Monday, May 21, 2012

The SSA Catholic and the Parishes of Doom

Last week, Rod Dreher shared this First Things piece by Joshua Gonnerman, who is a gay Catholic who practices chastity and had some critical things to say about the experience at the parish level for Catholics battling same-sex attraction but trying to live as faithful Catholics. Rod comments:

Boy, do I ever agree with this. It’s not only true for gay people, but also straights who are single, either by choice or unchosen circumstance. In my case, when I became a serious adult Christian, I knew that I couldn’t be a Christian conditionally. I had tried that; it didn’t work. Specifically, I had tried exempting myself from the clear, consistent teaching of Scripture and Tradition about sexual morality. I read all the liberal theologians, and tried to believe it — but it was, to use a Savage-ism, bullshit. And I was lying to myself to think there was any truthful way forward but the narrow path. Like Gonnerman, I found that the Church’s teaching really is liberating, even though it required a lot of painful asceticism on my part (the most painful of which was the real possibility that it might be like this for my whole life; there was no guarantee that I would ever marry). How much easier the burden of chastity as a single Christian would have been if I hadn’t felt so alone in church. The clergy didn’t seem to care much, either intentionally or not, nor did anybody else. Most of the young adults I knew who bothered with church at all had no interest in being faithful to its sexual teaching, and so were no help. Everybody else was bound up with family life, and the culture of family life.

What does a chaste Christian adult, gay or straight, do in such a circumstance? So often you go it alone, because you have no real choice, not if you’re going to follow the truth. It shouldn’t be this way. To live in Christian chastity as a single man or woman in this hypereroticized culture of ours requires deep reserves of faith. It’s very hard to do it alone, without the support of one’s community of faith. I have gay Catholic friends who, like Gonnerman, are caught between fellow Christians who share their belief in the Church’s teachings on sexuality, but who are afraid to befriend in a deep way gay Christians. Those who do want to embrace gay Christians like themselves more often than not want to affirm them as gay and encourage them to live in defiance of Church teaching — something they cannot in good conscience do.

From my own experiences, I would say that the perception that there is not much for the single chaste Catholic (regardless of sexual orientation) at the average parish was followed by the perception that there wasn't much for the married Catholic couple and then that there wasn't much for the Catholic family with really little children and then that there wasn't much for the Catholic family with older children...well, you get the idea. Some of it is a "grass is always greener" problem, but some of it--lots of it--comes from the reality that parish life in many parishes is still coming up short when it comes to meeting the needs or the expectations of the modern Catholic (except for the retirees, but that's another story).

Take, for example, a story I've told before of a parish priest who excitedly told the parish that he'd "solved" the problem of the daily Mass for the working people. The working people, he said, had told him they couldn't be at the eight a.m. daily Mass because they had to be at work. Aha! he had thought, and he had scheduled a special Mass just for 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday nights...

Or take the pastor who schedules religious education at different hours of the day on Saturdays depending on the age of the child, who doesn't realize that for a family with multiple children this will mean one child is scheduled at 9 a.m. and another at 11 a.m. and another at two p.m. and...

Or take the choir director I once had who wanted to form a separate children's choir until he realized that the adults whose children were participating in the regular choir (like ours) would no longer be able to attend both the "children's choir" Mass and the regular choir Mass...

Or take the nice people who have a Catholic study group/fellowship thing going and keep inviting the 10 a.m. Tuesday meetings...

It's almost as if the Powers That Be at the parish life level are stuck somewhere in the 1950s, when every parish family lived within walking distance of the parish, every mom stayed at home and had hours to herself every day when the kids were in school, every dad worked from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and every family had so much spare time especially on the weekends that the parish had to schedule activities just to help break the monotony (and to keep the teens away from the drive-in movie theater and carhop diner). Catholic people came in four easily identified groups: priests/religious (or discerning); not-yet-married, married, and widowed. It was easy to schedule those 10 a.m. Tuesday religious discussions for the retired nuns and then to have bingo night (following the 5:30 p.m. Mass!) for the retired widows and widowers, some of whom might end up reentering Holy Matrimony with each other, at which point they'd be invited to the activities geared toward married people, along with the young newlyweds and the busy couples with small children who could easily find babysitters from among the parish teens.

And if there were any SSA people in the parish, well, nobody other than the confessor knew.

Meanwhile, it's 2012. Lots of Catholics drive to church, and some of them drive great distances. Moms work outside the home, in the home, and even homeschool. Dads work long hours and bizarre schedules as they struggle to earn a decent wage in a shaky global economy. Weekends are over-scheduled with everything from basic household maintenance to second jobs to sports to school obligations. Catholics come in more than four groups: there are never-marrieds in larger numbers, there are once-married but now-divorced and raising kids alone--and there are same-sex attracted people, some of whom want to live according to Church teaching and would like some help, support, encouragement, friendship, and ordinary kindness from their parish.

But how do we make that happen? How does the Catholic parish find a way to meet the changing needs of its parishioners--let alone adapting to the new needs of parishioners who weren't, perhaps, present in large numbers in the past? How does the divorced father of two who only gets his kids every other weekend see to their religious education, especially if Mom has left the Church and "remarried" outside of it? How does the person whose vocation used to be called "single blessedness" fit in, especially if he or she had always hoped to marry but realizes now in the middle of his or her life that it's not going to happen? And how does the same-sex attracted or gay Catholic experience the kind of helpful and supportive love and welcome that will help him or her to live this life and carry this burden without falling into despair, serious sin, or cycles of harmful isolation?

I honestly don't know. I do know it needs to happen, and that in a Church that tends (mostly for good reasons) to move at a glacial pace, it may be a while before Catholic parishes realize that it is no longer 1952. But if we don't want the SSA Catholic, and other Catholics who don't fit the older models, to think of the local parish as a place of gloom and doom instead of a loving branch of the family of God, we may have to pick up the pace just a bit.


John Thayer Jensen said...

Our parish once tried something along these lines - 7AM Mass once a week for workers. It did attract a few - mostly those who work in our small town.

My situation is more typical. I catch a 'bus at 6AM into the City - 50Km away - and get home at about 6PM. I have to get up at 4:30AM to get stuff done before catching that 'bus - and 8:30PM is bedtime (lights out at 9).

I am fortunate in that my work allows me to attend mid-day Mass in the City; most do not have such a fortunate situation.

I once talked to someone on the Liturgy Committee about a 5:30AM Mass in our parish (I would get up at 4 for that and could - just! - make it).

Yeah, right! was the response :-)

Part of the problem is lack of priests. We have one priest, in a parish with maybe 500-600 regular Sunday Mass attenders. He is 78. Once when a parish our size had two priests, they might have done something like that.

I just thank God that I myself have the possibility of daily Mass; many have not.


John Thayer Jensen said...

This is not a comment - it's a way of getting on the comment e-mail which I forgot to tick before :-)


Anonymous said...

They could, on their own or in the Diocese, form a Courage group. We are creating support groups for Divorced/widowed so I would see this falling under the same thing. As to events for singles. For us, it is better to look around at neighboring parishes to see what is happening OR start your own prayer group for singles. Not everything HAS to come from the parish office and I am sure Fr would love someone to take the initiative.
You want to know something that bothers me is the use of the term "gay" more and more by our Catholic writers. I was impressed at what Shea wrote, but I disagreed with the term. The man didn't use it when he was alive and it has certain connections to it - living the life style, etc.

Red Cardigan said...

John, I published your "not a comment" comment because I was afraid deleting it would remove you from the email list... :)

Mrs. O, I agree that the term "gay" is loaded, especially for people over 30 or so. Under that, though, and it's just shorthand for same-sex attracted (e.g., it doesn't necessarily mean living the lifestyle). I think that the reality is that there might be people in a parish who are comfortable with either term, and that so long as their goal is to be a chaste gay or chaste SSA person, the word used is less important than helping them achieve that goal.

Red Cardigan said...

ALL: I had a glitch this morning with my comment system. There was a comment I didn't want to publish, but I inadvertently deleted several pending comments as I attempted to select just one. Sigh. I'm not very technical.

So below this comment there will appear a couple of others that will appear to be from me, but which are actually from other commenters, whose names/nicknames will appear at the front of the post--I'm copying them from my email record of comments. If you sent a comment and it doesn't appear, let me know and I'll look for it.


Red Cardigan said...

Priest's wife wrote:

Two ideas- groups should be less segregated- so well-behaving 10 year olds should be welcome to be in the adult choir

but also-
if a specific group (say working singles women who want a Bible study)wants to meet, the pastor should be open- he should just make sure that the group is in-line with Church teaching -the pastor and/or DRE doesn't have to lead everything

JMB said...

Perhaps the nostalgic American parish life of the 40s, 50s and 60s is just that, a myth, one that will never return. In that case, should parishes be required to have so many groups and be everything to everyone? My dad grew up in an Irish neighborhood on the UWS of Manhattan in the 40s and 50s. Everyone lived in tiny apartments and the parish functioned as the extended "living room" of the block. Need a reception room big enough for the family - use the parish hall for the wedding/baptism/confirmation/wake/funeral. Now that's not the case anymore - most people live in detached houses. Maybe the parish needs to go back to it's true mission - to celebrate the Eucharist and evangelize and catechize, rather than be "another room" for people to use. Just a thought. I really don't have any answers for this.