hope.

Merry Christmas, Fr. Geoff! Thank you for the blessing of your witness.

Sara said...

Amen Fr. Geoff. Joyous Christmas to you.

Fran said...

Deep sigh, deep deep sigh.

How long Lord, how long?

You are so right about how little the average Catholic knows. The sad 20th century American formula of "pay, pray and obey" has not served Holy Mother church very well at all.

My own pastor often says "Jesus blessed the children and taught the adults and we've been doing it backward ever since."

Perhaps this is why I am so interested in Adult Faith Formation.

Honestly, when I heard this idiotic pronouncement, the first thing I thought of was all the gay Catholic priests I know. And B16 seems like he could be one of them himself.

What on earth is he thinking? At the end of the day I have had more issues with JPII than I do with B16 (although the margin narrows). At least JPII, pigheaded and pedantic though he could be, did understand life in the world. Benedict does not - complete "head" person, is detached from his body.

It is no wonder that most Catholics are lost in what it means to be part of a truly incarnational faith.

Enough of this for now. I wish you a good Christmas season and the blessings of the new life of Christmas.

Anonymous said...

Doubt--Go see the movie to see what Sister Aloysius (AKA Meryl Streep) implicates the Church of covering up. "Doubt-I have so much doubt.."

planet trans said...

You are a true gift to the entire world Father. Thank you.

Cindy said...

Glad I paused to read your blog. this morning. it was the best Christmas homily.

Fr. Marty Kurylowicz said...

Dear Fr. Geoff Farrow,

I have been so saddened by Benedict XVI cruel words to LGBTQ people around the world, to their parents, families and friends, most especially to children. After, reading the accounts about this human travesty, I did not know where to find comfort or hope. And then I thought about your blog. And just like receiving a wonderful Christmas present, sure enough I found the hope and comfort I needed to hear.

I am a priest and a clinical psychologist MS. And for one of my research projects I choose to do a qualitative research project of the recorded verbal accounts of survivors of the Holocaust, 50 years after the event. It was a difficult research project, because I could not make sense of one of the accounts of the survivors.

For example, one survivor was describing what it was like riding the train to AUSCHWITZ, but he was describing how he was trying to make conversation with this girl on the train. I listened and wrote out this one account nearly 30 times but I just was not getting it. I could not understand, how could this man be talking about wanting to make conversation with this girl on the same train to AUSCHWITZ!?!

Having taught, high school religion classes for nearly some 20 years, it then, hit me hard, like a flash of lightening. Instantly, all the pieces came together, so fast. Though this survivor was in his late 60’s when he gave his verbal account of his story and it was recorded, he was remembering the events that took place, but in the mind of a teenager, which was the age he was on that trained to AUSCHWITZ. This is why the dialogue wasn’t making any sense. I was thinking of him because of the sound of his voice that he was a man of 68 yrs old on that train. As stocking as a bomb going off, all the different aspects of the psychological developmental stages of a teenager kicked in. I realized only too fully that he was just a young normal teenager on that train!!! And so was the girl he was trying to make conversation and their moms and dads were there with them!!! There was no way to pretend I did not realize, what I discovered. It kept hitting me; this is not some script from some movie or TV series on the Holocaust. Oh, as much as, I was wishing that it was. The reality of this horror hit me, all at once, on so many different levels of consciousness, what an unbelievable horror it was!!! How could we treat human beings like this! I remember when the realization, first, hit me of the magnitude of this horror, like an instant reflex, I threw the transcript down that I was holding, as if it was blazing hot poker. It kept hitting me over and over again that this is not a movie script or some kind of play – this really happened! It really happened! Oh, my God, how could this have happened!

My supervisor told me, at the time, that I was traumatized by the oral content. In qualitative research, it is an attempt to understand the complexity of emotions, the kind and the intensity involved. Human emotions are what allow us to connect with another human being. It is the non-verbal quality of human emotions that we identify, and why we can connect with people through time, across cultures and individually. It is, the expression of human emotions, in the arts that makes some of pieces of art, timeless, because they continually speak to all people through the ages.

And when I heard what Pope Benedict XVI said about homosexuals and transgendered human beings at the Christmas Eve mass 2008, I felt that same trauma all over again. Because in some way, somehow, he was conveying in a non-verbal way the horror of the Holocaust, in what appears to be a traumatized trancelike accepted social norm from that period of time that some people just don’t count, aren’t important and can be easily disposed of. And if you rock the boat you could be next to be disposed of.

I truly have to believe that a person in his position would not be doing this consciously or intentionally. The horror of the Holocaust is like an atomic bomb, the fallout is extensive that spreads out into a radius of over 150 miles. The process of the horror of Holocaust began in 1933 and ended in 1945. The psychological fallout would have been even more extensive and more deadly, especially, when it is not identified as such.

It hit me like it did when I realized that the research I was doing about a Holocaust survivor though a man 68 years old telling his story, he was remembering what it was like to be on the train to AUSCHWITZ, from the perspective of a young teenage boy who just wanted to talk to a girl.

The question I asked myself was, what would it have been like for someone growing up gay during the Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933 -1945? (

What would be the severity of the psychological effects caused to a boy who grew up to be gay living in Germany during the time of Hitler’s NAZI PERSECUTION OF HOMOSEXUALS 1933 -1945? During the Nazi regime, homosexuals were publically defamed, falsely accused for the major social problems of that time, which was done to incite massive public hatred and hostility to be taken against homosexuals. Homosexuals were used for medical experiments, physically mutilated, brutally tortured and exterminated.

Would this child, as an adult, in a severe dissociative state of mind from his own homosexual feelings (Harry Stack Sullivan MD), unconsciously, perpetuate the terrifying horror of the insensitivity he had experienced, growing up? If he found himself in a position of authority would he recreate the same social and political environment of violence and terror for homosexuals that he experienced, as a child who grew up be to gay, during the NAZI PERSECUTION OF HOMOSEXUALS? (

I think in truth on a much deeper level I was frightened, really frightened, to hear Pope Benedict XVI’s Christmas remarks against homosexuals and transgendered human beings and even more frightened by the silence from the larger global community of human beings. What is so frightening is, even if there is agreement that one person does not matter or isn’t important, in truth then no one matters. Therefore, when I thought about your blog and what you did on October 5, 2008, I felt more reassured, and hope and comforted. How isn’t that the true meaning of Christmas?

God Bless you.

Марко Фризия said...

Father Geoff, Your post made me realize that Brokeback Mountain was not really about gay cowboys. That wonderful film was about gay shepherds. And I make a strong connection between the two queer shepherds (Jack and Ennis) in that story and the shepherds who were visited by the angel when Jesus was born. The shepherds in Luke's Gospel were queer in the sense that they were considered unclean, suspect, not possessing full civil rights (as you mentioned that they couldn't be called as witnesses in a legal process). A devout Jew could not buy milk or wool from a shepherd. Seems like the 1st century shepherds were stereotyped by other folks who considered themselves devout. Queer people still face those stereotypes and assumptions in the churches.

Rob T. said...

Thanks Fr. Geoff for your words of encouragement, something the present pope sure doesn't give us. It's sad when a man of God basically disavows a whole segment of his flock like B16 did in that homily.

If this right wing element doesn't want any discussion within the church but blind obedience no matter what is said- very dangerous in this world of today- maybe it's time American Catholics consider other options.

Anonymous said...

Father Geoff Farrow,

I am so thankful to have found your blog. I was raised as a Catholic. I practiced for over 19 years. Towards the end of that time, I have been blessed with a more open mind. There were so many issues that I realized I had differences with the Church. I had already begun opening my heart to other churches and reading about different spiritual practices. Not ever did I stray from my belief in God. When Prop 8 came out and I realized where certain Christian churches stood, I realized that I had to make a change permanently. I cannot bring myself to certain churches because of their strong opinion about gay and lesbians. I am heterosexual with a husband and daughter of my own. I have very close friends whose lives I understand very dearly and I truly believe that God made us all the way God wanted us to be - gay or straight. Right now, I feel a bit lost as to where I can attend services without feeling that I'm standing next to people who adamantly believe that homosexuals are sinners.

I was lucky to read that the Episcopal Church stands against Prop 8. There are also some other churches here in South OC that are specifically for straight and gay people. It is very sad that I can no longer feel safe in a Roman Catholic Church with my beliefs. The Church wants everyone to be perfect, interpreting what they believe to be the final word of the Lord, but wants us to overlook the Church's own shortcomings. Being gay is NOT a shortcoming. One should be truthful to who one is. I truly believe that if Jesus were to stand here in the flesh, He would accept all gay people as some of His closest friends.

I am very ashamed of how our society views homosexuality. So much for the thought of standing in someone else's shoes.

I applaud you in your efforts, Fr. Geoff. Please let me know where you choose to reside and I encourage you to continue speaking your truth. You are a strong messenger of God and I hope that you continue to use your talents as a vessel for more people to confide in.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing an eloquent and powerful closing to what began as a shocking opener.

Vic Mansfield said...

The pope, the mormons, the Christianists all scream so loudly because they know they have lost.

Thank you, blessed sir.

Anonymous said...

The passage you chose to comment on is my favorite Christmas passage.

"Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord."

In those words, are some of the most emotionally profound phrases of all time: "Do not be afraid," "good news of great joy," and "a savior has been born for you." Each of those phrases is worthy of deep meditation. So many of us have been made to tremble because others point out that we are not perfect, but the angel said "do not be afraid" rather he encouraged us to revel in the "good news of great joy." What a concept! Substitute fear for joy. Why? The angel answers that question: "a savior has been born for you." As a modern day shepherd, I ask does the world need a savior? And the answer that comes back from my heart is "does it ever."

So thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for the gentle reminder that even though I am not pure, that I do not need to be afraid. Thanks for the reminder that I have reason to revel in joy. I needed a savior and one was born. A comforting thought indeed when others have stones in their hands.

Anonymous said...

from: TheresaJ
Dear Father Geoff, I wish you a most
Happy and Holy New Year. Thank you for everything you have done. Trust in God and continue to do His holy work among us. Prayers and love to you and your family.

Марко Фризия said...

I have been fortunate enough to have been to a a few Wednesday General Audiences in Rome. I embrace what the pope has said about the Iraq war, social justice, etc. What makes this so very difficult and painful is that I actually like and respect Pope Benedict as a human being and as a Christian leader. I don't like the hurt his comments have caused me and others. The pope is 81-years-old. I was raised to behave with respect towards older adults. If Pat Roberston or some other crank had said these things about gay people and global warming, I would have laughed it off. It is much more painful and difficult to hear these harsh and unfair things from someone I like and respect (and from someone who does so much good in their ministry). Some people seem to be mostly balanced, but then they exhibit one trigger point (on a certain subject) in their minds which can set them off and make them behave and speak in a way that comes across as irrational and cruel. God knows I have my own flash points which make me irrational sometimes. I suppose the pope's trigger point is homosexuality. He is a human being and I am mindful that even popes go to confession. I feel hurt by what he has said, but I can't bring myself to hate him or wish him harm. Father Geoff and other folks who have posted on this topic, thanks for conducting this discussion in a charitable and sane way.

Sandy said...

I want to personally thank you for both your coming out and your coming in.

Coming out is scary on so many different levels. You took a brave stand when you decided to speak the truth about Proposition 8 and about yourself: a stand that gave you no choice but to jump headlong into uncertainty, not knowing (or perhaps knowing too well) what might await you.

What a blessing it is that after coming out the way you did, you also chose to come in: in to a community that welcomes you and will stand with you and support you.

Thank you, and may God richly bless the path you walk and the life you live!

barbarab said...

Father Geoff,

Just a quick note to wish you a blessed new year and to say how much I appreciate your reflections. I check in at least once a day. Please write us all when you have time. You are in my prayers: peace be to you and may your ministry prosper!

Tammie said...

I too was sad to hear the Pope make such a statement. My husband was raised in a Catholic family, and he tells me that he has a lot of disdain for what he considers the hypocrisy that is run rampant in Catholicism. On a bright note, I've known some Catholics recently who reject a lot of the fundamental Catholic teachings and still consider themselves Catholic. I also found this very interesting article from a Catholic theoligian:

I read somewhere Professor Maguire received a lot of criticism for this piece, but I'm sure he knew he would when he wrote it and sent it off to all the Bishops.

Happy new year to all!

Robert Christian said...

Just found your blog from an Episcopal Blog. Some good stuff. I will say, I worked for the RC Church for years as a teacher, organist and choir director. I was hoping that the church was moving forward but Benedict has shown me it's going backward. That said, I can only pray that progressive churches continue to provide a safe haven for GLBT population.