Mary, the woman who is one of us

Mary crushing the serpent.

Mary crushing the serpent.

 The night before I flew to Miami for a month of service at Americans for Immigrant Justice, I walked the Villa Maria land. It is land the Sisters of the Humility of Mary have lived on for 150 years; land that I had come to know well over my summer working retreat. As I walked the path back from the pumpkin field, I came across a sizable dead garden snake. The snake’s head had been crushed, apparently run over by the wide wheel of a tractor.

Perhaps because I’d been permeated with Marian spirituality over the summer or perhaps because I’m a poet and relentlessly metaphorical in my thinking, the unexpected discovery immediately brought to mind images of Mary crushing a snake beneath her feet. This is a common image in Western art, inspired by interpretations of Genesis 3:15 which states that Eve will “strike at the head” of the serpent as well as Revelation 12 with its strange, compelling description of the woman clothed with the sun and her apocalyptic clash with the “ancient serpent.”

As I stood in the field pondering the sight of the crushed snake, I recalled the triumphant hymn we had sung recently for the Feast of the Assumption: “Hail, holy Queen enthroned above!”

Many of us are familiar with this presentation of Mary as holy Queen which de-emphasizes her humanity. She’s draped in yards of fabric, wearing a crown, with stars or a halo around her head. Triumphant over evil. Idealized. Holy. Seemingly perfect. Surrounded by angels. Her feet on clouds. The recipient of all kinds of titles in litanies from “singular vessel of devotion” to “mystical rose” to “gate of heaven.”

Mary of Nazareth (Keisha Castle-Hughes) as in the film "The Nativity Story" (New Line Cinema, 2006).

Mary of Nazareth (Keisha Castle-Hughes) in the film “The Nativity Story” (New Line Cinema, 2006).

In contrast to this powerful, heavenly, serpent-crushing de facto goddess, there is another Mary. In St. Joseph Sister Elizabeth Johnson’s Truly Our Sister: a Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, we are presented with a real flesh-and-blood woman. In contrast to the white, Western Mary of art Johnson offers the historical, Jewish Miriam of Nazareth.   A female in a patriarchal system. Politically oppressed by Roman imperial forces.   Pregnant outside of marriage. Poor. A peasant. Displaced by threats of violence. A refugee.

To use a term of Peruvian liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez, OP, this Miriam of Nazareth was a no persona (non-person) in her society. In today’s language we would describe her as a woman touched by the intersections of multiple oppressions.

I thought of this Miriam of Nazareth often during the time I spent accompanying migrant children fleeing violence in Central America. After days spent in court documenting testimonies of migrant children I spent muggy Miami evenings on a porch swing watching heat lightning and reading Johnson’s depiction of Miriam of Nazareth. The resonance between Johnson’s portrait and the stories of migrant girls and boys was strong and compelling. Biblical scholars posit that Mary was likely fourteen or fifteen years old at the time of the Annunciation and the birth of Jesus – the age of many of the migrant girls in immigration proceedings.

Miriam of Nazareth in Palestine two millennia ago was vulnerable in a way that the serpent-crushing, untouchably-holy, heavenly-pedestaled Mary can never be. I admit I don’t like this vulnerable Mary as much. The pedestal Mary seems safer, cleaner, holier, and a whole lot less challenging. She remains firmly inside the sanctuary in marble statues and glowing stained glass windows, feet in the clouds, high above my head.

Yet maybe part of my own conversion is to embrace this Miriam of Nazareth who is “truly our sister” in our human limitations and vulnerabilities. The incredible vulnerabilities of the migrant girls who have witnessed murders of family and friends, quit school to escape persecution by gangs, left behind all that is familiar, survived sexualized violence in the journey, endured harassment and hunger in the hieleras, and now face an uncertain future as they await the decision of a judge.

Perhaps the image of Mary Triumphant is – as her presence in the Book of Revelation suggests – an ultimate, eschatological, future-oriented image. Perhaps the Marian image more needed for our times is closer to the one presented by Johnson – a grittier, human, feet-firmly-planted-on-the-ground Mary, who invites a deeper awareness of our own vulnerabilities as well as a deeper solidarity with those who are extraordinarily vulnerable.

When this Mary proclaims her song of praise (Luke 1:46-55) of a God who will “raise up the lowly,” “fill the hungry with good things,” and “scatter the proud-hearted,” it ceases to be simply a lyrical piece of liturgical poetry. The political implications are immediate and challenging. It raises all kinds of uncomfortable questions: Who among us in this time and place is lowly? Hungry? Who are the proud-hearted? Where are the places in my own heart that are proud? How do we act in the Spirit of this justice-seeking God here and now?

One of the migrant girls I accompanied in court was a Honduran teenager named Paula who wore – as I do – a medal of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe around her neck. Under the bare feet of the Guadalupe of her medal – and mine – is a serpent, crushed by this powerful, loving mother. Paula gently fingered her medal as she told me her story of traveling through El Salvador and Mexico, crossing the border at Reynosa, being apprehended by the Border Patrol. Subconsciously, my hand went up to my own Guadalupe medal as I took notes of Paula’s testimony. It suddenly felt as though there were three women sitting together in that over-air-conditioned court room in downtown Miami: Paula, myself, and this mother that she and I – across difference of age, race, language, economic status – both claim.

Mary is supremely polyvalent – maybe even paradoxical. She is Johnson’s Miriam of Nazareth, the companion of Paula and so many girls and women like her who live extraordinarily vulnerable lives. At the same time, she is that triumphant Queen of Heaven, pointing to a future hope: the promise of the world prophesied in her Magnificat, of a future in which evil in all its forms will be vanquished. This now-and-future Mary at once invites us to struggle in concrete ways for the construction of the future and to rejoice in the glimpses of peace and justice which are granted to us in our efforts.

Robert Lenz's Madre de los Desaparecidos (Mother of the Disappeared)

Robert Lenz’s Madre de los Desaparecidos (Mother of the Disappeared)

 

About the author: Rhonda Miska is a former Jesuit Volunteer (Nicaragua, 2002-2004) and a graduate of the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. Originally from Wisconsin, she spent the last nine years living in Central Virginia where her ministries included accompaniment of the Spanish-speaking immigrant community, Muslim-Christian dialogue, social justice education, direct outreach to people who are homeless, congregation-based community organizing, and coordination of a community with adults with intellectual disabilities. She is currently a Partner in Mission with the Sisters of the Humility of Mary at the Villa Maria Education and Spirituality Center in Villa Maria, Pennsylvania.

Changing of the guard in Chicago

Francis Cardinal George, OMI. Photo by Rich Hein for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Francis Cardinal George, OMI. Photo by Rich Hein for the Chicago Sun-Times.

On Friday, Nov. 14, I attended weekday Mass. The experience was bittersweet.

It was the 12:10 liturgy at Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral. The main celebrant was Francis Cardinal George, OMI, the retiring archbishop of Chicago.

I sat along the central aisle. I tried and failed to ignore cameramen from local media outlets who had set up for a good shot. As the organ thundered “The King of Love My Shepherd Is,” a phalanx of clergy marched within inches of me.

There were deacons and priests in white stoles, most bearing the red-eagled coat of arms of the archdiocese. There were the auxiliary bishops, some familiar to me and some not, all wearing tall white miters. And finally there was the Cardinal, in his red zucchetto and white-and-burgundy chasuble.

He was unsmiling, purse-lipped, and on crutches. George, who is suffering from his third bout with cancer, has a tumor pressing on nerves and veins. It makes it painful for him to walk, on top of the polio-related limp he has endured for more than sixty years anyway. A seminarian altar server, hands veiled in a vimpa, carried the Cardinal’s crosier for him.  Read more of this post

How to Query Church Teaching

The next two posts from me will be part of a series called “Queering Catholicism” which are based on a paper I wrote while in Divinity School.  I look forward to sharing these reflections and to the conversations they spark here on the blog and elsewhere.   Viva la revolucion!

The intersection of sexuality and church teaching as a Latin@ trans-person of faith in a poly-amorous relationship with the Catholic Church is not an easy or succinct issue to address and grapple with. The Church’s treatment of sexuality is multi-layered and complex. From the marginalization of women’s voices based on biblical exegesis, to procreation as the fruit that quasi-redeems sexual desire according to both Augustine and Aquinas, to imposed chastity on those who identify as homosexual, to Augustine’s perceived self-hate of the body and its sinfulness, to Paul VI’s pro-life and pro-marriage exertions in Humanae Vitae, to the rediscovery of the body as holy in John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, to progressive approaches by scholars such as Margaret Farley—sex, sexuality, sexual ethics, and gender are controversial, confusing, convoluted, and often taboo subjects that the Church has dealt with in a very black and white manner with no room for color or variation.

For the purposes of this series of entries and my sanity, I will narrow the scope of sexuality-related teachings focusing on the Church’s treatment of homosexuality. As Margaret Farley notes in her book Just Love, “it is by no means accurate to say that Christians have always judged homosexuality negatively…the historical studies of scholars like [John] Boswell have uncovered a much less univocal teaching and understanding through the centuries” (p. 277).   There are 2000 years of theological, doctrinal, and ethical discourses to sort through; these entries will primarily look at the summation and compilation of this heritage as presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (book of official Church teachings).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition. Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. (2357-2359)

Nowhere in this passage does it command Catholics to ridicule, reject, discriminate, harass, physically attack, and persecute TQBLG individuals or their supporters. Though the Church does not accept this violent malice or treatment, there is still on the official level a “very negative evaluation of homosexual relationships” (Moore, 2003, p. 12). Catholic communities tell their queer members that the intimate sexual relationships they have or seek are “aberrant, contrary to the will of God as expressed in Scriptures and tradition, to be struggled against, a source of danger rather than a potential element of that genuine human happiness which heterosexual Christians may find in marriage” (Moore, 2003, p. 12). Some argue that these sentiments highlight the Church’s prejudice and bias for they single out TQBLG individuals for stigmatization and censure, but tolerate other sins (Yip, 1997, p. 119). Who decides what is sinful and what is not?

The official Church teaching takes two different directions, expressing compassion while also stating objective disorder. The Church recognizes the humanity of the individual person but does not let them be fully human (Stahel, 1993, p. 8). It basically takes the philosophy of “hate the sin, love the sinner” but rephrases it to state “accept the condition and not the conditioned.” It has been my experience that my fellow Catholics are willing to accept homosexuality as an abstract concept but will not tolerate expressions of it, such as wearing a rainbow, much less know what to do with bisexuality, poly-amory, or transgender. Comparisons have been made between queer individuals and individuals with disabilities/differently-abled, in that the Church recognizes that both are involuntary. However, “the acts of a [mentally handicap] person are morally blameless insofar as they are produced by their handicap …. But with gay people, the condition is like a handicap, but its expression is an intrinsic moral evil (Stahel, 1993, p. 9). To an extent the Church is contradicting itself by advocating compassion but promoting discrimination and repression of a “condition” that it admits not fully understanding.

Despite contradictions and resulting tribulations of Church teaching and practice, many TQBLG activists and their allies are seeking ways to reconcile church teaching with inclusive approach to sexuality and sexual ethics. Theologians (both religious and lay) are wrestling with creating spaces for the theological, biblical, liturgical, social, and ethical renegotiations of sexual identity/expression and religious identity. Through this reconciliation, many TQBLG individuals believe that their sexuality and its expression is part of the natural design God created.

Though I believe that there is a bridge between by Catholic and sexual identities, there is a soul-wrenching disconnect when it comes to the Communion Table. Despite the inclusivity of several Catholic communities created through theological counter-narratives, I do not feel that my personhood in its wholeness and holiness is welcome at the Communion table.   I am mindful that is not possible to truly live by every teaching put forth in the Catechism. Because I am knowingly and willingly not living or expressing what the Church teaches (disobeying her), I feel like I am no longer in communion with the Church and therefore should not partake in Communion (out of respect and a love-hate relationship with her).   Who am I is othered and fractured by the Church’s rhetoric on sexuality and gender; in order to receive I feel a pressure to deny my desires which are an integral part of who I am as a wholly and just sexual being.

There are many who would disagree with me on my personal practice, I believe it reflects the complicated and messy work of intersecting religion and sexuality. I am mindful that in progressive Catholic circles, I am invited to the open table but part of me is not ready even for that—perhaps it comes from the little conservative nun who lives inside who is not truly ready for alternative yet equal expressions of liturgized and ritualized breaking of bread.  As one of many activist-scholars engaged in this issue of faithful yet critical deconstruction and reinterpretation of Church doctrine, it has taken hitting many bumps on the road to arrive at a place where I am not guilty (as Augustine and many Church Fathers would advocate I should feel for giving into desire) of embracing being a Catholic, sexual being. The journey of building the bridge between sexuality and faith is a continuous one—I am a being in process who can proudly proclaim and rant that I may not be the norm but the ability to love beyond the norm is not a mistake or disorder but another piece in the divine scheme of things.

featured image found at:  http://heysonnie.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/god-made-me-queer/

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.

My life with the saints

St. Benedict of Nursia by Fra Angelico. Via Wikipedia.org.

St. Benedict of Nursia by Fra Angelico. Via Wikipedia.org.

For the feast of All Saints, 2014.

I was maybe five years old on that rainy Monday afternoon when my mom and I visited my grandparents. The house smelled Polish, like it always did: fresh bacon grease and Vienna bread. My grandmother waved a soaking-wet envelope triumphantly.

“I asked St. Anthony. He found it for me,” she said.

Grandma and Grandpa were supposed to get a check of some sort: Social Security, Grandpa’s steelworker pension, World War II reparations from Germany, something like that. Anyway, this particular check was days if not weeks late. So Grandma invoked the patron of lost objects. Now it was here.

In this way I met the saints.  Read more of this post

Building Connections

organizing

Recently, while scouring my “people you may know tab” on Facebook, I found a few surprising suggestions. Not a relative or a new Drake student, Facebook was suggesting that I friend request one of the following people:

1. A director of a church justice organization

2. An activist nun

3. The author of my Contemporary Ethical Problems textbook

4. A prominent feminist theologian

Read more of this post

The Rosary in New Jersey

rosaryTwo weeks ago, my husband and I took a trip to the East Coast, beginning in New York City and ending up in Boston. Because of hotel prices outside our Midwestern budget, we decided to try our first experience with an AirBNB house. On AirBNB, regular folks offer up anything from a couch or air mattress to a fully furnished apartment to guests. We rented a bedroom with a single woman in New Jersey. When it was time to go, we carefully checked the dressers, closet, and bathroom to make sure we were leaving nothing behind.

I was waiting for the Amtrak at Penn Station when I reached into my pocket an realized my rosary wasn’t there. In the habit of saying it before bed, I often find it somewhere under the covers or on the floor the next day. Read more of this post

the struggle is real

delfin_lucha1In reflecting over my ongoing sojourn with faith and sexuality, I realize that who I am and the area I seek to evolve is one that both disturbs and is disturbed, changes and is changed. As I look back at my life in an effort to re-remember my re-membering as I wrestle with church teaching, CCD classes, retreats, a home that reinforced what the church expounded, my continuous coming out, and personal beliefs about faith, I am mindful that 12 years ago if I knew what I knew today I would have condemned myself. In searching the hogar within, I realize that growing up I knew that there was something different about me. I had a feeling that I did not feel right in my own body and I was not like other boys or girls. I was confused for a long time and decided not to deal with it. Rather than reconcile my faith and my sexuality, I repressed many feelings that did not fit into the black and white paradigm of gender/sexuality that stemmed from growing up Cuban, conservative, and Catholic. Twelve years ago, this reflection that critiques the Church’s teaching would not have been written, much less having attended Yale Divinity School, being the director of a LGBT Center, and much, much, much less showing my hairy legs and painted toe nails in a skirt I bought I Lane Bryant. In order to survive I unwillingly conformed to the standards imposed on me because I was scared of the ramifications if I did not—I hid behind the smile of the good Catholic boy who was going to be a priest. Being Hispanic, Catholic, and queer did not mesh well. I feared burning in hell, being beat up, and most tragically being a disgrace to my family and their memory. The world was to be black and white with no room for color or even variations of gray, period, no questions asked.

As I began to venture into the world of sexuality and gender, questions, doubts, and issues with gender binaries and expectations began to rise. I began to query my history, cultural worlds, family story, church teaching, and society’s dominant narrative. When I came out in my early twenties, I said I was gay because it was all I knew at the time and it seemed to fit; it was also slightly safer.   I was an oddity in a world of dominating and hierarchical notions of sacred whiteness and holy maleness. I did not fit the stereotype of gay maleness perpetuated by society and the media due to something more that was evolving, growing, and desiring to be birthed in me and in the world. As I learned about the T of LGBTQ, I had a second coming out to myself and to GOD. I was birthed, came into voice, and claimed that I am both/and—I am not an antagonistic dualism. AHHHHHHHH!!!!!! OHHHHHHHH S***!!!!!!!!!

As a Catholic, I feel that I am constantly having to prove myself and my Catholicity. It is a constant struggle of becoming, yet a becoming that is never affirmed, accepted, or celebrated as good enough. Becoming and existing as a person who is both/and is especially hard in the Catholic world that is still figuring out what to do with G and L, much less attempting to engage BTPPQQ and everything else. It is a place where many are quick to silently judge, label, and dismiss my personhood causing this little freak in a skirt to go back into the closet out of fear and survival. My experience thus in life have helped me realize that the grappling of living into and out of one’s faith and sexuality is an on-going one. I realize that I am not alone, there are those who have paved the way before me through their brave questioning of church teaching such as Margaret Farley, Hildegard of Bingen, Gloria Anzaldua, and Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz; and there are those who are paving the way with me like my mother, my beloved, and all I meet along the way of this quirky journey of life.   My lucha is to bare witness to the Catholic Church and take on her teachings; finding ways to be catholic. Coming into my own publicly through the birthing of this delphic delfín will be a labor of revolutionary resilience where GOD is my midwife birthing and re-birthing truth-telling in me and through me.   Amen.

 I have been witness to marvels that affect the nature of the mystical body, for we too, gay men that we are, are also members of that same body…and mind by mind, soul by soul, heart by heart, we are building a consensus fidelium that one day will set us free…for such is the promise of our common baptism and the rights we derive from that sacrament. –E. Stoltz

 In all those times of wrestling with tough issues, with Church leaders, with each other, with disease, I have been pinned down and squeezed, touched, massaged, embraced, cuddled, and, yes, pleasured by a challenging and ever-loving GOD. I have been transformed and reconciled. No longer frightened or ashamed, I am learning to confide in GOD’s love and the love of my fellow wrestlers. After the match is over, I look forward to walking humbly with my GOD, even if it is with a limp. – K. J. Calegari

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