It was at the funeral of her mother that it happened. She was on the way to receive holy communion when the presiding priest withheld, saying that because she was a lesbian living with a woman that she could not receive. The same priest left the altar area when she offered a eulogy for her mother. And then he had too bad a headache to accompany the family to the graveside for the burial ritual.
The Archdiocese of Washington apologized and the priest is being chastised by church leadership. Where does one begin?
The obvious infraction has to do with utter insensitivity – on two scores. Obviously, there is the setting of the funeral, which is difficult and hard for anyone. But there is also the way in which one deals with communion issues, and that according to the church itself – done in private, discreetly in the midst of a pastoral conversation. Not publicly, not in a funeral. That’s the obvious level.
The more difficult issues for me, however, come in two varieties. One has to do with communion and the other with sexual orientation.
First, we Disciples invite all people to the table of our Lord, not presuming who is and is not worthy to come. Christ is the host and we who are presiding are merely symbolic stand-ins. If we take our cue from the table fellowship of Jesus himself, the cast and characters welcomed to his table are diverse beyond imagining. That’s the kind of reign of God he announced.
Second, the issue of sexual orientation and faith has been one of those fault lines in culture and a church-dividing issue as well. A person might, depending on their moral system, view of the human being or worldview, come down on that in various ways. That includes this particular priest or anyone else.
As for me, my starting points are different, so the larger issue is framed differently.
I believe that Jesus proclaimed a God and kingdom that is incredibly large, beautiful and graceful. All humanity is invited to the table, not according to virtue but according to the God who loves them. And Jesus always invites people to the table who make us a tad uncomfortable. We squirm because they may not be like us in small or large ways.
So I think we are to practice the same wildly hospitable welcome.
As to sexual orientation, it is hardly the primary marker of one’s faith. Jesus never talked about it. But he talked all the time about how the love of money and possessions can twist the soul. So let’s put that in perspective. Even more, I believe that we will look back and shrug our shoulders at all the acrimony that has been expressed over this issue. In time, different sexual orientations will be accepted as one of the many variants of being human. We will not understand it as a sinful condition but rather a condition of life, period. And when that day comes we will be able to focus on the weightier matters of justice, mercy and loving-kindness.
It is the 40th anniversary of the movie, The Godfather. One of the never forgotten scenes is Michael Corleone acting as Godfather at the baptism of his nephew. As the baptism moves forward the film cuts to various assassinations Corleone has ordered to take place simultaneous with the baptism. As the priest asks him if he renounces Satan and all his works and Michael answers yes, another man is murdered by his order. Corleone is a good Catholic, keeping all the rituals, supporting the priests and the church. It’s just that he understands murder as a necessary part of doing business.
It’s important to note that Michael Corleone was considered a good Catholic. He was a strong supporter of the church. They would never think of denying him communion. It may be, upon comparing Corleone with our lesbian woman at her mother’s funeral, that we note a distinction. We may come to know the difference between a person who is personally and religiously conventional while acting in unloving ways, and people who love differently though they are not personally or religiously conventional. Murder takes place in different ways. Sometimes it comes into the church from the outside. And other times it takes place in the church, by the church, leaving its victims bloodied at the altar rail.