The continuing incarnation

009In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome. The forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus; the whole world being at peace, Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, and nine months having passed since his conception, was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary. Today is the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh. –Kalends of Christmas Day, from the Mass at Midnight

It is hard to write about Advent or Christmas. It is hard to come up with something that has not already been said. What I am about to say has been said elsewhere and said better. But I will say it anyhow.

In Jesus, the Word does not only take flesh. The Word takes on a biography, a story with a thousand characters and details. It is the same litany of particulars that make me into Justin, or you into yourself.  Read more of this post

White Christians-Our Silence

clergy protest

[This piece was originally submitted to the Des Moines Register as a letter to the editor]

Across Des Moines, Christians such as myself are gathering in churches, awaiting the coming of a child with song and prayer. Yet, there is also a deafening silence enveloping the institutions where my fellow white Christians gather. While we celebrate the birth of a child, we all too often ignore the death of Black children, like Tamir Rice and Aiyana Jones, killed by police.

Fellow white Christians: when was the last time race was discussed in your church? Has your pastor ever spoken the name of Tamir Rice or Aiyana Jones, of Eric Garner, of Deshawnda Sanchez? Do our church leaders speak publicly against racial disparities in Iowa’s justice system, called “the worst in the nation” by the ACLU? Do we uphold a narrative of a white Savior or the more truthful narrative that Rev. Serene Jones recently called “the story of a black body being killed by the most powerful nation in the world”?

White Christians must do racial justice work now. We must centralize the voices of Black and Womanist theologians like James Cone and M. Shawn Copeland. We must engage books like Jennifer Harvey’s “Dear White Christians” that call for racial reparations. We must work with and support racial justice groups like AMOS Iowa, the NYC Justice League, Hands Up United, Millenial Activists United and the Dream Defenders. We must take to the streets and attend rallies and marches to transform our racist criminal justice system. Until we affirm that Black lives matter, we are complicit in the sin of racist state-sanctioned violence.

On Suffering

When it’s my time to go, this is the priest I prefer.

My mother is the unwilling president of the CCW at her hometown parish. Recently, she had to attend a dinner for a visiting priest. She was not impressed. Her own mother, my grandmother, was in the last weeks of her life. My mom could only take comfort in knowing that Grandma was not suffering, thanks to anti-anxiety medications and pain killers, and that when her hour came, she would go peacefully.

So Mom’s hackles went up when the visiting priest proclaimed that we “shouldn’t” give pain medications to the sick or the dying because “suffering is good for the soul.”

It is this kind of heartless, fundamental misunderstanding of the Lord they claim to follow that ultimately pushed my husband and me away from Catholic services and the priests that lead them. In this case, I think the priest has followed a confusing line of thought that goes something like this:

God is good, but people still suffer. We can find meaning in suffering by remembering that our Lord suffered as well. If remembering the Lord is good, then suffering is good. Therefore, we do good to others when we allow them to suffer.

Read more of this post

Somos tod@s la Imaculada Concepción…We are the Immaculate Conception

somos tod@s la imaculada concepción…we are the immaculate conception

Mary Visits Elizabeth: Luke 1: 39-45

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit  and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?  For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy.  And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

I would like to start off with a short selection from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple …  

CELIE: God forgot about me!

SHUG: God takin’ his time getting around to you, I admit, but look at all he give us. Laughin’, and singin’, and sex. Sky over our heads, birds singin’ to us. I think it piss God off if anybody even walk past the color purple in a field and not notice it. He say,”look what I made for you.”

I use the story to engage this Gospel passage…  The story of Mary …  A woman who transgressed borders.  A woman called to be a mother, prophet, apostle, revolutionary…She has been exulted and divinized, yet her humanity has often been forgotten and ignored …It is her story that we will look at today to wrestle and grapple with the church’s teaching on the immaculate conception.

Llena de gracia…full of grace

Catholics around the world accept the teaching of the Immaculate Conception.  However, what does it actually mean?  In 1854, Pope Pius IX stated:  “The most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin.”   What does it mean that Mary was preserved from sin?  It is the belief that because of her unique mission, Mary was conceived immaculately in her mother’s womb so that sin would not pass on to her child, Jesus, who as son of GOD is free of sin.

It was a common belief in Israel that the sins of the parent were passed onto the child.  If Jesus was to be free of sin, his mother would also have to be free from sin.  My queries are…where does the cycle end…if sin is passed from generation to generation, was Mary’s mother, Anne, also free from sin?  How far back does the immaculate lineage have to go?  If Mary was not marked by sin, did she really have a choice … would she come down with sinfulness if she had said no?  By focusing on conception for future conception, have we limited, distorted, and reduced Mary and by extension all women to worth based on biological breeding?

This feast and dogma has wider implications than explaining that Mary was a suitable receptacle for a son–it impacts how the church treats women and their bodies.  It is a source of much division among Christians … with some believing that women should be subservient to their husbands as baby factories (those who cannot are defective machinery) while others affirm the right of women to be ordained and preach.

It is dogmas like the Immaculate Conception that lead to confusion and misunderstanding about Mary and I believe a neglect women, we coerce their womanhood into mindless biological assembly lines.  It is this theological marginalization that we need to address so that we can proclaim all as being llena de gracia, full of grace.

In this place, I invite us to relook at what it means to be la Imaculada Concepción…To be conceived immaculately.

In proclaiming Mary as the Immaculate Conception, we are also proclaiming our own immaculate conception as children of GOD.  The feast is not about Maria as an exception to the rule, but a celebration of who we are and who we will become.  We are all conceived immaculately, each of us is llena de gracia, full of grace

If we look to Genesis, we are told that we are created in GOD’s image and that creation is good.  From the beginning we are holy, we are perfect. Regardless of the goofs up that we may do upon entering the world, regardless of the run ins with the Sarah’s of the world who reject us and castigate us for being different, we are good, we are llena de gracia.

Past all the mistakes and oopses, past all the things we coulda woulda shoulda, we are good, we are llena de gracia.  Many of the women included in biblical texts are due to their calling to be mothers.  What does this calling mean  What about those of us who cannot conceive children?  Are we less filled with grace?  No … regardless of our capacity or ability or willingness to give birth biologically … we are all called to give birth to the divine in our actions, words, and deeds … we are called to give birth through our vocations and callings.  We too have been entrusted with baring GOD to the world.  GOD has consecrated and created us with a mission from the time of our birth.

The prophet Jeremiah tells us that  “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”  We are all llena de gracia.

As the Psalmist proclaims, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”   Regardless of the defects that society says we have or how denominations may tell us that we are unworthy for being a woman, black, or transgender, or when we are looked down upon for standing in solidarity with the oppressed, may we hold unto, remember, embrace that we are created, conceived and consecrated as good, as holy, as llena de gracia.

No one can take that away… We are Llena de gracia, full of grace.

Like our foremother Mary, we all have a purpose and personal vocation.  It is a calling that we will learn to live out, that we will grow into, that will be revealed to us through out our lives, perhaps with angelic visits in the deserts of life, moments of prayer in chapel, proclamations received through loved ones.

We are not just born and that’s it … No, no, GOD has a special something for all of us to accomplish. Mother Teresa is humorously quoted as having said, “GOD as entrusted me with a specific amount of things to accomplish in this life, I am so far behind in my work, I will never die.”  If we look to all the births that were announced in Scriptures, Isaac, Ishmael, Samuel, John, Jesus… The child born always had special vocation to live out.

This is not limited to Biblical figures, all of us come into this world with a special calling to live out, to be the change, holiness, and love GOD wants in this world.  There is no right or better calling or right or better way to express it…it is expressed through a marian enthusiastic yes and through hagarian righteous anger.  Immaculate conception does not mean we are passive and submissive, but like Mary we embody spiciness and chutzpah to care for those who are sacred to us.

The call to motherhood is not about breeding like rabbits or limited to female bodied individuals, we are called to be fruitful through the evolving multiplication of our abilities to listen, cook, design buildings, theologize, preach, and understand how the physiological makeup of fungus has implications for sexual ethics.   By expanding our understanding of the immaculate conception.  By honoring Mary, we celebrate the prophets and disciples we are all called to be, of who we are now on our journeys of faith and who we will become in the desert.

We are llena de gracia, full of grace, in our callings to be hospital chaplains, professors, parents, immigrant rights activists, reproductive health advocates, parish priests, youth ministers…all of the above, none of the above…in our calling to be human, we are full of grace, llena de gracia.

In the chaotic joy of living into our multiple callings, we must remember, hold onto, internalize, and put on a post it that we are not forgotten by GOD as Celie laments in the color purple, we are not abandoned or sent alone.  We must hold onto Shug’s reminder of how GOD provides through laughter, singing, and sex.   GOD does not forget about us for GOD is with us, just like GOD came to Hagar in the desert, meeting her where she was … just like GOD came to the prophet in the stillness after the thunder and storm … just like GOD came to a poor Jewish girl from the barrio … just like GOD was with Mary at the foot of the cross … just like the names Emmanuel and Ishmael … GOD with us and GOD listens …  GOD is always there and is always here.

We may not feel it or believe it in our moments of grief, confusion, depression, chaos … when anger causes us to flee from the world into deserts of despair.  In our earthquakes and hurricanes and pervasive brokenness… in our desolation for being rejected for fulfilling a task given to us–GOD is there, GOD is here…through a friend, through an email, through a butterfly, through an angel who tells us we will be cared for, despite our belief.

GOD is there and GOD is here…through the fact that we manage to get up and face the desert despite our exhaustion. GOD is there, GOD is here, for we are llena de gracia and full of grace.  In this time of Advent as we prepare to celebrate the Word made flesh, may we remember our own births, how we were divinely knit, how we are lovingly woven together with purpose.

Though this homilitecal engagement is perhaps heretical and not what the good ol’ boys in Rome had in mind, I like Mary will not sit and wait, but will be counter-cultural and provide a counter narrative–we are the immaculate conception. We cannot let the church and society take away that we are immaculately conceived with sacred and sassy chutzpath!

We too are good, we too are consecrated with purpose, we too are llena de gracia, full of grace.

Amen!

purisima-concepcion-de-maria

 

delfin bautista is a member of the CTA 20/30 Leadership Team and the CTA Board of Directors; delfin is also a member of Dignity’s Young Adult Caucus and is co-chair for Dignity’s Trans Caucus.  delfin currently serves as the Director of the LGBT Center at Ohio University.  delfin “preaches” on their own blog “Mi Lucha, Mi Pulpito” and  is a contributor to the Young Adult Catholic Blog and to Believe Out Loud.

Jesus: The Ultimate Servant-Leader

5691334315_f0b2a1b30f_oLast month, I finished a class on servant-leadership, a concept formalized in 1970 by Robert Greenleaf. What have I learned after a semester of studying the topic? Mainly that servant-leadership really is a simple, yet elegant, concept. While many essays and books can be (and have been) written about this subject, it always comes back to Greenleaf’s best test:

“The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”

This will come as no shock to you, but Jesus is one of the examples Greenleaf uses of a servant-leader. Let’s see how he does (this should be easy). First of all, who are those served? Reading further in Greenleaf’s work, it would seem the answer is, “nearly everybody.” This was later codified (by Wolfe, Sheth, and Sisodia) into the acronymn SPICE (society, partners, investors, customers, employees). Jesus benefitted society by challenging unjust laws and raising up the least privileged in society. In terms of his partners, the woman at the well became his partner in spreading the good news, and she certainly became freer and more likely to serve. Investors? As Catholics, we believe that an investment in the kindom of God pays the ultimate dividend of eternal life. Customers? Those who needed to be healed (such as the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years, the blind man, etc.) were healed. Those that needed to be challenged were challenged (such as the rich man who thought he was all set to enter the kindom of God). Employees? With one notable exception, the apostiles did pretty well. They are remembered by us for their transformed lives and their good work to build the kindom.

So why bring this up? I must confess that at the start of the semester, Jesus did not come to mind as we were brainstorming the concepts of leadership. Clearly, he should have. I thought I hadn’t read any books on leadership. Clearly, having read the Bible, I have. In light of this, “What would Jesus do?” seems like a very legitimate question to ask an executive. So what would Jesus do? It’s not about being soft: Jesus was full of challenging demands of those he served; one set is so difficult to take that we literally refer to them as the hard sayings (plucking out your eye, cutting off your hand, etc.). But it is about putting people first: “The Sabbath was made to serve us; we weren’t made to serve the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27, MSG). And it’s definitely about compassion. Once again we find the we can’t separate our faith from our work!

Vested interests*

001Almost a decade ago, I began to acquire priestly stoles I could not possibly use.

In 2005, while attending the School of the Americas protest in Fort Benning, Georgia, I browsed the stalls of the vendors. A woman from Latin America operated one stall, full of crafts and hand-woven cloth. Among her wares was a rich purple stole. It bore images of Jesus in the desert and women at a well and was draped on a hanger.

The scene triggered something. I had to have it. I moved as if in a dream. My heart beat louder while I wrote my credit card number on a piece of yellow paper. I paid eighty dollars I would have done better to save.

I went back to my friends. I showed them my grocery bag, warily removing the purple stole from it as though authorities would be more concerned about this than about the demonstration. Teasingly, my friends made me try it on. They liked how it looked and told me I would be a Jesuit one day.

Catholic guilt overtook me. I could not keep the stole. Stoles were sacred clothes. They were for sacred men. Sacred words had been said over these men by other men who had been authorized to say them. I did not feel God looking over my shoulder. But I definitely felt Pope Benedict looking over my shoulder.  Read more of this post

Are Queer Relationships compatible with Church Teaching?

Second post for Queering Catholicism

According to the catechism, sexuality in relationship is defined and guided by the following:

Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion. Marriage bonds between baptized persons are sanctified by the sacrament…Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such…The acts in marriage by which the intimate and chaste union of the spouses takes place are noble and honorable; the truly human performance of these acts fosters the self-giving they signify and enriches the spouses in joy and gratitude.” Sexuality is a source of joy and pleasure: The Creator himself . . . established that in the [generative] function, spouses should experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit…Therefore, the spouses do nothing evil in seeking this pleasure and enjoyment…The spouses’ union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple’s spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family…The conjugal love of man and woman thus stands under the twofold obligation of fidelity and fecundity. (2360-2363)

There are several scholars who believe that the full expression of same-sex love and pleasure within a personal, mutual relationship is entirely compatible with the Church’s teaching of marriage and sexuality. Many argue that sexuality is a gift from God and when expressed in a personal, mutual relationship it is therefore natural and accepted. Hence, TQBLG individuals believe that their sexuality is “created, sustained, and blessed by God” (Yip, 1997b, p. 172). If God is love, why would God be less present in the love of a queer couple than a heterosexual couple?   Many queer couples firmly believe that achieving a Christian partnership based on Christian values is achievable—their relationships are based on mutual love, mutual sharing, faithfulness, mutual commitment to pleasure…mutuality in its various forms and expressions.

On a personal note, my beloved and I have accepted the teaching of the Church and embodied it in our relationship. Our relationship (and those of countless others) is based on the idea of sexuality that the Catechism expresses. We believe in and live by “intimate and chaste union”; we practice and strive for self-giving to each other by caring for the other when sick and supporting each other’s adventures (such as working 3 jobs to support the other while in divinity school); we experience pleasure and enjoyment through our bodies by affirming each other’s beauty, balding, flat-footedness, and pudginess; and have transmitted life by affirming, celebrating, and challenging each other’s lives and personhood in fullness (even when we may not agree with each other)—our relationship has been life-giving to us and to those we welcome into our casa. By the Church’s standards, Jason and I are being faithful to the church’s teaching in every sense of fidelity and fecundity.   Our coming together may not be able to produce children, but we can transmit life by pro-creating love and laughter through the formation of a family, be it how we treat and include our families of origin in our lives, the family formed through our inner sanctum of friends, extending the Body of Christ by how we treat those we engage with in the world, and through whatever means we decide to have children (which is a whole set of other entries!).

Christian members of the TQBLG community have been able to manage faith and sexual identity signifying their ability to not only survive but thrive, live, and celebrate in a social, religious environment that many times does not accept or support them. Though many are amazed, queer Catholics are finding ways to be who they are and find their place in the Church. Pope Benedict XV said that there was to be no distinction among Catholics—we are all Catholics, period! One cannot be sure whether or not he had queer Catholics in mind, but many TQBLG individuals are proud of their Catholic faith and through their experiences are opening doors so that all people can celebrate and commune as one body. May TQBLG Catholics are faithful people to their Catholic heritage striving “to live [our] lives in accordance to the Gospel, who discuss the sermon over brunch after mass, and who write their checks at the Offertory…. [They] also respond ‘Lord hear our prayer’ when the general intercessions plead for greater respect for life, because [they] know first hand what it means to experience disrespect for life” (Stoltz, 1998, p.11).

delfin bautista is a member of the CTA 20/30 Leadership Team and the CTA Board of Directors; delfin is also a member of Dignity’s Young Adult Caucus and is co-chair for Dignity’s Trans Caucus.  delfin currently serves as the Director of the LGBT Center at Ohio University.  delfin “preaches” on their own blog “Mi Lucha, Mi Pulpito” and  is a contributor to the Young Adult Catholic Blog and to Believe Out Loud.

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