The Ash Wednesday Moment


For me, it is a time to think again about the way in which Jesus responded to the pain and suffering of his existence: he saw it as something to be accepted as a path to a deeper love of God. Those still vexed by the theodicy question will find this obtuse; others, especially those who have experienced suffering, may find it redemptive. And in this matter, gay Catholics, who still love our church and its Gospel message and its enriching sacraments, have something perhaps to add to what it means to be a church. James Alison, in a long epistle that is worth reading for its generous and hopeful view of Benedict XVI, writes acutely of how many of us have felt these past few years, a period of some of the deepest joy and sharpest pain in the journey of our belief. As the truth about homosexuality struggles to the surface of our consciousness as humans, the depth of the cruelty and lies imposed on gay people for so long can sting even more acutely:

I suspect that the pain … is going to increase. Or at least, the awareness of the pain. Because for anyone who loves the Church, the realization that we have been subjected to a lie, our lives hugely affected by a lie, is a big deal. A really huge deal. I don’t want to go on about this much at this stage… But I suspect that it is going to be more and more common for us to find ourselves, while loyal and loving Catholics, thrilled to be in the Church, and clearly delighted by the way that Jesus reveals himself to us through the Church, able to talk about ways in which we are coming up spluttering and coughing, as if emerging from an acute dose of poison gas, or from being held underwater for a long time.

The fact is that lies are not innocent, nor mendacity a trivial matter. Lies poison and kill. And without being in any way victimary in our self-understanding, we need to be able to identify and cast off those lies which have affected us very greatly and very gravely. All the more so for having been so closely enmeshed with so much that was, and is, true and good and loving.

What is new and interesting about this, is that this is going to be part of a new self-critical understanding of what it is to be Church, one which earlier, more authority-based and more polemically forged accounts of being the Church were unable to contemplate. For we will have been witnesses to the Church, God’s vehicle of salvation for us, having been terribly caught up in, and marked by, something wrong which was antithetical to what God wanted for us, and for it to have been terribly difficult and painful for us to be released from the lie and the damage. Traditional apologetics concerning the rightness of the particular pronouncements of Church authority will look incredibly shallow in the light of this lived, written about, historically researchable and demonstrable change in self-understanding.

There is no path toward this but through it. In this, as in all things, our model must be Jesus, however impossible that can often seem and however often, in our anger and pride, we fail. Have a blessed Lent.

(Photo: Johannes Simon/Getty.)