Saturday, February 13, 2010

Edith Stein Conference, Part 2

My nerves were a bit on edge as I settled in with my knitting. (I find I do a better job of staying attentive and alert when I knit, and I'm able to follow and understand while doing so, so I brought a project to work on during ESC.) Ms. Selmys began by saying that she had prepared a talk, but would diverge from her prepared remarks slightly to address some of the accusations made against her by the protesters; namely, that she was an "ex-gay" who believed homosexuality is a disease. She countered this accusation and the others calmly and effectively, and, to my great relief, a respectful attentiveness was maintained by all in the auditorium.

As a result of the semi-ad-libbed nature of the talk, it was a bit rough around the edges, but I found her talk to be compelling in spite of some verbal hesitations. I didn't expect to come to the talk and be forced to take a long, uncomfortable look at myself, but I definitely did. She spoke about the fact that most gay and lesbian people feel themselves to be outcasts and misfits, and that the gay community provides a very welcoming place for them. In contrast, it is easy for gays and lesbians to feel like they aren't part of the Catholic community. If they decide to convert to Catholicism, it is extremely hard for them to cut those ties with the gay community, because they were accepted there when no one else would accept them. She pointed out that the Church's teaching has nothing of prejudice or bigotry about it, but that individual Catholics can sometimes be guilty of both. We emphasize that we "hate the sin, but love the sinner," but it often comes out as hating the sin with particular fervor, but loving the sinner vaguely and abstractly. This was the take-home message for me. If we want to win people to Christ and the Church, we have to love them as individuals, and love with no reservations. Only then will we be able to preach the Gospel effectively.

Ms. Selmys noted that the tendency among Catholics is to view people with homosexual inclinations as enemies in the "culture war", when they are not enemies, but children of God. Ouch. That hit home uncomfortably for me. I thought back to my blog posts, and to my own "knee-jerk response" (she used this exact phrase) to the protesting students outside. I've grown to have an affection for Notre Dame, and I've become aware that there's something special here that should be protected. When I percieve people as trying to hack at the roots of Notre Dame's Catholic-ness, I get defensive and, you guessed it, I start to think of them as enemies. This has come through in every. single. post. I've made on this issue. And it isn't nice. Ouch again. I don't know any openly gay people personally, but if I do encounter any, I am now aware of what could keep me from loving them as Christ does, and that will help immensely. I felt Ms. Selmys could make these points with an effectiveness that few others could, because of her perspective from both sides of the issue. I'm really glad that the organizers of the ESC were able to bring her here.

Ms. Selmys' talk was followed up by a panel discussion, consisting of herself, a representative of the Diocesan Office of Family Life, and Dr. Peter Kilpatrick, Dean of the College of Engineering. They discussed a document by the USCCB about the Church's teaching on homosexuality, then opened the floor to questions. The first questioner was particularly strident, accusing Notre Dame of promoting Catholic identity while denying homosexual students their own identity. (My friend told me she was a literature professor. It speaks volumes about ND that departments feel free to hire someone with such obvious animus against Catholic teaching.) I felt that no one addressed this point effectively, although it was difficult because her question wasn't so much a question as a diatribe.

This professor was conflating "Catholic identity" with identification with a race, ethnic group, or sexual orientation, and I think that is a mistake. I would have drawn a distinction between "Catholic-ness" and the kind of "homosexual identity" that she seems to want to foster, by pointing out that Catholic identity is not an end in itself. If Catholic practice and appearances of being Catholic become the end goal, then what we have are "cultural Catholics." That doesn't get people to heaven. The goal is always to become saints, to be united with Jesus Christ! As opposed to inward turned goals, the end goal of forming Catholic identity is to lead people into a relationship with Christ and his Church. Formation of homosexual identity as it is commonly understood would be about self-fulfillment, self-gratification. Encouraging students to form "homosexual identities" runs counter to the formation of Catholic identity which is centered on Christ, and therefore Notre Dame has no business doing such a thing. (I wish I could formulate my thoughts on this a little bit better, but this is what you get, sorry blog readers!)

A student, who identified himself as a member of the Core Council on gay and lesbian issues, asked a question about gay Catholics feeling excluded from the Church. I don't remember the specifics of the question, or all the answers, but I do remember something Ms. Selmys said that I agreed with strongly. She said that people with homosexual attractions perceive a hypocrisy within the Church, because the clergy and laity who condemn homosexual activity seem to turn a blind eye to the sexual sins of heterosexuals. She pointed out that it's easy for a gay person to feel put-upon when he sees a priest marrying a couple who has openly cohabited. I would add also that contraception is a serious sin which is almost never preached on from the pulpit. I agree that more attention needs to be paid to the Catholic sexual ethics as a whole. Heterosexual Catholics can fall prey to plenty of sexual sins as well, and it needs to be emphasized that we are all called to chastity according to our state of life.

I was most gratified to see Dr. Kilpatrick taking part. Although I don't think most people would consider an engineering dean to be any kind of an "expert" on these issues, it was really great to have a representative of Notre Dame's Catholic faculty present. This was especially good since one of the questions was directed towards ND's non-discrimination policy, and whether the panelists supported changing it to include sexual orientation. The young woman who asked it was one of the more vocal members of the "protest group" outside and referred to herself as "queer.". I'm not sure I heard correctly, but I think she stated that she felt "threatened" by the atmosphere on campus and by Ms. Selmys' talk. Threatened? I found it very odd. I suppose it really is threatening, in a sense, to listen to someone who used to subscribe to your entire worldview and has since had a conversion of heart. But I doubt that's what she meant.

Later on I was in the ladies room and witnessed an older woman calmly reproving this student for the obscene content of the poetry that was read. Her response was something to the effect of "This is about the body, and we celebrate the body and find it beautiful." The older woman objected to the profanities and the student responded "We'll take that under advisement." To me it showed a profound lack of understanding. If you are trying to persuade people of the rightness of your cause, why go out of your way to do something that you know will be offensive to them? Deliberate abrasiveness is totally counterproductive. (As an aside, I wonder how many of these protesters considered ND Response "disrespectful" of President Obama and believed we had no place on campus.)

I was disappointed that the "protest group" immediately left after the talk on homosexuality. They would have gotten so much more out of it had they gone to Dr. Reimer's talk on Theology of the Body. It was sort of "ToB 101" so I didn't hear much that was new, but it was a great refresher nevertheless. (Dr. Reimers is a member of the Communion and Liberation group I've been attending and he and his wife are lovely people.)

To me their hasty departure said volumes. They were not interested in understanding Catholic sexual ethics, merely in protesting what they do not understand. Again, if you are seeking to convince, why not at least try to understand your opponents? I do appreciate the respectfulness once Ms. Selmys' talk started, but I feel that they really deprived themselves by not going to more talks and seeing what we are really all about. There's this whole well of knowledge, the treasure of the Church that is Theology of the Body, that they just plain aren't interested in because of their preconceptions. It just makes me sad.

I came home to a wonderful steak dinner and a raspberry chocolate mousse prepared by my loving and diligent husband. Marriage isn't always a bed of roses, but the little things can make it very sweet. Now I'm off to finish some housework. Chinese New Year is tomorrow, and it is traditional to clean the house before hand so all is in readiness for the new beginning. It's a tradition I haven't always kept, but I'm trying to do so this year.

(Disclaimer: My record of the ESC is totally from memory, I did not take any notes. I tried to get everything right. If anyone wishes to correct any quotes I have made, please feel free to comment.)


Paul Smith said...

That was beutiful. I will follow your blog!
Please consider my blog. It is for teens to ask and get answers about the Catholic Church.
Thanks again for this Holy Spirit inspired post,

Christina said...

Paul, I'm glad you find my blog helpful. Thank you for your work with our teenagers. They need a good grounding in our Faith.