Monday, 13 September 2010

Five Minutes with the Pope

The Tablet www.thetablet.co.uk has had a series of articles in recent weeks under this title, in which a wide range of people have written about what they would say to the Pope in a short one-on-one meeting. Here we reproduce, with the editor’s permission, two of them.

‘I would like to wash your feet, but not before I have stood up first’

In her imaginary private audience with Pope Benedict, Lucy Winkett, a senior Anglican priest, tackles the subject of the ordination of women in the Church of England head on.

I am aware that you believe my ordination is a serious barrier between us, but I hope we could discuss what unites us in wanting to live an apostolic life. I want to learn from you what you would say are the characteristics and hallmarks of that life. For myself, it’s Christ’s actions at the Last Supper – and if I could, I would love to discuss this with you.

How do you interpret the tradition that Jesus took the bread first eaten by slaves on the run in the Passover story and identified himself so closely with them that he became this bread? The cup is the cup of suffering that he asked to be passed from him, the cup that he offered to James and John when they vied for seats of honour in heaven. One of the aspects that moves me about that evening was that Jesus knelt and washed his disciples’ feet, but not before his own feet had been washed and anointed by the woman from the city. When Christ stood up in the synagogue at Nazareth and read from Isaiah, he was echoing the song of Mary in her Magnificat and, as such, he showed himself to be highly responsive to the example and ministry of women. He was not only his Father’s son, he was his mother’s son too. In this spirit, I would like to find a way to wash your feet, but not before I have stood up first.

Women’s apostolic path is, in this way, different from men’s. Women have to find a way to live a redeemed humility, not a humility based on the nature of a victim or a doormat. Social expectations, particularly within the family, mean that women’s default mode of relating is of self-sacrifice. This is a noble way to live but only if it is chosen, not enforced.

Women’s path to salvation is one that involves standing before we kneel, learning to accept ourselves and delight, as does Holy Wisdom, in the nature of human beings, before choosing to serve others as a sacrifice freely given.

I am not going to try to tell you what it’s actually like to be a woman and a priest, or about the nature of the calling I believe with all my heart I am following, unless you want to know. These personal experiences are vital but they pale before the fundamental truth that God in Christ is taken, blessed, broken and given for the life of a suffering world. Women, half of humanity, take their place alongside men in being a sign and symbol of the risen Christ at the altar when we celebrate the Eucharist. When I celebrate the Eucharist, I am not taking part in a re-enactment of an action by Jesus of Nazareth. I am being caught up in the eschatological foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

The ontological difference in gender between me and Jesus of Nazareth, just as fundamental as the differences ethnically between Gentile men and Jesus the Jew, are not material. It is our common humanity, not our gender differences, that define and dignify our attempts to live such an apostolic life.

I regret deeply that we are not united, but the truth is that, with or without your permission, as a woman and a fellow human being, I walk respectfully with you as a disciple of Jesus Christ and a priest in God’s universal Church.

  • The Revd Canon Lucy Winkett is rector of St James’s Church, Piccadilly, London.

‘Churchmen aren’t at all happy to see gay couples happy’

If you had a one-to-one meeting with the Pope, what would you talk to him about? In the third of our series, the church historian Diarmaid MacCulloch tackles His Holiness on homosexuality and Catholicism.

Given my five minutes with Pope Benedict, I would ask him if he’s ever spent any time with a gay couple. I don’t mean the large number of silently gay Catholic clergy under vows of celibacy, who are not unknown even in the corridors of the Vatican; I mean two people who have met socially, spent time getting to know each other, found that it’s a lot of fun being with the other person, had rows, made up, gone to parties, done the shopping, been polite to each other’s dull relatives, had a good laugh with the unexpectedly entertaining eccentric aunt, and at the end of a day of pleasant trivia, have turned off their bedside lights side by side? And have perhaps done that over months, years, decades, initially despite the huge amount of social pressure to split up and fade into the background of other people’s social and moral expectations.

Has His Holiness sat down with them over a coffee or a beer and discovered how intrinsically ordinary they are? Because if he hasn’t, I don’t think he’s got much business calling them intrinsically disordered.

I think what might disconcert him about such an experience would be that such couples don’t have any problems, at least problems no different from those of other couples, or of human beings generally. The Church rather likes claiming a pastoral ministry to lesbian and gay people, because it sees them as having a basic problem that needs pastoral care. And the Church has been very good at setting up problems for gay people which it can then solve. It has demanded that they feel guilty if they ever enact their feelings for another person of the same sex in a physical way – then it can deal with the guilt. Churchmen really aren’t at all happy to see gay couples happy; it breaks all the rules and of course encourages others to do the same things. Who knows where it will all end? Gay teenagers cheerful, contented and fulfilled? Or at least making the same stupid mistakes as any other teenagers?

But perhaps the Pope will surprise us all on his visit. He is, after all, planning to beatify Cardinal Newman, a distinguished theologian who patently found a way within the conventions of his time of having a deep, committed relationship with another man, Ambrose St John. It was the primary relationship in both their lives and that was expressed by their single grave in death. Because they were both priests committed to clerical celibacy, I don’t suppose that they did much that was physical to express their relationship, and I don’t think that I would greatly care even if there were proof that they did. It really isn’t that important. The relationship matters. For those who aren’t nineteenth-century celibates, there are different means of celebrating such a relationship, and I can’t imagine that the God of love is too worried about the details of what they are.

  • Diarmaid MacCulloch is professor of the history of the Church and a fellow of St Cross College, Oxford, and author of A History of Christianity, published by Allen Lane.
Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 13 September 2010 at 9:00am BST | TrackBack
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Comments

I love all of both of them, at least I love all of both of them until you get to the happy contented teenagers - there is no such thing as a happy contented teenager of any orientation ;)

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Monday, 13 September 2010 at 9:30am BST

Yes, these are terrific pieces !

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Monday, 13 September 2010 at 2:40pm BST

Thank you both for expressing more politely what I would like to say to Benedict.

Posted by: Rebecca Lyman on Monday, 13 September 2010 at 4:14pm BST

Toujours la politess, Rebecca !

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Monday, 13 September 2010 at 4:42pm BST

Two wonderful, deeply spiritual and yet humanely accessible accounts of what 2 different people might have to say to Pope Benedict. Lucy, through her experience of priestly ministry - despite the sometime opposition from her own and the Roman Catholic Church - has experienced the reality of being with God-in-Christ at the altar. This she has taken with her in her ministry to those who visit St. Paul's Cathedral seeking something of Christ's loving concern for all people.

Diarmid expresses most beautifully what it might be like for a single person - unable to form an intimate relationship with someone of the opposite gender - to find love and acceptance from a person of one's own sex; to be an intentional, loving and life-time companion. Pope Benedict, with his personal secretary-companion, may have some idea of what Diarmid is talking about. Also, he may resonate with the known partnership of John Henry Newman with his dearest companion, and fellow cleric, Fr. Ambrose.
Maybe, LOVE will find a way of communication!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 13 September 2010 at 10:30pm BST

As a Catholic I would like to thank him for the wonderful job he does as Vicar of Christ, kiss his ring and ask his blessing. If I was courageous I would ask why he does not employ excommunication on a greater scale.

Posted by: Robert Ian Williams on Monday, 13 September 2010 at 10:36pm BST

Wow super nice to have both musings, right out in the public media opens as it were. Don't much expect His Holiness with the due emphasis on HIS ... to bother much. The woman and that gay couple are either ... subservient and invisible, or just plain disobedient renegades to be brought ever so firmly, firmly, firmly, right into quite speechless line. Per the pope's going preachments, each offends by existing, let alone by having the chuchtzpa to witness about it.

A visit's a visit's a visit. Thing about Newman is, he was exemplary enough to repent of having been Anglican. And, of course, there is his noted abstention from anything we could dare to call, sexy. Two pillars, all rock hard salt.

Who was it, said: Nothing so disgusting and deeply abhorrent to the religious mind, as an ordinary human being?

Posted by: drdanfee on Tuesday, 14 September 2010 at 12:36am BST

If I had five minutes with him at the Vatican I would take a number of brochures about visiting the Vatican and ask him if he could change his travel plans for the week.

If I was to meet him here I wouldn't even leave the house to the roadside if he went this way.

Posted by: Pluralist on Tuesday, 14 September 2010 at 1:46am BST

"Given my five minutes with Pope Benedict, I would ask him if he’s ever spent any time with a gay couple."

And then, if invited for breakfast, I would love to turn across the dining table and ask Msgr. Georg Ganschwein the same question! ;-)

[@RIW: "If I was courageous I would ask why he does not employ excommunication on a greater scale."

Have you never heard the lovely metaphorical saying, Robert Ian, that when you point a finger, 3 fingers point back at YOU?]

Posted by: JCF on Tuesday, 14 September 2010 at 2:58am BST

To RIW: now, now, that sounds like the pharisees and scribes in last Sunday's Gospel: This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them. (or perhaps would that it were more applicable to the Pope...)

Posted by: Sara MacVane on Tuesday, 14 September 2010 at 6:42am BST

I wouldn't waste five minutes of breath on the old whitewashed tomb.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Tuesday, 14 September 2010 at 9:04am BST

"Pope Benedict, with his personal secretary-companion, may have some idea of what Diarmid is talking about."

Pictures of them together always remind me of Mr. Burns and Smithers.

Posted by: Laurence on Tuesday, 14 September 2010 at 9:13am BST

Considering all the alarming news coming out of Belgium, I don't think I'd want to spend any time with him at all.

Posted by: Counterlight on Tuesday, 14 September 2010 at 11:56am BST

Will "the tablet" print and mail these to the Pope, with a translation?

Maybe they could start a new series called 5 minutes with the ABC.

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Tuesday, 14 September 2010 at 6:20pm BST

But excommunication is an act of love. The opposite of love is not hate but indifference. To excommunicate a person is to warn them that they are in peril of their souls.

Posted by: Robert Ian Williams on Tuesday, 14 September 2010 at 8:15pm BST

"I am being caught up in the eschatological foretaste of the heavenly banquet." Lucy Winkett

Serious question : what does this sentence mean? Can someone paraphrase in simple English please. Thank you in advance.

Posted by: Laurence C. on Tuesday, 14 September 2010 at 9:21pm BST

"But excommunication is an act of love ... To excommunicate a person is to warn them that they are in peril of their souls."

Robert Ian, I addressed this on a thread (nearby) below.

The logical extension of this, is that to *burn someone at the stake* is then the greatest "act of love" of all (Temporal fire, to warn/burn them away from eternal hellfire!)

It is (in the immortal words of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") ***INSANE TROLL LOGIC***. Anathema!

Posted by: JCF on Wednesday, 15 September 2010 at 12:06am BST

@Lawrence: I think that Canon Winkett meant to say

"I am (now) being caught up in a foretaste of the eschatological heavenly banquet."

Slightly tweaked, I believe that the faith profession is clear, Christian and Catholic.

Posted by: JCF on Wednesday, 15 September 2010 at 12:10am BST

RIW
"But excommunication is an act of love."

Of course! I forgot!
But it is true that, sadly, it doesn't work for everyone because they keep endangering their mortal souls and don't repent and come back into teh fold.
So I think we should extend this faultless reasoning of how love is best expressed and re-instate the Inquisition.
After all, a bit of loving torture is a much better "non-punishment" than excommunication to ensure that a mortal soul is saved.

If I didn't have amazingly intelligent, thoughtful and deeply faithful Catholic friends your testimony here could put me right off your church.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 15 September 2010 at 9:23am BST

"But excommunication is an act of love. The opposite of love is not hate but indifference. To excommunicate a person is to warn them that they are in peril of their souls."

That makes as much sense as Archbishop of Atlanta banning altar girls as an answer to the priest pedophile problem ten years ago.

http://www.georgiabulletin.org/local/2004/01/01/Look_Back_At_2003/

Wow. Unbelievable. Are you for real RIW?

No wonder they're closing churches left and right in my hometown.

Posted by: evensongjunkie on Wednesday, 15 September 2010 at 1:08pm BST

Oh, I forgot...if excommunication is an act of love, and suppose Erika and JCF are correct, then ABORTION would be the greatest act of love ALTOGETHER!!!!!

What flavor Kool-Aid RIW?????

Posted by: evensongjunkie on Wednesday, 15 September 2010 at 1:13pm BST

Being a Catholic dissident is perhaps a greater act of love than excommunication. This article is five years old, but timely.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A57560-2005Apr15.html

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Wednesday, 15 September 2010 at 4:33pm BST

I rarely post on this site, although I read it frequently, since I was in fact part of the Roman Catholic church until about five years ago.

But let me use that experience, including many serious conversations with priests and even a few bishops, to say that excommunication is an act of exhibitionism, private counseling and admonition can be an act of love.

Posted by: Gene O'Grady on Wednesday, 15 September 2010 at 7:01pm BST

It's a long time since I felt this glad to be protestant & Arminian, and to know 'Church' or minister how ever high up (in the RC or any other denomination) can truly 'excommunicate' from the true Church,from the heart of God.

At the end of the day very little is essential to the journey -- not bishops, ministers, bread and wine, books, doctrines / notions.

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Wednesday, 15 September 2010 at 7:51pm BST
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