Wednesday, June 6, 2012

2012.06.06 What Does It Matter?

What does it matter when someone at a geographic distance, that you haven’t seen in 30 years and only glimpsed at a reunion, and with whom you have no personal connection but whose work you admire and whose ministry touched you once for a very short time, gets hurt unjustly?

Margaret Farley, RSM (Sister of Mercy, an order in which I am an Associate member) was one of my favorite professors when I was in seminary at Yale Divinity School in the early 80s.  She taught Ethics. The church required aspiring clergy to take Ethics. I thought I was ethical. What did I know? 

I remember Margaret’s generous spirit, her scholarship, considerable and accessible, and her wry grin. She is a faithful woman who has been subjected to three years of intensive interrogation from her church hierarchy and has had to defend her perspectives and scholarship over and over, only to be told her work is condemned because it runs counter to official Roman Catholic moral teaching.

Margaret’s view of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was always broad and deep. Now she is being persecuted, not by her Order but by the Vatican whose Gospel values to me seem shallow and narrow, an institution quite closed in on itself by fear,  and rife with its own corruptions.  Implosive I’d say. 

Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics,  a book Margaret has worked on over years and a compendium of much of her thinking on the radical topic of LOVE has made it to the condemned list of the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith (CDF) because it contradicts  Catholic moral teachings on matters of, what else, sex—the usual culprits, divorce and remarriage, homosexual sex, and, my favorite, masturbation, an activity the magisterium finds “an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.” Margaret suggest such an activity may improve marital relations, may enhance and equilibrate differences. 

So how do you screen for masturbatory activity? Who would know but God?  What precisely makes it unethical? (I remember my first time. I experienced bodily power I never knew I had; it helped me love the body someone else had abused and I had shamed and it helped my marriage.)

JUST LOVE is a wily and provocative title.  It can mean just love as if love alone made the world go round and was all you needed; or it can mean that all love must be just.  Knowing Margaret, even without reading this book, I’d vote for the latter interpretation. I’d bet that couples, friends, peers and colleagues, or most people who say they love someone or a group, a pet, nature’s beauties, or a cherished idea, don’t think of justice as an ethical boundary that must surround their affections. 

We think of justice more as a social category than a personal intimate one, but justice is the framework that supports love, both erotic and platonic, and allows it to grow.

The official Notification that Just Love may not be used in any Catholic institutions even for ecumenical discussion is deliciously ironic. Farley is a professor emeritus at Yale Divinity School, not a Catholic institution, and even more the recent censure has sent this book’s sales soaring.

Academic Catholic colleagues are weighing in with vigor in defense of Margaret's scholarly rights and in admiration of her person. I wish some Anglo-Catholic bishops would speak out. I suppose they are worried about damaging ecumenical relations, but this is about solidarity not  politics. 

Mercy’s leadership supports their sister and is helping her through this process while they are simultaneously defending themselves after vatican crackdowns for doctrinal offenses and serious feminist leanings ( more on sex and women) that threaten the same hierarchy, itself profoundly disordered by its own sexual scandals and coverups.  Its a mess. And why is everything conflictual always about money or sex? 

Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister minces no words. “Where has all this energy for empirical destruction come from in a church now projecting its own serious problems with sexual issues onto everything that moves?”

You can read all about it online, with the help of Google/God of course. Start with the Sisters of Mercy website, Margaret Farley, Yale Divinity School, even Huffington Post, and click along the links.

Why does it matter to me?  It matters because I am a woman, an Associate of Mercy, a former student of Margaret Farley, a member of the body of Christ wounded. It matters because anything that hurts one of us hurts all of us, no matter who or where we are.

Most of all it matters because it hurts God, the divine spiritual presence whose graciousness wraps us round with a love at once intimate and impotent, a love that waits upon human cooperation to create “JUST LOVE,” both political and personal.  Freedom, God’s loving gift, is valueless and serves no higher purpose, without justice to give it breath.  

What I remember most of all the wisdom Margaret Farley imparted is something she told us about Peter and Judas, the polarized hero/villain team of the Christian drama. She noted this paradox:  Peter—the favored one, the rock of the Church, the “pope,” leader and most faithful of all—  in the end discovered he had little faith, little enough to betray all of it thrice.

While Judas, the identified betrayer— condemned, cast off, placed outside the inner sacred circle of the faithful forever— discovered in the end that he had true faith, enough to die for its sake.

How timely!