Why the Defeat of DOMA Gives Me Queer American Pride

flagsWhen I think about the progress of marriage equality in the U.S. this year, I cannot help but feel proud, and grateful, to be an America.

My girlfriend is not a U.S. citizen. She’s Brazilian and attends college here on a student visa which expires when she graduates. Before DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) was struck down a year ago, I’m not sure we would have been able to stay together in the States and get married.

Now that our rights are the same as opposite-sex couples, the federal government will recognize and honor our union and allow my girlfriend to stay in the country with a marriage visa.

That being said, our marriage still won’t be easy. The struggle towards full equality continues, but today I want to focus on what we’ve gained.

As my girlfriend once said, “I am really thankful for what I have, not for what I don’t have.”

I wrote a poem and wanted to share it with you today. Please share it with anyone who feels overwhelmed by the darkness of this world. Sometimes we get distracted by the negativity around us and we don’t see the good. But God brings light to the darkest places. Continue reading

Marriage, Mass, and the Power of Ritual

Last week, the priest at a nearby church gave a homily about the importance of ritual — about how it keeps us connected even when things don’t feel very compelling on their own. He gave examples about going to Mass week after week, even when you don’t feel like it, or staying married, even when someone else looks more attractive than your spouse.

A couple weeks ago, one of my close friends met my husband for the first time. I was nervous. This wasn’t just any friend. It was someone I once thought was the love of my life. It was only semi-requited, so not much happened in the way of romance. But if it had, I don’t think I would have given it up easily. I know there would be challenges — it’s very consoling to look at the shortcomings of our former loves when we don’t end up with them, but I think I would have worked through those. So I let myself imagine, for a bit, how my life might have been different if we’d ended up together.

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So long Easter, and thanks for the 50 days; I needed them

“Great and glorious God, my Lord Jesus Christ! I implore thee to enlighten me and to disperse the darkness of my soul! Give me true faith and firm hope and a perfect charity! Grant me, O Lord, to know thee so well that in all things I may act by thy light, and in accordance with thy holy will!” – St. Francis of Assisi

This year was the first time that I observed Easter in the purpose for which it was intended: a 50-day celebration of Jesus’ sucker-punch into the face of death; a 50-day party at the end of a three-day test match that ended with the score, Jesus 1, Death 0. The joy that comes with a true Easter has carried me through one of the most difficult times of my life.

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Murdered metaphor in the cathedral

It was a Sunday in late January. It was my first visit to New York and I was staying with a buddy at his place near Brooklyn College. The sky was waxing purple with sunset, and a day that had included pizza (which fell on my pants), a boat ride from Brooklyn to Manhattan (invigorating), and violin music in Central Park (awesome) was finally winding down.

We stepped out of Central Park, shivering a bit now that temperatures had tumbled from the fifties to the thirties, and walked twenty-five blocks down Fifth Avenue. First we passed foreign consulates; then we passed shops that looked like they would have gladly accepted my yearly salary in return for exactly one shoe. We crossed left at 51st, squeezed in under a scaffolding, and entered St. Patrick’s Cathedral just in time for 5:30 Mass.

I’m shy. I wanted to sit in the back somewhere. My buddy is not shy. He dragged me to the front pew, which was miraculously still empty at 5:29. We claimed it. A gilded altar canopy, studded with tiny heraldic emblems, loomed directly ahead.

A few feet away, I saw the spot where Robert F. Kennedy lay in repose in 1968. A few more feet in another direction, and there sat the throne of the archbishop of New York. And, way off to one side, I saw a flat-screen TV playing an endless loop of digitized cathedral photos for the benefit of wandering turisti.

The young, green-clad priest preached about Christian marriage. He said that Christ had changed marriage into something better than it was before he came. He said most married people needed to have more children. He said fruitful marriages were the nuclei of the social order, which would collapse without them. I wanted to raise my hand and remind him that Jesus, unmarried, had wandered from his nuclear family, who thought he was insane, to travel around with at least twelve other guys and a bunch of women to whom they were not attached.

Still, I was expecting this kind of homily. We were in Cardinal Dolan’s house. The Gospel was the wedding at Cana. It was Respect Life Sunday.

The part that threw me was the rock-climbing.

Father said that in his wedding sermons he enjoyed comparing marriage to extreme sports. I raised my eyebrows. Father, with his carefully parted hair and painstakingly modulated voice, did not immediately strike me as an extreme sports kind of guy. Specifically, he said he preferred the image of rock-climbing. It’s strenuous work, you’re tied together for safety, the view at the top is great, etc.

Here I began to cringe. Over the years I’ve endured the facile and occasionally dreadful metaphors of many clergymen: the spiritual life is like a basketball game, and priests are our coaches. Mass is like a wake, so we dress up for the dearly departed relative. God’s love is like a fire hose, a dump truck, and Niagara Falls all at once. I could go on.

But what I mainly noticed about today’s several-minute digression was that Father never slipped into a reverie about personally rappelling off the face of a cliff or gazing down from a summit. His bullet points, written on a sheet he kept glancing at for reminders, very much came across as a list of things he had looked up, or been told, about rock-climbing. In other words, the priest was teaching authoritatively about intimacies he didn’t have in terms of extreme sports he evidently didn’t engage in.

My buddy and I had spent much of the weekend discussing complicated relationships from hard experience, so we felt very put off. After Mass we retired to a restaurant that, according to a sign sitting on the table next to the Parmesan cheese, had once been patronized by the mobster Lucky Luciano. In between mouthfuls of pasta, we wondered what it would mean for our generation and its religious discontents if such priests continued to multiply, to become men of trust who are assigned to cathedrals.

My fellow CTA 20/30 member, Kate Childs Graham, recently published an excellent NCR column. It collects hopes young adults have for the next pope. Personally, I fantasize about a pope who, in collegiality with all the bishops, re-examines the priesthood. You cannot preach or teach meaningfully unless you live fully. If you are content to cordon yourself off with an altar rail, if you habitually speak of places you have never been, then expect this generation to follow other guides and seek other vistas.

Outdoor Weddings: A Social Justice Issue?

Last weekend, I attended my cousin’s wedding down in Illinois. My grandpa traveled with us, and his concern the night before the big day was whether my cousin was marrying another Catholic. He was much relieved when he learned that she was, but I was perplexed. I knew she was having an outdoor wedding, and also that the Catholic Church rarely officially blesses such weddings. At the reception, my parents and I were seated with the priest who performed the ceremony, and we learned that, although he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest, he resigned due to disagreements with the official Church several years ago and now leads a community in the reform or “old Catholic” tradition.

You can read more about my meeting with him here, but one part of the conversation particularly sticks with me. He said that when he stopped practicing within Roman Catholicism, he was excited to serve those in the Catholic tradition who are marginalized by the Church. He said, “I thought, I need to prepare myself to deal with some really hard-hitting, deeply soulful issues. I’ll be blessing unions for couples who have been divorced; I’ll be blessing unions for gay couples. But in my five years of performing marriages in this tradition, I’ve only married one couple that was previously divorced. I haven’t married any gay couples. Nearly everyone who finds me comes to me because they’re Catholic and they want to have an outdoor wedding. And I find myself thinking, this is what’s driving people away from the Church? The desire to get married outdoors?”

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NFP and the Elephant (or the babies) in the Room

Disclaimer: Since people are bound to make assumptions about my sex life based on anything I write below, I find it necessary to state upfront that I am in no way opposed to Natural Family Planning — my husband and I incorporate it into our own marriage. What I AM opposed to is other people thinking they have the right to make sexual choices for all people, and for all couples, especially when the reality of this particular choice is very often glossed over or misrepresented.

When I was in college, I told my mom that when I got married, I wanted to practice Natural Family Planning. My mom said, “Good luck with that — that’s how we got Jessica.” Although my parents deeply love and would never express regret over any of their children (some of whom were more “planned” than others), my mom’s message to me was clear: If you plan to practice NFP, plan to have a baby.

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