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Joy in Adversity: Petr’s Vocation as Minister to Gays

(Photo is of Jan Hus, Catholic reformer burned at the stake by the Inquisition in 1414 for teaching the fundamental equality of laypersons and priests, insisting that both should receive communion under both species. He is frequently and mistakenly described as a “Protestant Reformer,” but at the time of his death he considered himself a full member of the  Catholic Church, despite its ban of excommunication against him. His witness and death gave inspiration to the Czech Hussite Reform Churches, including the Czech Brotherhood. Nearly six centuries after his death, Pope John Paul II expressed “deep regret for the cruel death inflicted upon Jan Hus.”)


Just had dinner tonight with my young gay Christian friend, Petr (pronounced Petra), who is studying for his Master’s in Divinity with the seminary of the Czech Brotherhood Reform Church, of which he is a member. His seminary shares many of the same professors as the Catholic Faculty of Theology of St. Charles University. Petr has a strong sense of calling to be an openly gay minister in his Church, even though ‘officially’ the Czech Brotherhood is not at all open  to acknowledging gay people and their relationships. In fact, Petr was eligible for ordination two years ago, but was denied this privilege because his Church elders are quite suspicious of what he might do with his ministry. So he is being monitored closely and his Master’s thesis is also being carefully scrutinized. He is being required to read a great many books (in English!) on reparative therapy, designed to ‘turn’ homosexuals into decent, healthy, well-adjusted heteros. I felt a certain chill go through me as he showed me his extensive library on the subject, but Petr is such a sensitive, fair-minded, tolerant soul that he gently protested that, in fact the books, have some worth, and many of the authors are genuinely sympathetic to gay persons and only suggesting that, perhaps, they might be happier and more well adjusted if they could turn their sexual orientation around. Furthermore, many of the gays they deal with are coming from profoundly addictive lifestyles and the therapy does have some benefit in healing them of their addictions, which then allows them to see themselves with greater clarity and objectivity. Many of them discover that they are in fact bisexual, and therefore capable of harmonious and fulfilling sexual relationships with the opposite sex. Many, as well, discover after the therapy that they truly are same sex orientated, for which the therapy is a blessing for making that clear. Petr says he stays clear of the more aggressive and intolerant forms of reparative therapy in his studies. He also said it was very good for his thesis to be able to understand and evaluate both sides of the argument, and that his professors were not insisting that he endorse reparative therapy, only that he give evidence of having fairly considered it. In the face of Petr’s gentle charity and  wise tolerance, I felt somewhat chastened in my own resentment and anger towards such treatments, though I remained concerned that Petr not be too ‘brainwashed’ by these studies he is compelled to make. However, in his library he also has extensive literature on the spiritual values and gifts of being gay and being gay partnered. There is no question of Petr’s own very strong sense of calling as a gay Christian man, who is open to normal same sexual relations with other gay persons (at 26 Petr is not yet partnered, but open).

And as I sat on the carpet in his small upstairs study, with the books scattered all around us on the floor, with gentle flute music from the mountains of Northern Thailand playing in the background, I was conscious of Petr’s own special gift as a charismatic gay man chosen ‘in the Spirit’ to remain within a suspicious religious congregation and to seek to change it from within. For some reason, I was reminded of the fourth vow of stability Trappist monks take, promising to remain in their monastery for life. This vow is a gift as well as a promise, one which  the monk cannot make without the assistance of the Holy Spirit. So, too, Petr seems to have received a similar gift of perseverance, which gives him his inner strength and his radiant serenity within a trying situation. Many of his church members, he tells me, are closeted gays, too afraid to come out, yet unwilling to leave the church which they love and which feels like their spiritual home. They come to Petr for advice as to  how they, too, may persevere in their faith and within an unwelcoming community. Yet, as Petr described his elders to me and their relationships to him, it sounds like his gentle, compassionate, understanding self is gently wearing away the walls of intolerance and suspicion. They are, after all, allowing him to complete a Master’s thesis on the topic of Gay Christianity, and to take a primarily positive approach, but they are not quite ready yet to allow him access to full ministry in the Church. However, I’m confident this will come in time.

Feeling Petr’s inner serenity and grace – which is as palpable in the room as the fragrance of  incense – I had to marvel at the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, calling us each to our own special place in our own  special time. Some gay Christians are being given the grace to move beyond their intolerant communities and to find more welcoming, life affirming sources of spiritual support. Others are being given the grace of heroic perseverance, to remain where they are, giving a firm, but gentle, persistent,  and loving non-violent witness to the holiness of being a fully sexualized gay human being. I had to marvel at the signs of the Spirit at work everywhere in a wide variety of religious communities in such a similar fashion. Petr’s grace and serenity, wisdom and compassion testify to the life giving fruits of his own religious community, which is the locus of God’s grace for him, despite its present intolerance towards gay persons. Such a witness makes relative any claims to exclusivity or superiority on the part of any religious community. Many gifts, one Spirit, working her own wondrous miracles of openness and tolerance, but doing so through the life giving, long suffering passion of  devoted Christians such as Petr.

As a further sign of the Spirit’s synchronicity,  I casually opened one of Petr’s books resting on the carpet,  Donald Bloesch’ Spirituality Old and New, and I came across this remarkable passage which I felt encapsulated our entire evening with its spiritual colloquy.

The Church Within:

One of the hallmarks of mystical spirituality is to uphold the invisible church over the visible church. The true church is the company of the committed who reside in all denominations and sometimes outside of any particular religious fellowship. According to Gerad Heaard, the true church is comprised of holy souls in all religions. The real people of God are those who are making progress toward sainthood. They are those who have put to death the animal nature within them and have become fully or purely spiritual.

Christian mystics, in contrast to generic mystics, continue to affirm the role of sacraments and rituals in the life of faith; yet they consider these things expendable or at least not absolutely essential. Meister Eckhart regarded the sacraments and even the “human shape of our Lord Jesus Christ” as obstacles to spiritual grown. The important thing is to get beyond visible signs to invisible reality. According to Geert Grote, founder of the mystical Brethren of the Common Life, the valiant soul will leave “the scriptures and external signs behind” as he or she makes progress in the Christian life toward the perfection of faith.

As a type of religious association, the mystical society is a fellowship of kindred souls, not a mission station to convert the world. The mystical society will often take the form of a parachurch fellowship that is generally supportive of the church as a social institution. Yet mysticism in its celebration of religious experience unwittingly loosens the tie to the institutional church. …

As I have noted earlier, institutional Catholicism has always mistrusted mysticism, though it has sought to use the mystical witness to consolidate its hold over the faithful. Christian mysticism at its best calls us to rise above parochial loyalties to a genuinely catholic vision of the truth.

“Welcome, Pope Benedict, To Prague”

(Originally written by our Prague-based team member, Jayden Cameron at The Gay Mystic, on the occasion of Pope Benedict’s visit to that city.)

Catholic Martyr to reform and the father of the Czech nation, Jan Hus, being burnt at the stake, July 16, 1415

Before setting out this morning for the Church of Our Lady of Victories to welcome dear Pope Benedict, I will first walk over to Old Town Square, to lay a blood red rose at the statue of Jan Hus, the saintly reformer who died for many of the same issues of reform we are struggling for today some 600 years later. My apologies if this seems wearily familiar and even a little depressing, but somehow the memory of Hus fills me with peace and joy. After all, in the eyes of eternity, 600 years is less than an eye blink. I feel that Saint Jan is with us today as we welcome another representative of Petrus at the head of a church still struggling with the same issues which brought Hus to the stake in 1415. At the moment of his death, he was denied a confessor because it was deemed improper for a heretic to receive the sacraments (sound familiar?). Benedict, as a German, will no doubt be well aware of the fact that the Hussite movement of reform was one of the defining elements in the rising sense of nationalism among the Czech people, many of whom resented the German domination of greater Bohemia.

NOTES TAKEN FROM WIKIPEDIA
The doctors of the university required from Hus and his adherents an approval of their conception of the Church, according to which the Pope is the head, the Cardinals are the body of the Church, and all regulations of the Church must be obeyed.

Hus protested vigorously against this conception since it made the Pope and cardinals solely the Church. Nevertheless, the Hussite party seems to have made a great effort toward reconciliation. To the article that the Roman Church must be obeyed, they added only “so far as every pious Christian is bound.”

In explaining the plight of the average Christian in Bohemia, Hus wrote, “One pays for confession, for mass, for the sacrament, for indulgences, for churching a woman, for a blessing, for burials, for funeral services and prayers. The very last penny which an old woman has hidden in her bundle for fear of thieves or robbery will not be saved. The villainous priest will grab it.”

At the place of execution he knelt down, spread out his hands, and prayed aloud. Some of the people asked that a confessor should be given him, but one priest exclaimed that a heretic should neither be heard nor given a confessor. The executioners undressed Hus and tied his hands behind his back with ropes, and his neck with a chain to a stake around which wood and straw had been piled up so that it covered him to the neck.

At the last moment, the imperial marshal, Von Pappenheim, in the presence of the Count Palatine, asked him to recant and thus save his own life, but Hus declined with the words “God is my witness that I have never taught that of which I have by false witnesses been accused. In the truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught, and preached, I will die today with gladness.” He was then burnt at the stake.

Dying prophecy
Hus’ last words as he was being tied to the stake were that, “in a hundred years, God will raise up a man whose calls for reform can not be suppressed.” Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses of Contention to a church door in Wittenberg 102 years later.[3

The Czechs, who in his lifetime had loved Hus as their prophet and apostle, now adore him as their saint and martyr, a national hero.
(taken from Wikipedia)

Two hundred hears later, at the battle of White Mountain, the independent ‘Protestant’ Czech nation was decisively crushed by the forces of the Holy Roman Emperor and the Catholic League, and Roman Catholic culture was re-imposed by force on the Czech lands. The Jesuits entered the city of Prague en mass and engaged in a massive building campaign which made Prague one of the most ‘churched’ cities in Europe, surpassed only by Rome for the number of churches per square mile.

As one looks over the skyline of the Old City, the evidence of this imposition is clear to see, giving the false impression of a very pious, religious city. But to the Czechs these steeples are simply a reminder of the profound humiliation of the Battle of Bila Hora when the Czech lands came under the domination of an imperial power that imposed it’s religious ideology through force.

If you think this is just a bit of dry history, think again. The impact of this profound humiliation for the Czech peoples is written in blood in the stones of this melancholic city and accounts in large measure for the supposed ‘atheism’ of the Czech peoples. In fact, the Czechs find their spiritual sustenance in nature and their salvation in music, and keep themselves far removed from religious ideologies.

When Pope Benedict steps inside the Church of Our Lady of Victories this morning, he will be entering a church first built by the Lutherns in 1613 and dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity. After the Battle of White Mountain, when most Lutherans were driven out of the city, the church was handed over to the Carmelites who re-dedicated it (ironically) to Our Lady of Victory.

Pope John Paul II, in a moment of genuine magnanimity in 1999, apologized for the cruel treatment meted out to Jan Hus and asked that an inquiry be opened into the possibility of removing the charge of heresy. I would go further and say the cause for his future canonization must begin.

Welcome to Prague, Pope Benedict, and may the spirit of Jan Hus inspire you.

(See also Jayden’s follow-up a few days later, “ Benedict XVI confronts the ghost of Jan Hus“)